Education is uniquely human. We must not lose sight of this fact. With rapid technology developments, it’s easy to get swept up in the latest fad—adaptive learning, learning analytics, and iterative content engines, to name a few. Yet sophisticated algorithms never can replace the work of a highly trained instructor. Today’s instructors are domain experts that skillfully know how to distill complex concepts into fundamental learning moments. Too often when I read articles about technology trends in education, I do not see enough mention of the instructor. The instructor (next to the student) is the most influential actor in the learning process. Personalized learning requires personalized delivery from instructors, which is informed by in-depth discipline knowledge, current research, instructional design, and environmental factors.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m a technology advocate. I believe data science and adaptive learning tools are extremely valuable. Instructors and universities at large are dealing with a host of complex issues—budget cuts, ballooning enrollments (particularly in general education courses), managing disparate learning levels and styles, and balancing retention rates. Technology is the natural elixir for the ills of the modern classroom. Automatically graded pre-lecture assignments, student response systems, and algorithmic homework questions are all ways to engage students in class as well as provide tailored assignments to large sections. But just as a doctor would not prescribe a cocktail of prescription drugs to a sick patient without a thorough understanding of the patient’s medical history, we should not expect that our teachers will implement a complicated technology system in the classroom without a healthy dose of individual instruction and mentoring. As stakeholders in the education system, we also shouldn’t romanticize a vision of a plug and play learning environment in which teachers and students robotically exchange ideas in bits and bytes.
At Macmillan Learning, we believe our deep partnership with faculty is a key driver in understanding teaching and learning challenges and developing the solutions to ease those pain points. Too often, technology that may resonate outside of the classroom doesn’t always address learning challenges within the classroom. It is vital that content and technology are created with learning challenges in mind. A great example is the online homework system, Sapling Learning. Sapling Learning's interactive problems and feedback are designed to help students identify knowledge gaps and provide helpful feedback in real time – just like a personal tutor. The question sets featured in the Sapling system have been exhaustively tested and vetted by subject-matter experts. In fact, a key factor that sets Sapling Learning apart from other online homework systems is our commitment to educator support and platform ease of use. We match educators with a Sapling Learning Client Success Specialist – a Ph.D. or master’s-level subject expert – who provides collaboration, software expertise, and consulting to tailor each course to fit instructional goals and student needs.
Our partnership with educators and our obsession with solving education-specific problems are critical to creating tools that work for educators and students. I, along with my talented team, am guided by the ideal that we seek to help teachers and learners thrive and flourish. Technology can be a powerful ally. Yet teachers and students are at the heart of our mission to improve lives through learning.