How emerging technologies are reinventing teaching and learning

If predictions from scholarly experts hold true, 65 percent of today’s primary school students will work in jobs that have yet to exist. How do we begin to prepare children for a future projected to be so drastically different from the present?

“Today’s students need to become really good at learning — not just in academics but also when academic life is over. You’re going to be living in a world that’s changing around your entire life.”

—Christopher Dede, Timothy E. Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies at The Harvard Graduate School of Education

As the rate of innovation increases, the overall approach to education must evolve and adapt. That includes rethinking traditional teaching methods and tools.

This new way of learning will be redefined to reflect technological advancements, and knowledge will be acquired through exposure to tools such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). VR is set in a virtual world, with limited stimulus from the real world, and AR takes place in the real world, with digital elements incorporated. Together, they provide immersive, scalable, project-based learning opportunities for students.

Active, unstandardized learning

When used in a classroom setting as an instructional medium — versus an educator replacement — VR and AR support more holistic, real-world learning and help children play a more active role in the learning process.

“It’s really important that students become creators as well as consumers of technology.”

—Eric Klopfer, Director, MIT Scheller Teacher Education Program and the Education Arcade

VR and AR transform students into artists and help them demonstrate intellectual curiosity and initiative, qualities likely to prove vital for success in the evolving digital economy.

One popular AR tool that encourages this kind of educational environment is Aurasma, a free app employed in many innovative schools. Students can use a mobile device to scan a physical trigger image and activate related digital content. For example, a student can use a tablet to scan a photograph in a textbook and view related videos. The tool enables teachers to make complex concepts, such as fractions and photosynthesis, more understandable. It also provides timely assistance to a student who’s stuck on a particular problem by instantly triggering a video clue or demonstration.

The most powerful use occurs when students create their own content and engage with multiple disciplines. Primary and secondary school students can use these tools to deliver interactive reports on historical figures, science experiments, works of literature and more. They can even draw or photograph their own trigger images, contributing to a well-rounded STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics) education.

Blurring realities for lifetime learning

There’s no playbook to prepare future generations for lifelong success. Even shadowing a parent at work can no longer provide an accurate glimpse of what students’ future careers may hold. This legion of learners will have to create and adapt to opportunities as they go.

“Ultimately, the purpose of education is to prepare people for life, not just for more school,” Dede says.

VR and AR can accomplish such development through memorable experiences that encourage intellectual curiosity — and put a student’s education in his or her own hands.”

Find out how real schools are using AR and VR in the classroom and watch “Digital Reality in K–12 Education,” a roundtable discussion among thought leaders. Learn more about the classroom of the future at