Maximizing human abilities, passing on skills and abilities to new generations, eliminating societal inequality – achieving these goals will require solving a variety of problems affecting existing educational and training methods and the development and deployment of new methods. Education and training are indispensable to the upbringing of a new generation to shoulder future responsibilities and to generating the driving force needed to change society and industry to make them both more vigorous and more sustainable.
In response to this social need, efforts making use of the latest technologies to develop and implement new educational methods are becoming more active. Here we describe a movement known as “Edu Tech” that encourages the development of new technology to bring about major changes in educational methods (Figure 1).
Utilizing technology to maximize human abilities
The term “Edu Tech” is a neologism coined from the words “education” and “technology.” It is said that teacher-student relationships have existed in the workplace since pre-history, and up until the present day the transfer of knowledge and skills from a person who guides to a person who learns has formed the foundation of education. In fact, in primary and secondary school education, in personal training in the workplace, and in fields such as sports and the arts, the teacher or coach providing guidance to the learner has been the common theme.
The goals of Edu Tech can be divided into two major categories (Figure 2).
The first is to provide more people with learning opportunities for maximizing individual abilities and expanding possibilities.
Acquiring knowledge and skills is a process that takes considerable time. But nowadays it is difficult for busy people, whether young or old, male or female, to set aside substantial blocks of time to study. If technology can be used to enable individuals to flexibly devote time between other tasks or on days off to study, the available learning opportunities can be increased.
Furthermore, if we compare urban areas with well-equipped education infrastructure and rural areas that lack such infrastructure, there is a disparity in the subjects and methods available for study. Even though education is the most effective way to eliminate poverty, which is one of the sustainable development goals (SDGs), there are many people throughout the world who lack educational opportunities. If ICT can be put to use enabling people to receive instruction, educational opportunities will become more flexible, and the likelihood of overcoming the problem of unequal opportunity will increase.
Another goal is to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of education by providing individualized instruction customized to match the specific characteristics of each learner and the state of their educational progress. When large numbers of students are all taught the same material using the same methods, it is inevitable that some students will find classes insufficiently challenging while others will have difficulty keeping up and eventually fall behind.
One reason that a uniform approach to education has been the norm until now is that the number of teachers is much smaller than the number of students. If technology makes it possible to carefully monitor factors such as the progress, ability, and personality of each individual student and to tailor the instruction to match, perhaps slumbering talent will blossom, and students will awaken to new possibilities they were not aware of and will be able to acquire knowledge and skills more effectively.
Expanding applications of Edu Tech in schools, workplaces, and fields such as sports and the arts
Some specific examples of how Edu Tech can be applied in new ways to education and training in schools, workplaces, and a variety of industries are presented below (Figure 3).
Our first example is the application of Edu Tech in primary and secondary education. In March 2019, Japan launched the “Global and Innovation Gateway for All (GIGA) School Project,”*1 which aims to promote the training of young people able to meet the demands of the future by distributing a computer terminal to each and every elementary and secondary school student in the country. This initiative is intended to realize an educational environment that encourages the individuality of each student and promotes creativity optimized to each learner. Tablet computers that can connect to the network via a cellular or Wi-Fi® link are used to enable close sharing in the learning process between each student and the teacher as lessons proceed.
In the past, classes usually proceeded in a style characterized by the teacher speaking from a podium at the front of the classroom, with a few students occasionally answering questions the teacher put to them. By using tablets, the teacher and all the students can share in the taking of notes by individual students or the process of figuring out answers to questions. This has made it possible not only for the teacher to see which students got the right answer, but also for everyone to share the train of thought leading to the answer, for individual students to help each other, and for the proficiency level of the entire class to rise. What’s more, using the camera functionality, students can do things like summarizing the results of their observations in science class or dynamically expressing their thoughts in videos they shoot and edit themselves, thereby developing their ability to make presentations.
Our second example involves the use of Edu Tech by a company in the manufacturing industry to quickly get new employees up to speed on factory procedures currently being performed by experienced workers. In factories where a wide variety of products are produced in small quantities, with many different products being produced on the same line, substantial variations in production efficiency and the quality of finished products can arise due to differences in the skill level of the workers. The most skilled workers have learned through experience how to perform operations precisely and without wasted effort. Since their know-how and skills are hard to express in writing, it can be difficult to convey the key points and tricks of the trade to the newer workers.
There are now companies that use cameras to capture the work of experienced employees and their actions on the line. Motion tracking technology is then used to convert the videos into digital data, and AI analysis is employed to determine which actions can be linked to improvements in productivity and quality. Key points for improving skills can then be presented in visual form and used in the training of new workers. Training workers using materials incorporating visualized information, and monitoring the actions of the workers undergoing training and providing feedback in real time make it possible for new employees to attain the same level of skill as the experienced workers much more quickly.
Our third example involves technology currently in the research stage. It uses Edu Tech to allow learners to experience the techniques of skilled individuals in areas such as crafts, the arts, and sports, enabling them to improve their skills effectively and rapidly. In one method of teaching the subtle aspects of using a brush in painting or Japanese calligraphy, the student holds the brush and the teacher grasps the student’s hand in order to demonstrate aspects such as the correct application of pressure and the experience of moving the brush. A similar method of instruction is often used in the world of sports, where the learner is assisted by the coach and helped to experience the correct posture and movements. By conveying the sense felt only by one who has mastered the skill, the learner is enabled to achieve mastery quickly. This method of teaching can be very effective, but it requires one-on-one training of the learner by an experienced instructor and therefore cannot be easily adopted by everyone.
Technology currently under development utilizes new technologies such as virtual reality (VR), haptic feedback, motion tracking, and robotics to convert the body posture and movements of the instructor into digital data and then convey them to the learner. For example, there is already technology that reproduces using a robot arm the subtle movements and application of pressure of an expert Japanese calligrapher. By using this technology to store the brush manipulation of the master as digital data, it can then be reproduced anywhere and at any time for practice.
Education is said to be the surest and most effective investment we can make. It is also indispensable to the continued development of society necessary for a happy human life. Some people worry that the advancement of AI and robots will deprive people of their jobs. But depending on how it is used, technology can expand human possibilities and encourage human growth. The fuller adoption of Edu Tech will surely lead to the advancement of humankind.
*1 The GIGA School Project is an Initiative of the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology that aims to create an environment in which ICT terminals such as PCs and tablets can be used effectively for education in venues such as elementary, junior high, and senior high schools. GIGA stands for “Global and Innovation Gateway for All.” It promotes innovation in the educational space through efforts that go beyond the provision of hardware to include the provision of software such as digital textbooks and AI-based drills concentrating on areas where the student is weak, and the strengthening of an instruction system utilizing outside input such as requests from local instructors and assistance from ICT support personnel.
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