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Why Classrooms Are Increasingly Becoming Irrelevant

Game-based learning in the form of in-class snap polls using smartphone voting, such as offered by Kahoot!, can also generate a sense of fun in learning. If students explicitly look forward to coming to class, they are more likely to engage and develop their understanding of course material.

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The classroom is dead.  Long live the classroom.

Digital innovation has transformed most aspects of our lives.  The prevalence of mobile technology has made the world increasingly interconnected with people continually glued to their mobile devices - instant messaging, scanning social media and more.  The digitization of the world has cerebral consequences, however.  In 2015, Time magazine reported on the worrying claim from a Microsoft study that even goldfish attention spans now outperform those of people (an average of 9 seconds versus 8 seconds, in case you were wondering), with our brains seemingly ever-more distracted by the digital age.  Interestingly, the ability of humans to concentrate on something has dropped by a third since the year 2000, reaching eight seconds from the dizzying heights of twelve seconds, a fall coinciding with the digital revolution.   (Kudos to anyone still reading this article up to this point.)


Millennials pose a special challenge.  How do you retain student engagement in the classroom when a class of goldfish may be more attentive?  Have classrooms become so out-dated that they are no longer fit for purpose?  As with any technological revolution, it is a case of "adapt or die" for victims.   For example, early in the last century, the advent of the motor car decimated the employment sector of horse saddles.  This century, artificial intelligence threatens to automate millions of mundane jobs, such as call center operatives, as clever chatbots take over.  The Schumpeterian creative destruction of technological progress is not a new phenomenon.  Adapting to change is critical to keeping ahead, and the classroom is no exception.


Rote learning, dull teaching and abstract concepts can bore even the most dedicated student (indeed, even professors too - if the story I heard of a professor boring himself to sleep while writing on a whiteboard is to be believed!).  As such, the traditional classroom needs to adapt and transform itself into a hypnotic hub of scholarship to enthuse students.  Educators need to stimulate the synapses of students to sustain engagement.   How?  Academicians need to inspire, through innovative teaching techniques.


Passive learning leads to minimal retention, while active learning makes indelible impressions on memory.  So, classrooms need to involve more activity.  Flipping classrooms offer one solution.  Flipping works by switching what would traditionally be undertaken inside and outside the classroom.  For example, the delivery of lecture content is delegated to online lectures which students can watch at home and students also make use of discussion forums, while solving homework problems may be done in the classroom such that homework becomes classwork.  Overall, the objective is to move from a teacher-centered educational model to a learner-centered one.


Peer-to-peer learning in class can form part of this.  By students directly interacting with each other, collaboratively working on a problem or case study, interest levels are more likely to be maintained and sustained.  There is the added benefit of students developing their communication skills, and other "soft" skills such as the ability to work well in groups since one aspect of physical classrooms which is very difficult to replicate are the social component of learning.  Directly interacting with your peers allows an exchange of ideas and the resolution of doubts.


Game-based learning in the form of in-class snap polls using smartphone voting, such as offered by Kahoot!, can also generate a sense of fun in learning.  If students explicitly look forward to coming to class, they are more likely to engage and develop their understanding of course material.


Of course, completely revoking the traditional classroom may not be appropriate in all situations.  For quantitative courses, in particular, conveying what can sometimes be very complex ideas can be challenging to do simply in an online video.  Hence there is still a role to play for at least mini-lectures, summarising key points from the designated reading or videos.


My high school's motto was "Read and Reap", which certainly proved true.  In spite of our limited attention spans, to excel in an academic environment it is still essential to put in the hard work of study.  However, who says there should be no fun in the fundamental topics of a course?  Done right, with attention-grabbing teaching techniques, the millennials have every opportunity to reap the fruits of their labours.


Let's save our dignity, and return humanity to goldfish-attention-span-slayers by reclaiming our 12-second average attention spans.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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