The Big Bang Theory in Education

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By: Alan D. Greenberg

If you want to know about the future of technology in education, it may pay to take a step back and re-visit what you know about The Big Bang Theory.

Whether you are familiar with the physics world and the concept that the universe was created billions of years ago, or watch the highly-rated TV show about a bunch of oddball science-oriented geeks trying to make it in the world, you know there are a lot of physics theories about how the universe continues to expand and the way the world works.

One of those principles is the theory of inertia: the tendency of objects to keep moving in a straight line at constant linear velocity, resisting any change of motion or speed. Indeed, don’t blame some educators for feeling like inertia is a way of life.

In the classroom, it may often feel like it’s still the same old same old: rows of desks, textbooks, overhead projectors, maybe a TV monitor or computer in the corner of the classroom.  Or maybe a “1:1: initiative” that puts school-owned devices in the hands of learners – many such initiatives have been subject to scrutiny and received negative evaluations in terms of effectiveness.  Or maybe it’s the gloom and doom in the media about declining test scores and academic performance set the tone for what so many believe: that education remains stodgy and old fashioned.

Wrong! Inertia is not winning. Rather, a revolution is steadily taking hold in both K-12 and Higher Education. And online video – along with a host of other emerging technologies – is a key element of that revolution.  As educators wrestle with this change, here are the realities that now shape their world view:

  • Learners have different styles of learning – bingo, technology can help address those different learning styles.
  • Technology can capture learner behaviors and provide better assessment data that can be used for improving classroom results.  Heard of big data?  Education is expected to be a big beneficiary.
  • Technology can open the walls of the classroom, extending learning hours beyond the standard school day.
  • Learners need interaction with more than just teachers, and often even learn better when working with peers. As a result, learner-learner interactions are taking the primary / secondary education world by storm.  Certain terms like “problem-based learning” or “project-based learning” are the norm now for getting kids to work together in teams and collaborate.
  • Technology can be used to create communities of interest – sometimes called Personal Learning Networks – and they can function like pulsating organisms that grow and evolve.
  • Technology can actually save money. Why?  For one thing, you aren’t printing textbooks every year, you are using digital e-books.  And technology can support continuity of operations during inclement weather or emergencies – keeping the business of education going.
  • Learners can benefit from review of lesson material.  This is especially true in both K-12, where the Khan Academy online videos are all the rage for families who seek online help for their kids in areas like math and science. The same is true in higher education, where for years colleges and universities have recorded “lectures” and made them available, originally via audio or videotape, now digitally. Often certain majors and advanced degree programs that produce professionals of a certain type, like medical school and business schools, have been strong proponents of what is commonly known as “lecture capture.”

Two other educational trends are in play these days.

  • One is that of the flipped classroom: taking the content a teacher would normally provide in the classroom and pre-recording it for the class to review prior to coming to class so that other activities (work groups, review, class discussion) can be the focus.
  • The second consists of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which in higher education enable professors to reach thousands of learners online on a global basis. While MOOCs have been highly controversial – some see them as a means of lowering the costs of education, others see them as diminishing quality – one thing is sure: colleges and universities are reaching out and doing this new form of distance learning more than ever before, to build their brands and to create new types of programs.

What does this mean for those involved in education and Ed tech? Know that the transformation has begun.  No doubt your learners have been gobbling up bandwidth and any tech tools you have put into their hands.  Going forward, they will be expecting you to support user-generated content of all sorts: the conversation isn’t just about teachers, but also about students and the work they can create.  So a new Big Bang is taking place – not as loud as the original, but certainly one that will be felt for years to come as the digital natives finish up their schooling and enter the workforce in storm.

Alan D. Greenberg is a Senior Analyst and Partner with Wainhouse Research and can be reached at


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