Digital Platforms Boost Learning

Malcolm Woodfield

The valuable benefits of digital platforms for learning

The development of digital platforms has changed how we learn. First, it’s generated a greater demand for education. And second, it’s improved our ability to provide learning materials. The fact that these platforms are often online and accessible by mobile devices is also key. 15 years ago, students needed access to books and classes to find knowledge. Today, there are countless ways to find information online. As a result, millennials worldwide enjoy the digitization of the world’s repository of knowledge.

Two challenges caused by digital platforms

Yet online digital platforms aren’t only positive. They generate some significant challenges. The educational sector is now faced with an overwhelming demand for educational content. People of all ages and from across the globe go online to look for knowledge. For educational institutions, this means a shift in how they provide information. It also means a change in how they engage with their students. Educational institutions are starting to adapt their operations to better accommodate these changes.

It’s also simple to access so-called “unverified” content including informational content posted on sites such as YouTube and Wikipedia. On YouTube, for example, “how-to” videos abound. Wikipedia allows anybody to be a contributor, no matter whether he or she is a lay person or a professional. This means that people have no way of knowing if the information they find is reliable or not.

Advantages in the developed world

In developed countries, the use of computers and devices in education is widespread. The BBC states that almost 70 percent of primary and secondary schools in the U.K. use tablets. David Nagel, writing for The Journal, notes that U.S. schools are showing a similar trend. Almost all middle and high school students use mobile devices for schoolwork. Almost 33 percent use school-issued devices. U.S. News reported on how educators, from kindergarten to high school, use digital platforms. They found that 50 percent use educational apps, websites, and games during their classes. Many studies show that such digital platforms improve students’ performance:

Kindergarten through high school. According to Ashely Wainwright in an article for Secure Edge Networks, kindergarten students using iPads had higher scores on literacy tests than students without iPads. Sixty-four percent  of high school students agreed tablets allow them to study more efficiently and 63 percent agree they help them perform better in class.

College. In 2015, McGraw-Hill Education reported on mobile use for studying among college students. The company found that mobile use had increased by 40 percent between 2013 and 2014. Now 81 percent use mobile devices to study. One of the reasons for this is that mobile studying works for today’s students. Instead of spending hours in the library, they study in short, concentrated, bursts. As a result, 62 percent says technology helps them feel better prepared for classes and 48 percent says technology helps them save time. Additionally, 77 percent agreed study technology has had a positive impact on their grades.

Special-needs students. Technological advancements also yield many benefits for special-needs students. Wireless assistive technology means students are no longer bound to the classroom. Devices have universal access options like Braille displays, speech-recognition tools, and eye-gaze devices. And as Heather B. Hayes points out, assistive technology benefits all students. It empowers special-needs students, who can now integrate better into their schools’ communities.

Teachers’ resources. Educators now have more resources to draw upon while delivering knowledge. There’s a plethora of classroom apps for all grade levels. Research materials that once were only available in book form are now websites. Take as an example the Merriam-Webster Dictionary or The Purdue OWL website. Museums have websites that offer 24/7 visual information about a range of topics. And there are online governmental initiatives that support educators. The European Commission’s Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe  is an example.

Significant benefits for people in developing countries

Digital platforms and increased mobile phone ownership have a profound impact in developing countries. Borgen Magazine states that six of the seven billion people on earth have access to mobile phones. To put this statistic in perspective, consider that only 4.5 billion people have access to a toilet.

The Worldreader app gives people in developing countries access to thousands of free books. Because it omits the need to buy physical books, the costs of learning are far lower. According to studies, millennials lead the way in online reading. Women have higher levels of usage and spend more time than men reading online.

Unfortunately, only 40 percent of people in developing countries have access to the Internet. Sixteen percent fewer women than men use the Internet. A 2014 UNESCO report points out that such low rates sustain illiteracy. Developing countries also have a growing need for knowledge workers. Digital platforms, both on- and offline, will increase the education potential of their populations.

Yet until Internet access is more widespread, we need a better way to deliver knowledge to people.

An SAP white paper titled  “Learning in the Digital World” examines alternatives. An example is the Vodaphone Foundation’s “digital school in a box.” This contains a laptop and 25 tablets. Each device comes equipped with educational software for students from 7 to 20 years old. It also contains a hotspot modem with 3G connectivity, a projector, and a speaker. Teachers can load the devices from one power source. They can also connect all the tablets to their laptop to deliver content. This solution works both with and without Internet access.

Eliminating illiteracy and enhancing global learning

Global access to the internet and further digitization of knowledge are crucial. With both, illiteracy can become a thing of the past. Geography will no longer be a limiting factor regarding access to knowledge. And those with physical impairments will have increasingly sophisticated tools at their disposal. As a result, people around the globe will enjoy better education and more opportunities.

For more information, please visit Higher Education. Reimagined for the new economy.

Malcolm Woodfield

About Malcolm Woodfield

Malcolm Woodfield is the Global Vice President, Head of Industry Business Unit Education & Research, at SAP. He manages a global team accountable for the overall business, market, customer, and revenue success of the Higher Education / Public Services portfolio (including all Applications, Analytics, Mobile, HANA, and Cloud) globally.