How Interactive Technologies Reshaped Learning
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Interactive Learning Technologies

In 186 countries across the world, the COVID-19 pandemic deprived 1.2 billion children [1] of the traditional school experience. This unexpected upheaval has forced teachers and parents to come up with reasonable, safe, and educational alternatives to brick-and-mortar schools. This is especially challenging for younger kids who can’t learn on their own. Educators are turning to online learning to substitute the classroom experience. The concept of educational technology was gaining popularity even before COVID-19.

Last year, Research and Markets estimated the global online education market could reach $350 billion in 2025 [2] (up from $18.66 billion in 2019). This expected growth is attributed to the positive effects of eLearning technologies. Research suggests that online learning increases information retention by 25-60% [3] compared to conventional classroom settings and minimizes time spent on education by up to 60%.

Online learning tools seemed successful back when their role was just to complement the conventional classroom. However, now they are emerging as the main method of education and there is a very real possibility that distance learning will persist even after the pandemic.

Will online learning in its current shape be sufficient? Or will kids start missing interactions with classmates and face-to-face experiences with the teacher? Can incorporating interactivity into online educational platforms present a solution to these problems?

Online Education Trends

Online education trends for 2020 show that part of the market is leaning toward interactive digital learning, such as game-based learning, VR, and AR technologies. While others will require interactivity to be successful, like hybrid homeschooling (explained below).

Game-Based Learning

The idea of learning through play dates back to the mid-19th century. Game-based learning relies on games specifically designed to educate using highly interactive and engaging content that is aligned with the curriculum.

Games have been used to learn a variety of subjects, including:

  • Typing, with software like TypingClub: a game featuring different keyboard layouts and finger positions. The game stores a user’s results and compares them to past performances.
  • Math, with games such as Math Snacks: this game includes a series of activities that support math curriculum. It addresses aspects such as scale factor, ratio, measurement, etc.
  • History, as exemplified in Mission US: an adventure-style game where players assume the role of people during various critical points of US history.

These games are popular as they offer a safe environment to attempt something new and fail. For some children, it can be frightening to fail in public settings like the classroom, while failing in a game has comparatively low stakes.

VR And AR In Learning

AR technology is becoming popular in schools due to the interactive experience it adds to education. It helps children visualize abstract concepts and enhances their understanding by presenting fun facts and 3D models of these concepts. One example is AugThat, an AR application that supports the elementary school curriculum by offering 360-degree 3D models of different virtual environments, such as our solar system.

Similarly, VR helps students understand lessons by immersing them in new cultural sites and historical settings. For example, with Google Expeditions, kids can observe dinosaurs from the safety of the classroom. Another exciting instance of VR in classrooms is inMind2, a game that allows children to understand the chemistry behind human emotions. Players witness and investigate how teenager John grows into an adult and how human chemistry shapes him.

Teachers Adapting To New Roles

The historical role of a teacher in the classroom was to lecture knowledge for their students to absorb. Educators had an authoritative role, and their expertise and opinion could not be challenged. Their responsibility toward students was generally limited to presenting material and preparing fair assessment tests.

The advent of online technology has accelerated the educational trend of teachers as mediators, which emerged in the last century. They guide students working in groups and teach them to think for themselves instead of passively receiving knowledge from others. This is relevant both in the physical classroom and online.

Hybrid Homeschooling

Before the pandemic, homeschooling was not very popular. Even though 7% of American parents [4] believed it was a good idea, they lacked resources, time, and confidence to try it with their own children. During the pre-pandemic period, some educational establishments recognized the value of homeschooling and allowed students to study partially from home. One example is Regina Caeli schools, which encouraged attendance only two days a week.

Nowadays, the concept of homeschooling is more relevant than ever, and the hybrid version offers relief for parents while still limiting the days of school attendance. In such settings, interactive technology is a valuable learning resource for kids and their educators.

Interactive Learning Technology Augments Online Education

Interactive learning is a hands-on way of transferring knowledge as opposed to passively listening to a lecture or reading assigned material. Children might perceive passive learning as boring because their opportunity for involvement is minimal. This type of education also has limited options for assessing student comprehension. On the other hand, interactivity captures students’ attention, involves them in discussions, and stimulates critical thinking.

In a conventional school environment, educators generally alternate active and passive methods of teaching. As the pandemic is forcing us to rely on online education, many teachers feel it is important to simulate the familiar school atmosphere as much as possible.

Benefits Of Interactive Learning Technology

The interactive part of online learning allows kids to receive feedback, personalized advice and directions, and offers a cheaper substitution to private tutoring.

Focusing On Child-Led Learning

In a conventional school environment, teacher-led learning prevails over student-led education. Online interactive technology promotes the overlooked student-led experience allowing everyone to learn at their own pace. It helps children develop self-awareness and understand their strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, they will associate learning with a feeling of independence.

Ensuring Kids Understand What They Read

Kids who are struggling to understand a particular topic can be hesitant to ask for help. If they are studying online from their houses, the teacher cannot see their puzzled faces and will not be able to step in to help. Interactive technology presents a solution employing 3D cameras, which recognize facial cues and eye direction. After picking up signs of confusion or disinterest, the educational program can either slow down the lesson, repeat the explanation, switch to another theme, or alert the teacher.

Giving Kids An Early Start On Education

Preschool-aged children and even toddlers who display curiosity toward learning do not need to wait for the first year of school. They can already use interactive technology to learn how to read, count, draw, etc. Furthermore, there are interactive programs, which use AR to help kids immerse themselves in the concepts they are trying to learn.

Saving Money And Time For Parents

With the help of online interactive learning, children can receive exciting educational opportunities at home. Parents are no longer required to drive their kids to tutoring locations, nor do they need to pay excessive fees for private tutors.

Examples Of Interactive Learning Platforms For Kids

There are many examples of how interactive learning technology can be used and which skills it can help develop. Below are a few ideas:

Learning Through Games

Gamified learning has many benefits: it increases memory capacity, develops strategic thinking, and improves hand-eye coordination. Below are some examples of game-based educational platforms:

  • Sumdog is an online learning platform that offers younger children (age four to eleven) challenging and fun games in math and other fields. Teachers can use this platform to monitor progress and assign homework.
  • Kahoot! allows teachers to create interactive fun games for their students based on multiple-choice questions. Children can sign in and access the game on their personal devices.
  • GoNoodle is a platform for gamified physical exercise. It encourages kids to get up from their chairs and mimic the movements displayed on the screen. In addition to regular exercise, this game introduces children to the concepts of mindfulness and meditation.

Collaboration Platforms

When children are studying online, they do not have the chance to talk to their classmates during breaks. Therefore, it is vital to foster interactions through online platforms. Collaboration helps children brainstorm creative ideas, learn from each other, and boost their self-confidence.

  • GoBoard is an online tool, which enables video chatting and offers an interactive canvas. Children can create a GoBoard on any educational site, send the link to a friend, and collaborate by writing notes.

Computer Science For Elementary School Students

Coding offers a hands-on experience for students to apply their understanding of computer science. By learning how to code, kids develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

  • Make Wonder is a leading platform for teaching computer science and robotics to children. This tool enables kids to virtually code robots while receiving one-on-one instruction and learning at their own pace.
  • Revolution Robotics Kit is a programmable electronic kit that allows children to assemble a robot and control it over a smartphone. The kit includes 530 plastic parts, firmware, hardware design, and a library of parts that can be produced on a 3D printer.

Interactive Learning For Babies And Toddlers

Even though online learning initiatives mostly focus on preschool and school-aged children, babies and toddlers can also benefit from baby tech learning solutions under the supervision of an adult. They are curious and drawn to exploring, pushing buttons, and switches. However, it is advisable to let them experiment with technology in the context of human interaction, such as video interaction with a remote relative.

This interactive experience can be used to teach babies new vocabulary and show pictures that the baby will not encounter otherwise, such as photos of children from different countries.

One example of such technology is Toddler Flashcards by iTot Apps. The app is designed for iPhones and iPads. With this app, parents can teach their babies numbers, the alphabet and words. Another example of baby-friendly technology is Webee’s four-key keyboard designed to introduce toddlers to computers and let them play educational games.

The key to these learning experiences is interactivity between the child and the technology. There is little proof that passively watching videos has a positive educational effect.

Challenges Facing The EdTech Industry

Augmenting online learning with interactive activities will result in a more fun and diverse way of receiving education. However, as with online learning in general, there are some pitfalls to consider.

  • Technology-related issues
    Not all students have the technology and reliable internet connection needed to participate in digital learning. These resources vary significantly across countries. While in Switzerland and Norway, 95% of students have a dedicated computer for school [1], in Indonesia, this number is reduced to 34%.
  • User Experience-related issues
    Some believe that moving to online education without training and sufficient bandwidth will result in poor User Experience. Developing platforms with intuitive User Interfaces and offering formal training can help partially resolve this concern.
  • Environment-related issues
    Kids require a structured environment to maximize learning effectiveness. Therefore, parents will need to replicate the situation children had at school.

Final Thoughts

Prior to the pandemic, online education was a supporting tool for the more interactive physical classroom. Now, when schools are closed until further notice, it is becoming the primary method for acquiring knowledge. Consequently, EdTech companies need to make it interactive to resemble the school environment as closely as possible.

Tech companies can consider partnering with schools or simply interview teachers to understand which type of interactions are the most beneficial for both teachers and students. Educators will use interactivity to craft a personalized approach to every student, while kids will use it to improve both their understanding of the topic and communication skills.

As the pandemic continues to influence our social lives, even adults are feeling deprived of social interactions and are searching for alternative methods. The situation might have an even greater impact on young children whose social skills are not well-developed yet. This offers an opportunity for tech companies to look beyond educational material and deliver interactive platforms that kids can use to socialize with classmates during breaks between classes.

[1] The COVID-19 Pandemic Has Changed Education Forever: This Is How   

[2] Online Education Market Study 2019

[3] Facts and Stats That Reveal the Power of eLearning

[4] Is Hybrid Homeschooling the Wave of the Future?

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