The future of education: Memorize or analyse?

Where do technology and teaching methods fit in a digital world?
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Beset by a changing economy, increased reliance on technology, and arguably the different mindset of younger generations, educational establishments are beginning to shift in line to cater for different global economic demands -- but what will the future hold for teaching methods?

High schools are ideally built to equip the younger generation with the skills they require for the 'real world'. In reality, this is generally not the case -- trying to modernize school programs to relate to a job industry that is continually changing can be nigh on impossible.


Politics, budgetary restrictions, a lack of appropriate resources and a shortage of trained staff are just some of the issues that the educational sector has to cope with -- and often this means that learning programs fall behind in relation to what the global economy requires.

The labor force is not static, and yet, often education seems to lag behind. We often hear of complaints by corporations that students are leaving school and university without basic skills they require; let alone any kinds of specialisation to make a potential employee stand out from the crowd.

That's where experience and additional training comes in -- but within the current global economy, the funding to support and train staff is restricted and hard to come by.

If we did tailor our education system to reflect the transition of society's needs and reform our learning processes to the next generation of students, what changes could be implemented in the future for the benefit of both relevant education and the economy?

Greater emphasis on process instead of memorization.

Whether right or wrong, information is now at our fingertips. Want to know the population of Australia, or calculate how much you owe on your tax return? Google it. 'Googling' something, as a process of seeking information in the same way as 'read about it' has become an element of daily language. This, in itself, shows how we don't rely fully on memorization any more.

Instead of having to memorize a poem to have access to a copy, information is immediately available through digital networks -- a far cry from Greek oral tradition or learning facts by rote.

Considering this shift, more emphasis should be placed on analyzing the data at our fingertips, instead of simply remembering it. It is unlikely there will be a data blackout any time soon, so educators should train students in critical, analytical thinking and information processes instead of focusing on drilling facts and figures into memory.

Memorization has its place, and is more valuable than simply learning how to regurgitate facts when the exams season rears its ugly head. However, by simply focusing on spoon-feeding facts that the average Gen-Y or younger now can scan Google or use an app to find, you are not giving a student the tools to apply the knowledge they have.

In a generation that prefers business studies and entrepreneurship to stagnation and routine, critical thinking is an essential skill. As global competition increases, the need to be able to do more than simply regurgitate facts and figures to be an attractive prospect for future employers -- or to be able to strike out on their own.

E-classrooms, online platforms and webinars.

In the past, passive learning was the most common method of teaching. Students listened or read, and then evaluate content through exercises or tasks. There was very little need to actively use the information they were asked to remember.

However, active learning classrooms -- that are often used in secondary language learning -- are becoming more popular. As an extension of a teaching method which involves the integration of technology and media, online platforms are likely to become a fully integrated learning tool.

Instead of being viewed with trepidation or as a novelty, online content systems, social networks, distance-based classrooms and webinars are likely to become commonplace. By using such tools, students can begin to grasp the mechanics of data, independent study and analysis -- skills that we should be focusing on to prepare them for a technology and data-reliant working economy.

Shortening concentration spans

The immediate accessibility of information is not necessarily a completely positive change. There are many cases of academic studies that have suggested this influx of data has resulted in a shift of thought -- to be specific, a shortening of concentration spans within the younger generation.

Whether it is actually the case that the iGeneration, immersed in a digital world from a young age, does possess a shorter concentration span than older counterparts is debatable. However, several trends often emerge as characteristic of the Gen-Y :

  • Living in a 24/7 culture, Gen-Y like to receive information immediately and from different multimedia sources.
  • They are portrayed as more interested in problem based learning than accumulating knowledge.
  • They also possess a low boredom threshold.

Taking this into consideration, Gen-Y expect to be connected, and to be presented with challenges in order to prevent boredom. However, current employers more often expect this kind of flexibility from employees -- checking work email on mobile devices, for example -- and so the Gen-Y demand it in return.

Whereas previous generations were taught and maintained more linear thought processes, this generation is has to become adept at blending connections in work, personal and social lives.

Memorization is a critical skill. However, in a technologically-reliant and data-saturated environment, other skills are now required in both personal and professional lives.

The education system of the future needs to:

  • Cater to a different kind of learning emphasis. When information is so readily available, shouldn't we shift to educating the next generation about how to interpret this information flow, instead of simply remembering it?
  • Prepare students for a technology-reliant economy. We do students a disservice by not keeping school curriculums up-to-date with the skills that are in demand within the labor force. Don't just show them how to use Word -- expand this learning in relation to the skills and knowledge that are already valuable to employers. An understanding of networks, programming, Internet research and project collaboration -- there must be more emphasis placed on these skill sets.
  • Adapt to a different mode of thinking. Shorter concentration spans or not, Generation Y are known as multitasking job-hoppers, demanding flexibility in their daily lives. As such, if you plan to keep your Gen-Y employee, give them a few challenges and targets to keep them happy.

Image credit: Debarshi Ray


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