There was a time in the very recent past that having a room of electric typewriters, a handful of televisions or even (gasp!) a single computer running basic DOS for an entire school was considered the very cutting edge of the tech-enhanced learning environment. Institutions of teaching still wholly relied on the skill and effectiveness of the individual standing in front of a chalkboard to impart information to a hopefully wide-eyed audience—no matter if they were first graders learning their multiplication tables or medical students delving into the maze of human anatomy.
But the times how they have changed. Today many of those antiquated chalkboards have been replaced by Smartboard interactive systems, more and more learners are mightily equipped with notebook computers and iPads and virtual reality (VR) has made it possible to zip students around the globe or inside a microscopic cell via a compact headset behind which lies infinite possibilities for the dissemination of information.
To put this watershed evolution into perspective, the folks at onlineschoolscenter.com have compiled a rather nice and effective infographic that breaks down the startling statistics behind the new digital classroom, a reality not just in brick-and-mortar structures but also for the older students who seek out online education from the comfort of their own homes. Consider some of these facts:
- In 1996 only 14 percent of classrooms had Internet access; 13 years later 93 percent were wired into the World Wide Web
- Today 48 states support online learning programs, and 95 percent of institutions of higher learning offer online classes
- Seven million people are enrolled in online classes, and one of every three college students take them
- Seventeen percent of schools offer full-time, online degree programs
- Taken in a whole, it’s now possible to earn most any degree without ever having to step into a traditional classroom
Additionally, onlineschoolscenter.com notes that there’s been a meteoric rise in the “gamification” of learning, which “applies mechanics and design techniques that help motivate us to achieve our goals.” Through making learning fun and goal-oriented in an exciting and anticipatory environment students at many levels are challenged to compete and, in the process, absorb information in ways previously underutilized.
And of course, VR is quickly becoming a go-to method of engaging students in compelling ways thanks to such online platforms as Google Expeditions. “Virtual reality delivers the best of both worlds—online, distance learning inside the real-world classroom. Time and space are no longer limitations, [students can] gain world experience without the heavy cost [and] it teaches independence and responsibility.”
Who knows where the digital classroom will go next, but it’s difficult not to invoke images of hologram professors being beamed into living rooms a la Star Wars. Indeed, it’s hard to believe that only three decades ago we were still using handheld calculators, two decades ago we relied on a dial-up Internet connection and only ten years ago small computer screens were straining our eyes to the point of agony. So the future of digital learning for all ages certainly looks bright on a global scale, and the current boundaries of virtual education will no doubt continue to be pushed into new realms of unlimited imaginations.