Bringing the Classroom into the 21st Century

Despite all of the noise surrounding the evolving learning landscape and the emerging technologies that are creating and delivering learning in new, exciting ways, the classroom is still king. Period. Brandon Hall Group’s 2015 State of Training Study found that about 40% of companies deliver at least half of their learning via instructor-led classrooms. No more than 15% of companies use any other modality this much.

21st century classroom designThat’s not to say that organizations are full of luddites who refuse to adopt technology and would rather scrawl crude drawings on slate tablets as some sort of primitive PowerPoint. Most organizations are awash in a wealth of technology and they are still just beginning to understand its potential for learning. The bottom line is that there is a lot of training that requires people to be physically in a room together with an instructor. There always has been and there always will be.

Where things seem to be stuck in the Stone Age is within the classrooms themselves. I bet you can picture it right now: rows of tables or desks with chairs all facing the same direction, toward a desk or podium in front of a big screen.

There is a multitude of technology available to enhance the classroom experience. Far from simple lectures and PowerPoint presentations, instructors now have the ability to engage learners and draw them into a more collaborative classroom environment.

Much of this technology is designed to facilitate the flipped class — a form of blended learning in which students learn content online by watching video lectures, usually at home, and homework is done in class with teachers and students discussing and solving questions. The dynamic nature of this approach enables teachers to create effective and fun asynchronous and synchronous learning experiences. Experts agree that passive learning with video doesn’t boost student achievement. As flipped learning becomes more prevalent, the distribution tools and video streaming that are central to this approach must be optimized for interactivity. Features such as powerful analytics that measure student responses and mobile learning capabilities will become the hallmarks of the best flipped classrooms. Here are some tools that can bring the classroom into the 21st Century.

Big Screen Projection

Interactive projectors have shown steady growth since they first hit the market in 2009, said Linda Norton, vice president of PMA Research, a high-tech market research firm that specializes in the projector market. According to Norton, U.S. sales of interactive projectors jumped 36 percent last year, from 63,042 units sold in 2013 to 85,813 units sold in 2014. New options for interactive projectors continue to emerge, with more devices supporting touch interactivity with a finger instead of a pen.

There are also numerous apps for iPads and Android tablets that allow users to share their screen with a larger display, but without much of the functionality that makes other solutions more suitable for a classroom environment.

Instructor/Student Screen-Sharing/Management

Beyond projecting the instructor’s screen, there are more advanced tools for classrooms where the learners are equipped with computers or tablets. Instructors can manage what the learners see on their screens, people can share screens, and they can collaborate in real-time. These platforms all share similar features such as annotation, messaging and screen lock.

Digital screen projectors

Projectors have moved beyond simply pushing images to a large screen. Users now have interactivity options, turning any display surface into an interactive white board. Some projectors require a pen or stylus for interactions; others need just finger gestures or touch. In April 2015, for instance, Mimio upgraded its projector line by adding a touch-enabled device. T

The pen-based interactive model (the 280I) allows for the simultaneous use of up to 10 interactive pens and the touch-based 280T supports up to 10 simultaneous touch points.

How might this be useful in the classroom? On MimioConnect, the company’s online community of educators, one educator suggested projecting four incomplete equations on the board. Have four teams of two to three students each come to the front of the class, and assign each team an equation to solve. Then, compare and contrast the different strategies that students used to solve each problem, and ask the class to discuss the pros and cons of each method.

Many schools look to interactive projectors as an alternative to interactive whiteboards in classrooms, said Tom Piche, a marketing executive at Epson America. With an interactive touch area ranging from 60 inches to 100 inches diagonally, these projectors give educators some flexibility in terms of classroom installation, he said. Touch capability is increasingly important, and many customers now expect this instead of pen-based interactivity. Some providers include:

Between physical set-up and emerging technologies, the classroom has been changing dramatically. The goal is to make the most of the time learners spend face-to-face with instructors and their peers. There is a focus on making the classroom experience:

  • Immersive
  • Collaborative
  • Extroverted
  • Trial and Error
  • Experiential
  • Fun
  • Engaging
  • Progressive
  • Inspirational
  • Designed around the learner

This means an adoption of newer technologies and an examination of the physical layout of the classroom itself. Simply walking through a PowerPoint at the front of the class does not make the most of anyone’s valuable time. Using the classroom to focus on collaboration, problem solving and hands-on application of knowledge is critical to move learning forward.

David Wentworth, Principal Learning Analyst, Brandon Hall Group

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David Wentworth



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