During the 21st century, the world has seen one of the biggest transformations in technology that impacts how we live and operate. From the invention of smartphones to the evolution of teleworking–innovation has continued to drive change in communities across the globe.
In 2013, companies around the world were spending $638 billion on innovation, including the incorporation of digital tools. In a global innovation study conducted five years later, it was found that the top 1,000 publicly held companies spent $782 billion on research and development. Many organizations understand the value of digital tools and their impact on profit, allowing for employees to complete their day-to-day tasks more effectively. For a communications firm, this could be seen in the value of having the tools to provide clients with more valuable and accurate insights. For a consumer goods company, digital tools help to provide customers with quality service and even support supply chain management and product distribution.
The diversity in benefits of digital tools is wide span, especially in areas such as modern education. The tools used in today’s learning environment look different from those used a decade ago–and have evolved over the past two years as the educational landscape continues to adapt to external factors.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, educators were learning about the ways that digital tools positively influenced and affected education. Similar to the ways the world witnessed the impact of digital tools in other sectors, the same was expected for the education space. Since 2020, schools have witnessed how digital technology, in general, has driven virtual learning, but how have these tools been utilized beyond standard teaching and instruction?
WHAT ROLE ARE DIGITAL TOOLS PLAYING?
Improving accessibility for students with disabilities. As technology continues to evolve, so does the ability to provide neurodiverse students with resources and tools that are needed to ensure they receive an equitable education. Accessibility through digital tools helps to ensure that the content being shared meets POUR principles: perceivable, operable, understandable and robust. According to Ed Tech Magazine, there are several ways educators are using digital tools in a way that is tailored to individuals students, such as utilizing speech-to-text software, creating VR experiences and using closed caption features on videoconferencing tools. Implementing these tools within every day learning helps to create a more inclusive and empowering environment for students, despite the learning barriers they face.
Advancement outside of the classroom. Beyond implementing digitals tools in day-to-day learning in schools, students now have the opportunity to leverage these resources during periods outside of normal school hours, such as afterschool, weekends and extended breaks. The importance of continuous learning in addition to allotted school time has been emphasized in schools for decades, however now, digital tools are allowing students to do so in a new and innovative way. For example, digital tools can provide extra assistance for students that need tutoring in a specific subject, or just more time with a certain concept or lesson.
HOW DOES THE DIGITAL DIVE COME INTO PLAY?
While we see the exponential impact of digital tools in the education of students everywhere, there is still the looming issue of access to these tools. Many historically excluded communities lack access to the resources that are necessary to advance education, including technology and the digital tools made available through certain platforms and software. There is a significant gap in education that, more recently, can be attributed to the digital divide that often impacts low-income families and individuals of color. As of last year, 1.3 billion school-age children around the world do not have internet at home to access learning resources. Though students in certain communities are able to take advantage of the emerging digital tools inside and outside of the classroom, there are many students in the educational system that do not have the same access. While the digital divide is an issue that impacts people beyond the education space, its impact has been exacerbated over the last two years following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although digital tools are not the solution to all the obstacles faced in modern education, the ability to leverage them is a step in the direction toward supporting ways of learning that cater to diverse groups of students.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR SOCIETY AT LARGE?
Life will continue to evolve and change at exponential rates and that means ensuring that the tools we are utilizing align with the current state of our world. Modern education will continue to adapt and take on various shapes and forms, bringing along technology and digital tools that help provide unique opportunities to students across the globe. However, it is vital that we consider all that comes with this evolution and work to ensure that this happens in a way that is equitable for students from all backgrounds and walks of life.
We must work to advocate for the inclusion of accessible digital tools. We also need to acknowledge the disparities presented by increased use of these tools and understand the ways we can help to eliminate the digital divide. Most importantly, we should keep in mind the importance of investing in the education of the next generation that will one day lead the workforce, which includes guaranteeing access to tools that will support effective and innovative learning for all.