How technology should be used to redesign learning experiences based on cognitive inquiry

Technology should be used to redesign learning experiences based on cognitive inquiry, not to replicate offline experiences online

Why have we mostly failed to help children achieve learning outcomes? A common theory is that this is due to a lack of money. If we offer more money and attract more talented people to teaching, will we be done? While some countries like India are not spending enough on education, even big spenders are not seeing significant improvements. The real reason education fails in its purpose is that the practice of education today is not based on cognitive research.

Over the past few decades, science learning has taught us how the brain learns. What teachers think about the causes of learning and what students think about the causes of learning is often wrong. Our educational practice is not science-based learning; it still relies on outdated practices such as lectures to “pass on” information and a carrot-and-stick policy to motivate children. Trying to improve education without addressing this fundamental problem means we invest in scaling an architecture that is fundamentally flawed and therefore creates even more inertia to move to an education model based on science.

Impact on education

Here are three ways science learning can impact education:

Spiral course: Curricula today are mostly linear like checklists. Each subject is covered and then we move on to the next. When exams come, students don’t remember important ideas because they were done only once. But science learning shows that when we revisit important ideas many times, children understand and remember them much better. This is called the spiral program and implements the “spaced repetition” of key ideas. By using technology to redesign the program, we can now quickly integrate more such models and track their impact.

Mastery learning model: Today, we budget a fixed time for one subject and move on to the next, whether the learning is accomplished or not. This is a calendar-based approach. But the reality is that students will have gaps in their understanding that accumulate and lead to loss of interest in later lessons as they move on to more advanced topics. Science learning offers the mastery learning model, which allows the teacher to understand the gaps that accumulate and put in place a structure to help fill them. One way is to have separate online spaces for synchronous and asynchronous learning. The coach becomes more like a facilitator who observes the child in both spaces, identifies gaps, and spends time with each to fill them.

Teaching to learn: Today, we tell students that their job is to learn, but we don’t teach them how learning works. For example, most people don’t know that reading a storybook requires different techniques than reading a textbook. They don’t know how the long-term memory muscle is built or how to improve concentration over time. This lack of understanding is why many children tend to cram, practice rote learning, and fail to apply concepts in the real world.

Over the past decade, online education has mostly tried to bundle self-study content for the same old school curriculum or tried to provide basic test prep content for competitive exams. But, over the next decade, we will use technology not to replicate offline experiences online, but to redesign learning experiences from the first principles of cognitive inquiry and provide knowledge, social skills and up-to-date learning mindsets. If we are successful, over the next 10 years we will build an education system that the next generation can truly be grateful for.

The author is the founder and CEO of StayQrious.

Norma A. Roth