Three ways digital technologies can empower learners and democratise education

How are digital technologies and social media impacting the education sector? At a recent event hosted by Pearson, technologists and educators came together to discuss and debate how to create a ‘more open, personalised and connected’ learning environment through the use of social media.

While a number of barriers to full social media adoption across the education system were discussed, what became clear from discussions was the potential power digital technologies have in three areas in particular: to empower teachers and students, to act as a tool through which learning occurs, and to democratise learning at a global level.

1. Empowering teachers and students

Free to use platforms and e-learning tools put teachers in the social media adoption driving seat: change does not have to come through the bursar’s office. Although this does place the burden of responsibility with already time-poor teachers, it also means a one-size-fits-all approach to social media adoption is avoided and teachers are able to choose the tools and formats in social media that are most suitable for their classroom.

Students themselves are empowered by becoming drivers of platform adoption. Jodie Lopez, Champion Schools Coordinator for Pearson, highlighted that there is a world of difference between a child saying, “I’ve discovered an app and I’m using it to learn X” and a child saying “I’ve designed this app on Raspberry Pi.” While the teacher will retain oversight children are able to adopt learning tools that suit their own style best.

2. Learning tool not topic

This raises the second topic about social media: it is a tool for learning, rather than an end point in itself. Though, all of today’s speakers said that teachers had a responsibility to educate students about online safety, they also agreed that it was a means through which learning could and should take place and that this should be the primary focus of social media’s inclusion in the classroom. Kirsten Campbell Howes, e-learning specialist, director at Soda and former EFL teacher, felt social media platforms such as Twitter offered opportunities for language learners to engage with native speakers and research content, and for teachers to create a flipped classroom.

3. Democratising learning

Finally, the global reach social media creates opportunities for everyone – regardless of income or geography – to access high quality education. Scott Sage highlighted that the rise of Mass Open Online Courses (MOOCs) allowed people who may otherwise be disenfranchised to access world leading education opportunities. Briefly mentioned was the organisation Zaya Learning Labs a social enterprise providing micro-cloud based education to vulnerable children across the world living in remote or impoverished areas lacking reliable resources.