The benefits of technology in the classroom are becoming clearer as more research is done and more statistics are compiled. For instance, the iPad has proved itself to be an effective learning tool for students, and technology also has become an important part of executive education programs created to develop tomorrow’s business leaders.
Modern-day executives are expected to have a set of skills no one before them needed. Skills such as visual literacy and the ability to strategize, advertise, market and sell products in a digital world have become essential skills for successful executives.
The use of digital media in the classroom isn’t an option in the technology era, said TJ Leonard, CEO of VideoBlocks; it’s a necessity if educators want to develop competent business leaders. “Your customers are already using [digital media] as their default for communication,” Leonard said. “Why are they willing to use it? Because they have to.”
These changes are causing universities to restructure curriculums to include a digital element for many majors, such as art, journalism and business. LSU had its second group of students begin the Digital Media Arts & Engineering Master’s program for the 2015 fall semester. And a $25 million endowment to the University of Notre Dame is helping fund construction of a digital media center for students there.
Traditional learning strategies sometimes fall short because they don’t provide any practical experience, Leonard said. Technology enhances learning because it combines the building blocks of theory with a hands-on, interactive experience for students to put their knowledge to use. The benefits of programs such as those at LSU and Notre Dame come from giving students a chance to apply theoretical knowledge in subjects such as engineering and design and put it to practical use. It also gives students an opportunity to create new content by blending two existing forms into something new.
This changing educational dynamic has a keen connection to how leaders meet workforce needs. Two-thirds of companies report having trouble finding qualified applicants to fill a position, according to a May 2015 article in Fortune magazine. This skills gap is driven largely by an influx of technology into the workplace. By incorporating it at the learning stage, employees will be able to dive into an increasingly digital workforce after graduation.
Leonard said the best way to measure whether this kind of learning has been successful is to evaluate three areas: interactivity with content, engagement with content, and knowledge transfer and memory. Digital media thrive on all three fronts, but educators must know which one will be the most effective vehicle to achieve their learning goals. “Whichever piece of technology helps improve interactivity, helps drive engagement and improves knowledge transfer and memory, that’s the right technology to use in that time,” Leonard said.
Placing an emphasis on interactivity and practical learning will pay dividends when it’s time for an employee’s first day on the job. Final projects, where students have to create something such as a video or presentation, will facilitate knowledge retention more than a final exam, mean less time spent ramping up on the job and ultimately create more productive employees, Leonard said.
Further, as new technologies such as wearables and virtual reality are introduced into the marketplace, digital-savvy employees will become even more crucial for businesses who want to stay competitive. Researchers behind the 2016 NMC Horizon Higher Education Report predict learning analytics software and virtual reality will be among the next technologies to be heavily integrated into companies’ learning toolkits. The report stated that both of these technologies have potential to greatly enhance on-the-job training.
But technology is limited by the skills of the people who create it, so don’t expect a completely digital classroom anytime soon. “I don’t think it will replace human interaction,” Leonard said. “There will always be a place for one-on-one interaction between faculty and students.”