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For more than a century, education has followed a timeworn formula — of book learning, rote memorization and lectures, capped by standardized testing to measure student progress.

Globally, education systems have failed to change with the times, but there are signs that could be changing.

As technology continues to make inroads into the classroom, the field is playing an urgent game of catch-up, and schools around the world are retooling how they teach. Artificial intelligence, virtual reality and other cutting-edge innovations are creating a learning revolution for Generation Z and beyond.

The fast-spreading coronavirus has prompted a sweeping shutdown of schools in nearly two dozen countries, impacting the education of nearly 300 million students worldwide — placing e-learning squarely on the radar as educators scramble for at-home alternatives.

Even before the rise of the epidemic, e-learning had solely been slowly gaining headway in classrooms across the globe.

In its broadest context, e-learning is the use of technology to facilitate educating. This can range from incorporating tech equipment like laptops and cell phones into daily learning activities, to utilizing online video-sharing platforms like YouTube, file-sharing services like Google Drive, learning apps like Duolingo, and content management systems (CMS) like WordPress during the education process. While the hardware is sometimes disputed as distracting or isolating and the software struggles with overall efficacy and application, EdTech Magazine reported that 63% of K-12 teachers used tech equipment in their classrooms in 2017, and a NewSchools Venture Fund and Gallup report from 2019 said 65% of teachers use digital learning tools to teach each day. With online ed-tech being the profitable industry that it is, there’s no doubt these usage numbers will near triple digits in the years to come.

Global education is a framework for teaching. Its efforts still focus on the traditional classroom goal of educating students in the fundamental skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic, but the context is one immersed in global awareness and connectivity. Cultural appreciation, geographic and historical identity, global interdependency, and cross-cultural communication are all principles that global education promotes. These principles help to teach divergent thinking, critical analysis, and perspective appreciation, alongside the essential skills of reading and writing, in order to shape a more globally competent student. And students and scholars alike understand the need for such skills in a world that is growing more interdependent with each passing day.

So, what are the benefits of e-learning in global education?

Practical diversity. E-learning in a global education framework opens students up to new faces, cultures, and landscapes. Even indirect experience of these things, through online or on-tablet material, nudges learners towards a more diverse understanding of the world around them, but when the next step is taken, when there is live, direct experience of a new culture and perspective, greater growth in the direction of global competency is achieved. For example, if an American student Skypes with an Indian student, certain takeaways from this exchange are indelible: the verbal communication between two children of entirely different cultural understandings; the digital – and more or less, physical – interaction between different ethnicities and races; and the difference in temporal setting, whether it be time and/or space. These are just a few examples of what globally interacting students engage in, and what builds a foundation of practical diversity that reaches beyond general understanding and taps directly into real-life experience.

Better understanding. When students use e-learning tools to directly interact with people in different parts of the world, they are shown insights, processes, and mindsets different from their own. The way a Thai student works through a math problem may not be a Polish student’s process. The use of an idiom might highlight cultural thinking on certain concepts. Differences like these motivate students to pause in order to consider where their counterpart is coming from, and in the space of this pause one reflects on themselves, their own thinking, and the thinking of the person they are working with. This promotes critical analysis, empathy, and cross-cultural communication, which paves the way to an all-around better understanding of how different cultures and individuals think, learn, and behave.

Global networking. The ongoing push of global interdependence is urging people to think outside the country, so when students meet and greet with children from across the globe, they are not only participating in immediate connections, but building possible future connections as well.  Any interaction could blossom into something longstanding today or foundational for tomorrow. This is often how networking plays out, and e-learning in a global education framework inspires such networking on an international level, which not only satisfies the demands of interdependency, but helps students establish a global network shaped just right for a globalized world.

And that’s exactly what we are. A globalized world becoming more and more reliant on each other. Navigating such reliance demands skills that bridge cultural gaps and incorporate current and emerging trends. In a global education framework, e-learning teaches those skills through global connectivity and inclusion, which is why it’s one of the most exciting ways for students to learn in today’s classroom.

 

John Harrell is a former teacher of English as a Second Language (E.S.L.) who lived in South Korea for four years. He covers the intersection of education and technology for School Group, exploring the impact of everything from peer learning to classroom tech. John holds a Bachelor’s degree in English language and literature form Christian Brothers University.

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