Broadband and the Future of Education

Picture a fifth-grade classroom where children happily spend much of the day playing video games, and the teacher encourages them. That may be where education is heading in the near future. According to a study by SRI International conducted for the Department of Education, online learning may be better for children than traditional classrooms. The independent research company concluded that “On average, students in online learning performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.” 

The research program involved mostly college and adult learning, but there were some K-12 students included as well. Over the 99 studies, students who experienced all or some online learning consistently scored in the 59th percentile while their counterparts in traditional classes performed in the 50th percentile. While that may not seem a great difference, it is statistically impressive. 

People like Robert Bobby Kotick, who is the president and CEO of Activision Blizzard, one of today’s most prolific and innovative video game companies see broadband utilization as the future of education. Game makers who study markets and are adept at producing engaging products are perhaps in the best positions to understand how to interface online education with traditional learning. Kotick’s corporation Activision Blizzard is the holding company for Activision, the second largest producer of video games after Nintendo. 

According to Kotick, Singapore schools are entirely online. China and India are close behind. Their schools are turning out high-performing students. That is because online learning has the advantage of making learning an individualized experience. Online learning can be tailored to fit each student’s learning style and needs. In many US colleges where online learning is utilized, students are expected to master their subjects online. Classroom time is spent in applying that learning to real-world situations. High school students also have the option to attend an online high school instead of a traditional one.

Online learning is not expected to replace the classroom. Working with others and learning social skills is vital. In addition, schools offer opportunities for participation in things like band and sports. The goal is to make classrooms effective and to empower teachers to address the needs of individual students as advisors or mentors instead of as policing agents. In the lower grades, students have markedly improved their mathematics performance by accessing a video game called Sumdog in which they compete against themselves and peers to master skills. 

If this vision of broadband access for all US classes is to become reality, the broadband infrastructure must be improved and widened. The tools are already in place. Tablets and laptops are inexpensive enough to be commonplace in the classroom. The problem is in access. More than 80 percent of respondents to a questionnaire said that their broadband connections were inadequate to meet the needs of the classes. The study which sponsored the survey recommends that governments—federal, state and district—take the responsibility of implementing programs that will provide adequate broadband to the schools. 

Another of the problems the visionaries face is the mindset of parents and an older generation that sat in the classroom with tedious lectures and endured mountains of homework. They see education as a duty and a serious rite of passage. The visionaries believe it is a serious matter too, but a quote from Kotick sums up the push for online education in the classroom. “Make an experience hands-on, engaging and fun and students will come, stay and learn.