Fulfilling Technology’s Promise to Education

Article Authored by Bill Gates

Growing up, I was fortunate to have teachers who encouraged their students to explore areas of learning they were curious about. Having the freedom to try things out allowed me to develop a passion for computing—which eventually led me and a fellow student, Paul Allen, to start Microsoft.

Being lucky enough to have great teachers also nurtured a love of learning that has stayed with me ever since. As I told school leaders recently at the annual conference of the National Association of Independent Schools, my own experience in school is one of the reasons I’m so passionate about the work our foundation is doing in education.

I believe a lot of good teachers could become truly great teachers if we can get better at identifying and measuring effective teaching, investing in helping teachers improve, and rewarding excellence.

I also believe technology can help teachers be more effective and make learning more interesting.

When done right, the results are promising. One indicator is how many K–12 students are enrolled in at least one online class. The number increased from 45,000 students in 2000 to 3 million in 2009.

Another is a recent U.S. Department of Education study showing that “blended learning”—a combination of online learning and classroom teaching—increases student outcomes by 14 percent. These are early numbers and more research is needed, but these are encouraging signs.

It’s exciting to see the growing number of entrepreneurs developing online learning systems in areas like mobile learning applications and e-books and the ways teachers are using a blended learning approach in their classrooms.

There are four key trends in online learning. The first is creating more engaging and interactive ways of learning than the traditional textbook. Another is using the Internet to post and find great teacher lectures and effective course materials. The use of social networks is also a growing influence, with the potential to increase collaboration among and between teachers and students and extend class discussions beyond the classroom. We’re also seeing new kinds of personalizing learning—using gameplay and other tools—that give students and teachers important real-time feedback.

But finding the right resources and figuring out how to use them is more difficult today than it should be. The foundation will be developing an online service that will help educators more easily discover and learn how to use these new tools.

There really is no limit to what teachers can do if they have the right resources. A decade from now, finding and using the best content and technology will be as natural as opening a book. Tablets and high-speed Internet access will be ubiquitous. Each student will have a learning map that helps chart their interests and learning path inside and outside the classroom. And the concept of the textbook will fade—replaced by easy online access to the best lectures and course materials available.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Reprinted with permission from “The Gates Notes.”

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