5 Tech Innovations That Can Change The Way We Learn & Teach


Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.

– John F. Kennedy

One of the defining beauties of teaching is the compulsion to dream, look at things beyond the classroom and find new ways of approaching education. Today’s blog post looks at various strands of technological innovation and what they mean for you.

Some of these innovations, such as gamification and mobile learning have already been widely studied and applied in the classroom. Yet, we need to make an effort to adopt what early explorers and leaders in educational technology have been trying to show us. The same goes for mobile learning, virtual reality and other cloud-based environments. Here are some thoughts on these various devices, games and virtual worlds.

In discussing each type of technology we must ask and attempt to answer two big questions:

a) Why should we use this technology in the classroom?
b) How can it transform education?

1) Mobile Learning


Why should we use mobile technology in class?

Schools are supposed to prepare us for life in the real world, yet our real world has changed considerably.  Schools are still trying to catch up. They are, for the most part, ill-equipped pedagogically, socially, and culturally to prepare us for life beyond the classroom. The world is  now a connected, global village, whereas the classroom is a still a closed entity.

Could it be that little mobile devices can bridge the gap and set our students free?

Here are three reasons to support using mobile technology in class.

i) Students can play with language, create and publish their own work through video, blog, eBook, interactive magazines, comics, stories, and so on. The whole world is in their phones. We’ve got to accept that and rise to the challenge of steering them through this vast webby world of the good, the bad and the ugly. Classrooms today should be less like Pink Floyd’s Wall and more like Star Trek Voyager.

ii) There is a certain amount of poetic justice involved in breaking through the inertia of  bureaucracy  through ”mobility”; both practical and metaphorical. Let’s call it inspirational dissatisfaction. Let’s be bold with the concept of transformation as a tangible reality. How, what and whom do we transform with mobile devices? We can measure not only how creative m-learning can be, but also how this can influence social, cultural and political ecosystems beyond the school walls.

Our students can now create their own learning situations collaboratively, which means that education can transform itself into contextualized, Vygotskian, student-centered reflections of the wider world. Students create meaning instead in ingesting meaning. They are empowered to express opinions, become citizen journalists and let their individual gifts emerge naturally. Self-transformation means that bureaucracies don’t have to get involved. In fact, this inside-out transformation is a revolution invisible to the untrained bureaucratic eye;)

iii) We promote social justice the natural way. The more I think about it, I find that there is nothing more natural than educational technology because it frees the mind, facilitates the unfolding of talent, and fosters the growth of well-rounded socially and emotionally intelligent citizens.

The ‘whys‘ of mobile learning can be fully explored in Mark Pegrum’s book on Mobile Learning and in his examination of social constructivism.

The practical applications of mobile learning are such fun and so creative that not using mobiles, where the technology exists, doesn’t seem to make sense anymore. There is an initial learning curve, which is why I highly recommend the many practical & beautiful ideas in the books below.

Here are some great books about the practicalities of m-learning and turning education on it’s head.

Learning to Go by Shelly Terrell.

Going Mobile by Gavin Dudeny and Nicky Hockly.

Digital Video for  iOS users and Scribd by Nik Peachey

2) Gamification


Image credit: Rose Photoamateur

Immersive, adaptive, fun, creative, intelligent. If we were to play a word association game with the word gamification we would come up with an infinity of learning insights within the wider infinity of real world experience.

In the book, “digital games in language learning and teaching”, the characteristics of games are described as highly conducive to learning when we break them down into pedagogical principles:

They consist of:

i)  Rules
ii) Goals and objectives
iii) Outcome and feedback
iv) Conflict, competition, challenge and opposition.
v)  Interaction
vi) The representation of a story.

If you want to learn more about gamification and try our practical ideas, I recommend that you follow Graham Stanley’s work on Gamifying ELT.

Here is my review of a Harrogate Presentation by Karenne Sylvester on the psychology of gamification and you can watch the embedded video from the blog itself.

For theoretical and practical explorations of gamification written by various experts in the field I recommend “digital games in language teaching and learning“, edited by Hayo Reinders.

Another great place to explore is, which is a school-ready remix of the original smash hit game Minecraft. However, I recommend learning a lot about gamification before diving in unprepared. You can also learn from those in your personal learning networks who have experimented with Minecraft with great success.

Here is an article about Minecraft in education by Marijana Smoljec, Vance Stevens and other innovative teachers in the field. Marijana’s ten year old son Filip, presented at his own webinar at the Reform Symposium 2014 and talked about how he learnt English from interacting with players all over the world. He even has his own You Tube channel called snakegaming 12.

3) Virtual reality


Virtual worlds have been popular in English language teaching for quite some time. When I started teaching online, teachers were very excited about Second Life, for example. So, what’s new?

A new buzz word in town these days is Oculus Rift. It seems to be one of the first fully immersive technologies, in the form of a headset,  that will become affordable to schools. While, it may seem to be an expensive toy right now, experts say that it’s already making its way into schools which are experimenting with its possibilities.

It can take students literally into virtual worlds that are not just on a screen but that give a fully immersive experience. Students may never be bored by history books again as they will ”attend” and “witness first hand” turning points in history via interactive simulations. Psychologically speaking; immersion, interaction, involvement, emotional engagement and a very strong sense of reality should foster a new love for learning and healthy risk-taking as students become explorers. This is just the tip of the iceberg, as I’ve been reading how social psychology will play a much bigger part in learning through the kinds of immersive experiences made possible by enhanced virtual reality.

4) Cloud Content Libraries

Most of us who work online are familiar with Goodle Drive as the main place to store, share, and edit work and projects. Drop box is used by most organizations for sharing large files. Cloud content libraries are becoming ever more sophisticated, and although we should always keep back-up of our work on our computers and hard disks, tools such as Evernote tempt one to believe that the cloud is a paperless haven with watertight security. The beauty of Evernote is that it stores your work both locally and in the cloud. If organizations were to adopt Evernote as the place to collaborate and share, it could save lots of emailing time and simplify complicated communication dynamics.

There are also smaller places to store work and share work. There are some that I love to call beautiful virtual libraries because they have such attractive and user-friendly interfaces. One I use is Pearl TreesListly is also great as a socially-driven bookmarking site. Other good ones are Diigo web collector and Symbaloo. I have also explored using Tackk as a virtual library amongst other things.

Online educational platforms allow teacher to store their courses, content and e-learning creation online too. The WizIQ content library, for example, allows teachers to upload all kinds of multi-media content where students from all over the world can access the files and follow the course.

5) Mixed reality

Microsoft is mixing a new witch’s brew in the Edtech cauldron of virtual spells. It’s different from virtual environments in that the computer itself becomes holographic. You can mix holograms with your real world to unlock new ways to create, communicate, work and play, according to the website. Microsoft calls it HoloLens. Check out this video showcasing HoloLens. It’s kind of like Minecraft in a hologram. I couldn’t find the price of using this technology anywhere on the website, though it is already supported by Windows 10.

This is where education becomes less like Pink Floyd’s wall and more like Star Trek Voyager.
Show and tell takes on a whole new meaning.

What would you do with this experience?

Sylvia Guinan

is an online English teacher, writer and blogger who facilitates professional development online. She uses brain-friendly techniques to help students and teachers around the world. She designs educational materials, develops courses, writes resource papers and publishes ebooks. Her work is the result of much research into the psychology of learning, as well as hands-on experience with multi-media technology.

1 thought on “5 Tech Innovations That Can Change The Way We Learn & Teach

  1. The school should indeed be preparing for the real world but we the teachers mentors need extensive mentoring into the ins and outs of technology. Most of us are not qualified and it is a few voices like yours which awaken some of us of this need. Thank you.

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