Things Do Not Change, We Change

Did you ever think that chalkboards would disappear from classrooms? How about that feeling of satisfaction from carefully cranking a counter-mounted pencil sharpener to get the perfect point on a pencil? And let's not forget the distinctive smell of that blue-lined paper. Today, these learning tools have become virtually extinct--at least in the form that most of us recall. Like so many other aspects of our lives, technology has become a major catalyst for change in education. Smartboards have replaced blackboards, keyboards are used more than pencils, and tablets ... well that really means something different now!

Despite the advancements that technology innovations are achieving in schools, many still lament that there is a "tech invasion" underway in classrooms across the nation. I challenge such thinking with a quote by Henry David Thoreau: "Things do not change, we change." We simply cannot expect today's kids to thrive if the learning environment is not relevant to them. Technology is a fundamental part of kids' lives, and they have been surrounded by it since birth. Thirty-nine percent of children ages 2 to 4, and 52 percent of children ages 5 to 8 have used an iPad, iPhone, or similar touch-screen device to play games, watch videos, or use apps, according to Common Sense Media. Do you know that 69 percent of pre-schoolers can use a computer mouse, but only 11 percent can tie their shoelaces? How about that 58 percent of young children know how to play a computer game but only 52 percent can ride a bike, and only 20 percent know how to swim? Do you ever wonder why TVs at electronics stores are loaded with smudge marks? It's because children finger-swipe them as they walk by, expecting the screens to come alive like a smartphone or tablet.

Technology in today's classrooms is capable of delivering a personalized learning experience for every student, whether struggling or advanced. These nimble technologies get to know individuals through use, and shape independent learning pathways by suggesting which lesson a child should receive based on what they have demonstrated they already know. These tools dynamically collect, analyze, and present critical data--upwards of 50,000 data points per student per hour--that allow teachers to identify and implement best practices, monitor individual student progress in real time, and maximize every instructional minute of the day. Schools that have placed Intelligent Adaptive Learning (IAL) tools such as DreamBox at the core of blended learning models are seeing staggering improvements in student progress and proficiency. The opportunity for every student to thrive has never been greater.

Here at the Aspen Ideas Festival, one of the big topics we're addressing is: What does the future of education look like? As kids continue to spend a significant amount of time consuming media outside of school--particularly on mobile devices--I see the digital learning environment morphing into a 24/7 "on-demand" engagement. The classroom will be wherever you are. It may be in a school building, family minivan, or dentist's waiting room, at the kitchen table, or on an airplane. Learning will sit in the palm of your hand and be directed by the touch of your finger--anytime, anywhere. It will be self-driven and self-architected at an even more personalized level than we know it today. This is not to hint that schools and teachers will not exist. They will always play a critical role in shaping our future generations. However, the walls that surround the classroom and the ticking clock that hangs overhead will theoretically disappear.

For some, digesting this notion may be like fingernails across a chalkboard. But I wonder how many of today's kids even know what that sounds like?

Jessie Woolley-Wilson is the President and CEO of DreamBox Learning. She has 20+ years of experience in education technology, including serving as President of the K-12 Group at Blackboard and President of LeapFrog Schoolhouse. Jessie was also named to the Forbes "Impact 15" list in 2012 as a disruptor of education.