Academic journal article The McKinsey Quarterly

Fast Lines at Digital High

Academic journal article The McKinsey Quarterly

Fast Lines at Digital High

Article excerpt

Computers have transformed work. They could also transform education.

Ten years ago, a school lesson on drought in sub-Saharan Africa might have required students to read a textbook and, perhaps, to watch a film. Today, with the help of computers and the Internet, that lesson could be transformed from a one-way flow of information into an interactive process. Students could go on-line to search for the latest thinking on the causes of drought. They could use e-mail to interview African-studies specialists on the cultural impact of the problem. And they could apply digital geography and weather tools to simulate the effects of drought on local crops and the environment.

But to achieve this new dimension in learning--and, above all, to enhance the performance of students--schools must do more than just wire up classrooms. Although 95 percent of US public schools and 72 percent of classrooms have access to the Internet, and the student-to-computer ratio is currently approaching 10:1 (Exhibit 1, on the next page), only 33 percent of primary- and secondary-school teachers say that they feel "very well prepared" or even "well prepared" to integrate high-quality digital content into their lessons (Exhibit 2, on the next spread). [1]

To prepare students for the world of tomorrow, schools must therefore take the next step by helping teachers integrate digital tools and content into the curriculum. Technology is no panacea for educational problems, but experience shows that when it is linked to clear educational objectives, it can help students master traditional skills such as math and reading and prepare students for work in an increasingly technological age (see sidebar "The CEO Forum").

A new environment

Digital learning integrates technology, connectivity, and digital content into the curriculum. Besides software, digital learning exploits audio, video, CD-ROMs, and World Wide Web sites as well as tools such as e-mail, computer simulations, real-time video discussions, and databases. Above all, it helps students seek and use information in a collaborative, creative, and engaging way that gives both them and their teachers a new kind of educational experience.

Although digital tools may never wholly replace the textbook, they could supplement and enhance learning in almost all grades and subjects because they have certain dynamic characteristics that help students take an active part in learning. Students using digital tools can access and manipulate up-to-date information to formulate hypotheses, evaluate evidence, and draw conclusions. They can explore subjects in greater depth and apply information in increasingly complex ways. They can hone their problem-solving skills and learn how to use information to make decisions. Moreover, because digital content is available in various formats, it can be tailored to a student's individual learning style. Students who learn visually can rely more on charts and video; those who learn analytically can use text and data.

As technology spreads through the schools, teachers and students will assume new roles. Students will pursue more self-directed projects and set their own goals; teachers will take on the role of facilitator. Parents and outside experts will form part of each student's learning team.

Moreover, digital learning prepares students for the demands of life and work in a way that traditional educational methods don't. Since almost half of all students in the United States go straight into the workforce from secondary school, introducing technology into primary and secondary education is essential. [2] The US Department of Labor has found that nearly all of the job categories expected to expand most in the coming years--in manufacturing plants, health care, and services--will require some technological knowledge. Students should learn to use technology productively to find and manipulate information, to understand systems thinking, and to master interpersonal skills and teamwork. …

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