The Re-education of Technology

I wrote this article for Denver Startup Week 2019, on behalf of General Assembly Denver:

The Re-education of Technology

By Kristy LaPlante, Founder, Insight DCS LLC


I have distinct memories of playing the game The Oregon Trail on a boxy little Apple II computer in grade school. For some reason or another, our teachers thought that the electronic contraction of dysentery would somehow build character or enhance our learning experience. I’m oddly grateful for this.  We may not have gained all that much from it at the time, but the concept of utilizing technology for the purposes of education is certainly not lost on us today.

So much of our discourse throughout Denver Startup Week is centered around the amazing, positive and impactful experiences that technology brings to the world. Which makes sense: we are inventors of new things, breakers of glass ceilings, parents of innovation, rightful heirs to a post-Oregon Trail world. It naturally follows that we should add “modernizers of education” to this impressive list. But as a part-time digital marketing instructor at General Assembly Denver, I want to be sure that we also take a moment to appreciate the impact that technology has had, and will continue to have, on our system of education.

And indeed, the role that technology must continue to play for the greater social good.

Arguably, no one singular evolution has impacted modern education more than advancements in technology. I see this every day with my clients as a digital marketing & technology consultant, too: the way technology has put consumers in the driver’s seat, and what that means for daily business operations. Every time a new technology is born, the result is empowerment. Think about that. As connectivity spreads, businesses must drive less and listen to customers more. Technology has put the consumer in the driver’s seat.

Education is strikingly similar. As classrooms have become more wired, educational strategies have begun to shift away from lectures and lean more strongly on personalized lessons, ideation, creation and collaboration. Students today have access to more information than ever in our history. This has placed students in the driver’s seat of their own education in many ways.

Here are three ways that technology has changed education for the better, and what each of those changes means for the future:

1.     The shift from Passive to Active Learning.

Historically, students of all ages learned passively, taking in information as it was presented to them. Technology, however, has changed this game immensely, opening new opportunities for a more active – and possibly effective – approach to learning. This concept isn’t new; a study from the University of Rochester conducted in 19841 first edged us down this path. The U of R researchers wanted to learn how people reacted when they were being instructed for the sake of gaining information (the traditional classroom method we are mostly accustomed to) or when they were learning for the sake of re-teaching the information to someone else. They found that the latter method resulted in a much higher rate of material retention, but not necessarily for the reasons they originally thought. Somewhat accidentally, they discovered what we now take for granted: that the increase in retention was due to an enhanced, active style of learning: hands-on, interactive engagement with the lesson content, and not the sense of urgency, was the cause for success.

Active learning puts the student in charge of their educational experience. Modern technology facilitates this through labs, group problem solving, the encouragement of debate and critical thinking, broader communication experiences and gaming technology. The Oregon Trail was ahead of its time.

In the future, new technologies will continue to provide enhanced experiences to students. These experiences will not only offer more knowledge, but also a “stickiness” of that knowledge and an increase in the student’s ability to recall information previously learned. As a result, we can expect even more and better thought leadership and innovation over time as active learners grow into active leaders. Today, we need thoughtful stewards of innovation to cultivate these technologies and bring them to fruition.

2.     The Rise of Distributed Learning.


Learning is also becoming more distributed geographically, a trend that we can expect to continue well into the future. This, by its nature, results in educational opportunities that are more collaborative, diverse and inclusive. Many classrooms today use different technologies to facilitate distributed learning across borders: sessions are conducted over Skype, materials and discussions are shared across Slack, even podcasts have begun to find their place in learning environments. Clearly, technology makes active learning possible statewide, nationwide, and even worldwide.


It is no secret that our nation, and our world, is becoming progressively diverse. Not only is the balance of varying racial and ethnic backgrounds shifting from place to place, but people are increasingly intermingling and intermarrying. Further, studies have shown that diversity in both learning and workplace environments has resulted in more attentive learning for the participants involved.

There is much yet to be explored on this topic. Arguably, innovators and technology enthusiasts have a grand opportunity to build systems and processes that take advantage of diversity in more interesting, creative and intelligent ways. It is this author’s expectation that new products and applications will continue to be developed in this arena.

3.     The Evolution of A.I. in Education.

When we think of Artificial Intelligence (A.I.), it’s easy to get lost in the land of endless possibility. Fundamentally, A.I. enables education in several important ways. One is by significantly increasing the amount of feedback instructors can access, which in turn helps them to better tailor learning experiences for their students. This has been happening in classrooms for close to a decade. Consider this example: in 2012, a technology company in Massachusetts called Affectiva Inc. raised millions of dollars – with the help of the Bill & Linda Gates Foundation – to measure sympathetic nervous system responses of individuals in a middle school classroom. While still in testing, these sensors bring serious credence to the notion of real-time student feedback that teachers could potentially one day use to optimize their lessons in the moment.

A.I. also impacts educators’ abilities to personalize learning experiences, and tailor experiences to the needs of each individual student. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress2 conducted in 2018, fewer than 37% of students had the reading or math skills deemed necessary by U.S. government standards, and almost no advancements had been made in those disciplines for 4th and 8th graders prior to the implementation of personalized learning. Personalized learning that utilizes intelligent tools doesn’t just serve to expand the potential for individual successes; it also expands the potential to bring functional education to individuals who have been left behind by traditional teaching methods, including those with learning impairments or disabilities.

It is safe to predict that further functional development of 5G infrastructure will only continue to impact this growth. As more data and information can be shared and/or processed, biometrics and personalization in the classroom can be expected to innovate and advance.

Education is vital to our future, and to growth and success. As you navigate through this year’s Denver Startup Week, be sure to keep an eye out for any innovators in the education space. We’re guessing you will find them.




Kristy LaPlanteComment