Jan 21 2019

Q&A: Kelly Young on Tech's Role in Learner-Centered Education

Executive Director of Education Reimagined says the right technology tools can help pave the way for a new style of learning that empowers students.

Many K–12 educators are pushing back against traditional education models, advocating for learner-centered education, which puts study into the hands of students.

One way educators are introducing student-centered education into the classroom is through meaningful integration of educational technology

As experts at this year’s ISTE and ICE conferences have noted, the transformation to learner-centered education is crucial for K–12 schools, and educators have been using technology solutions to make it a reality

EdTech sat down with Kelly Young, Executive Director of Education Reimagined, to understand how educational technology fits into the learner-centered education movement, and what kinds of innovations will be necessary in the coming years

MORE FROM EDTECH: Technology trends universities should expect in 2019.

EDTECH: How is the exponential growth in educational technology applicable to this new push for learner-centered education?

Photo: Education Reimagined

Kelly Young, Executive Director of Education Reimagined

YOUNG: Technology is in every field, which is making so much more possible and not always in the ways that we think. When people think of educational technology, they usually think of direct learner experience — kids in front of computers. 

And that is some of what it entails, but, more important, it allows kids to be able to have portfolios of their learning online so that they can actually document and demonstrate the learning that they have had

It also allows for coordination of educators who are not so proximate to one another. 

So, an educator might have a learning experience at the library or in a museum, and the information about that experience can be uploaded to a central system so other educators can learn from that. It also allows for people to learn across the world, redefining a classroom space. 

Essentially, it creates the opportunity for learning to happen anywhere, and with a lot of different people. And in the specific capacity of learner-centered education, it certainly makes it more scalable. 

EDTECH: What is technology doing to help learner-centered education, and where can it improve?

YOUNG: Right now, technology is making the current system more efficient. So, most technology is designed to fit the way classrooms are designed, the way school is designed and the way districts are designed now. 

What is most needed for the learner-centered movement are technologies that are not designed assuming that a student is taking a class and that's how they're going to get the credit. 

Learning platforms are an example of something that we need to completely reimagine and invent to fit learner-centered environments. 

There needs to be a system designed with the assumption that students will be assessed in a lot of different ways and that evidence of learning is not always going to be a grade. 

There’s a huge empty space right now in the technology field for people who are actually inventing for the future, because most people are inventing for the present. 

MORE FROM EDTECH: See how schools are using technology to improve student assessments.

EDTECH: How much of this adjustment to learner-centered technology needs to be from new inventions, and how much can be adjustments to how teachers use current technology?

YOUNG: I'm sure there is a lot of technology that has been invented that could fit, but the applications have yet to be developed.

We have learner-centered environments that are inventing things themselves to keep track of the way kids are learning because nobody is providing the kinds of tools that are adaptable and flexible enough to service learner-centered environments. 

I think it is a problem of demand. Learner-centered is still a burgeoning sector. So, as an entrepreneur, if you are looking to build for where the most money is, you're going to build for the current system. 

You’re not going to build for the future, even though in our mind building for the future is where the investment is. 

EDTECH: Is there a way schools can transition away from the current system, while still meeting the test scores they need?

YOUNG: There's a lot of room in the middle. But it is also urgent that educators change current conditions so that we can actually get to a new way of learning. I think something people do point out to us is that you can use technology for anything. 

If your goal is to improve test scores, you can use it for that. If your goal is to create curious children, you can use it for that. If you are trying to teach kids to research and tell fact from fiction, it can be used for that too. Technology is not the enemy. It is a tool to be used for whatever ends you're trying to accomplish.

MORE FROM EDTECH: Steps to creating a K–12 modern learning environment.

EDTECH: There has been a lot of talk about “meaningful use” of technology today, how would you describe meaningful use?

YOUNG: It is hard because there is no one-size-fits-all. Sometimes, a soft-paced, online math program can be exactly what a child wants and needs. Other times it can be totally boring, and it is just putting a curriculum online, which can make you lose the human element. 

Teachers should ask students whether a program is a meaningful use of technology or not. Teachers should trust their students about things like this because the kids know. 

In our experience, if you give them a say in what they want to learn, they will give you valuable feedback and tell you if something was a worthwhile tool or not.

JGalione/Getty Images

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