Children’s Educational Technology: The Trends – Guest Post by Julie Brannon

| May 24, 2012 | 2 Comments

This post originally appeared in the May 2012 edition of The Social Media Monthly. Author Julie Brannon is a marketing specialist with a focus on book apps. The first part of this two-part series can be found here: Children’s Educational Technology: Partnerships, Products & Prototypes

Studio 360 Teachers Help Potential Blossom

Images courtesy Studio 360 and Hyperakt

Technology is transforming learning for people of all ages. Educational software is merging with gaming to help engage children. In many places textbooks have already moved into the digital realm, and teachers are “flipping the classroom” – using the internet to provide pre-classroom lectures and the classroom to embed that knowledge. New educational augmented reality applications are on the market. Inside and outside of schools educational technology is blossoming as new partnerships are being formed to help move numerous new initiatives forward.

Many of these new products include features for tracking, assessing and customizing learning to make it more suited to students’ individual needs. Digital technology can enhance, extend, and support traditional learning in new and exciting ways. It may be just a tool, but it’s a very powerful tool for keeping children engaged. You only have to watch a classroom of 6-year olds with an iPad for a few minutes to see the joy of learning in action.

Educators, developers and researchers are examining trends in educational technology and evaluating how to better prepare children for the future. What are the pros and cons of using technology to teach children at home and at school? What are the trends?

21st Century Skills

New Media Consortium

New Media Consortium

In January 2012, educational thought leaders from around the world gathered in Austin for a retreat of the New Media Consortium (NMC), an international community of experts in educational technology. The focus of the meeting was to discuss emerging technology in kindergarten through high school (K-12) education and to produce the 10th annual Horizon Report, which provides insight into the technologies that are most likely to make a significant impact in areas of teaching, learning and creative inquiry.

The consortium consists of educational researchers from prominent universities. This year six companies joined in as co-sponsors: Hewlett Packard, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Apollo Research Institute, Enterprise Hive, Cisco, and Quantum Thinking. During the retreat their key question to the group was: What are the emerging educational technology trends and how do schools prepare students for a world in which technology is changing so rapidly?

The communiqué that was created after this meeting includes a list of the top 10 trends. These trends reflect the global, mobile and cloud-based reality of technology now. It mentions that the openness of the system and the flood of data will bring about the need for more curation as well as new policies for ownership and privacy. The report also notes that accessibility is still an issue in many parts of the world, learning is taking place more often outside of the classroom, and traditional authority is being challenged. Business models are changing, too, for schools, libraries and publishers as they adapt to the new world of ever-changing technology.

Media Confusion

Children & Adults are Overwhelmed

There is one trend in the NMC report that stands out. It pertains to the need for children to be able to make sense of the overwhelming barrage of information in the world today. “The internet is constantly challenging us to rethink learning and education, while refining our notion of literacy. Institutions must consider the unique value that each adds to a world in which information is everywhere. In such a world, sense-making and the ability to assess the credibility of information and media are paramount.” – NMC

This skill of “sense-making” or “assessing credibility” is often considered part the critical thinking component of what is now called “21st-century skills.” The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a national organization that, according to its mission statement, “advocates for 21st century readiness for every student,” lists these skills as the “4Cs”: critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. In a world where there are no gatekeepers to information, no publishing-house fact-checkers monitoring the internet, this ability to judge the credibility of information is of the utmost importance.

Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World

The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World

Tony Wagner is the Innovation Education Fellow at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard and the author of Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change The World. He has created a list of seven survival skills that includes “Agility and adaptability, initiative & entrepreneurialism, accessing and analyzing information, and curiosity and imagination.” See for his full list. The definition of 21st-century skills is still being defined and it is sure to continue to be an evolving definition.

Aspirations of Education

Clayton Christensen writes in the introduction of his book “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns” that the aspirations of education are to:

Disrupting Class : How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns

How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns

  1. Maximize human potential.
  2. Facilitate a vibrant, participative democracy in which we have an informed electorate that is capable of not being “spun” by self-interested leaders.
  3. Hone the skills, capabilities and attitudes that will help our economy remain prosperous and economically competitive.
  4. Nurture the understanding that people can see things differently – and that those differences merit respect rather than persecution.

Rob Lippincott, Senior Vice President of Education at Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), said that number three and number four on this list are closely related and that preparing children for a future workforce involves “accepting and respecting different viewpoints and goes into…collaboration as well as diversity and respect for diversity.” Collaboration is the future of the work world and to collaborate, you must be able to get along with a variety of people with diverging viewpoints.

Larry Johnson, CEO at the NMC, states that he would add “the ability to learn to learn” to Christensen’s list. The new economy includes the need to constantly update skills. Learning to learn has become more important since adults must continually adapt as new technology emerges.

Fractus Learning

Nick Grantham, founder of Fractus Learning, a new technology training website for teachers, said that he would add a couple of things to this list as well. “Discovering and embracing students’ passions,” he says. “A big role of education for me is that students can find out what is it that they love to do and then to give them the skills so that they can go and do…(Also) developing an infectious love for learning,” he says, “so that learning doesn’t end once you leave school.”

Gaming in Education

School itself could be said to be a kind of game in that you have challenges (lessons and exams), experience points (test grades), and levels (grade year) and that you progress through the map of time to complete tasks and reach goals. Education and gaming could be a perfect match.

Gamification in Education“Gamification” has become a buzzword as more corporations are using gaming for marketing, and public health entities begin to use gaming to change people’s lifestyle choices. Facebook and Zynga have shown that people will do just about anything for a badge, virtual coins or points, even though they have no actual value in the real world.

Certainly, gaming can be used for good or evil, but there is a real opportunity to better incorporate gaming into learning to make it more engaging, and more effective overall. Unfortunately, large video game companies have traditionally shied away from the educational market. However, this is beginning to change (see the Microsoft Kinect Xbox 360 educational project) and it is a ripe time for educational gaming to reach a tipping point in schools and in homes.

Some schools have incorporated gaming on a limited basis, but wide-scale use of gaming that takes full advantage of its power to teach is limited. As more and more learning takes place outside of the schools, there is an opportunity for educational gaming to fill this space. Adding gesture-based gaming and augmented reality make this trend even more exciting.


PBS sets the standard, including teacher resource sites!

“I’m very enthusiastic about the power of media and I think nowhere is the power of media so both seductive and powerful, but actually not yet well understood, is in games,” Lippincott says. “There’s a very strong pull – kids love them. And there are a lot of very powerful attributes that we are finding out. They simply, to start with the obvious, they engage kids, but they also can provide two things that we don’t have anywhere else: One is built-in assessments…I believe that this is a trend in education: We are going to move from a verdict ‘you lost, you win, you failed, you passed’ to feedback. ‘Here’s where you can change that, here’s where you can learn this…here’s where you could do a little better.

“The second thing is that the learning is in context and is not just motivating because it’s fun but motivating because it has real consequences. You shoot or jump…you are involved in the game…It’s so interactive and responsive that it changes entirely the dynamic of the material that the kid is in this case learning rather than simply reading or listening to a teacher. So there are lots of formal features of games that I think have huge promise.”

Flipping the classroom

In 2004, Salman Khan started posting videos on YouTube to help tutor his cousin in math. Those videos went viral and the non-profit Khan Academy was born. Now, more than 2,600 simple black-screen educational videos with colorful text are available online narrated by soft-spoken Mr. Khan as he helps children and adults around the world learn math and other subjects.

Khan Academy

Khan Academy - Watch. Practice. Learn almost anything for free.

All of the Khan Academy videos, which teach skills ranging from basic addition to derivatives, are free to anyone with an internet connection. This kind of high-quality open content has the ability to cause a real disruption both to educational institutions and to educational publishing companies.

Videos such as these allow teachers to “flip the classroom,” which is another major educational trend. Traditional teaching usually incorporates a lecture by a teacher during group class time and then individual problems are given for homework for students to complete alone.

“Flipping the classroom” means that teachers assign the video lectures for homework, so that students can pause and replay a lecture until they comprehend the subject at hand. Then, during class time, teachers can spend valuable time with one-on-one teaching as they assist students with individual problems.

Assessments and Customization

The Khan Academy website has some great tools for coaching, knowledge mapping and progress tracking. Using such tools, educational technology can provide easy and efficient ways to assess a student’s level, progress and goals. These tools allow for learning customization so that students are learning exactly what they need to be learning at that point in time. This may be different from what their classmate in the next chair is learning.

Student Progress Graph

Schools benefit from new ways to track student progress ...

Just as big data is a trend in the corporate and marketing worlds, compiling data on technology users is a trend in education as well. PBS is currently working on a progress tracker for its digital learning systems, and many educational software developers already have basic assessment systems in place. The plan is not for teachers to become full time data analysts but to help them customize learning to each student more easily and effectively.

Alicia Narvaez, Virtual Pre-K Director at Chicago Public Schools, says that iPads are already helping teachers be more efficient. Previously the teachers had to take hand-written notes on students’ development and now they can quickly and more accurately do so with an iPad. She added that as PBS is working on its progress tracker, developers are careful not to create a progress tracker that causes increased anxiety to parents and children. Progress tracking should not be so much about reaching a certain skill on a certain day, but mapping out the current level so that next steps are apparent, she says.

Social Media, Collaboration and the Maker Movement

Social Media is another technological tool that schools can use to improve engagement. For example, is promoting use of its Facebook-like program for teachers to create closed online social groups based on the class, school or school district.

Social media is already being used by teachers to connect with other teachers and to share precious resources through sites like, Teachability and even Twitter. Nick Grantham of Fractus Learning reports that their most popular teacher training courses and articles are about social media use.

Social Media for Students in Educational Settings

Social Media has many challenges and opportunities to offer education ...

There is still a little fear of using social media in the schools but newer systems are safe and are proving useful. Liz Griffiths, the educational consultant for Oceanhouse Media, reports that they have found that social media allows the shier kids who may not be comfortable raising their hand in class to do so “virtually” using social media. The flip side of feeling more empowered by hiding behind a screen is the increase of bullying online, but updates in social media allow for special settings to help prevent bullying and increase privacy.

As teachers begin to be comfortable with social media and other technologies in their own lives, they become more comfortable using it to help students learn in the classroom. Teachers are finding that children are more interested in writing if they are asked to keep a blog instead of writing traditional term papers. Teachers are asking children to create digital presentations, digital photos and videos.

In fact, a major trend, Lippincott explained, is the maker movement. “That is when a child, a student, or even an adult tries their hand at making something – when they are the author, when they design it, when they build it, they produce it,” he said. “They again have a very different relationship to the material and it’s a very powerful learning process.”

Many have pointed out that what is called cheating in schools is called collaboration in the workplace, and the ability to collaborate is becoming a very important skill to have. Children are beginning to collaborate in classrooms to create their own transmedia projects. Teachers use sites like or participate in the National STEM Video Game Challenge to encourage students to create their own online games, while encouraging collaboration.

The Challenges

Obviously, there is a need for balance. Any introduction of new ideas into education brings about fear that the impending change may be the wrong course of action and that the necessary basics will be forfeit in order to teach new ideas. This is a valid concern and as Narvaez pointed out, they would much rather have children play at stacking real toy blocks than play with a block-stacking app.

Not all subjects and skills are best taught with an app, but most learning can be extended with some sort of digital technology. The truth is that children get excited about new technology and this can motivate and inspire them to learn and create.

Accessibility Issues for Students at Lower Incomes

Without Internet, Urban Poor Fear Being Left Behind In Digital Age - Source: Huffington Post, March 2012

Although a trend like flipping the classroom proves to be a very useful model, one of the challenges is that not all students have access to the necessary technology. The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) and the U.S. Department of Education are both concerned with providing high-speed broadband access for all.

Lippincott notes that in place of more sophisticated computers, many children’s point of entry to the internet is through smartphones and game consoles which are, “frankly, probably becoming the mechanism by which families can get the best broadband.” “So we are trying to find ways to create programming for those media – those delivery technologies,” he says. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), PBS, and Sesame Workshop each aim to put out content on as many platforms as possible in order to reach as many children as possible.

Who will train the trainers?

There are numerous obstacles to overcome before schools can become the “edutainment” utopia imagined by some innovators. Quality digital learning media content must be available, affordable and funded. Then efficient management systems are needed to handle these new programs. Teachers must be trained to use all of this new technology and then their training must be updated regularly as technology advances.

Teachers may be more comfortable with technology than ever before, but many are finding that their students are better versed in technology than are the teachers. Grantham at Fractus Learning stated that one trend in schools is to move away from having a dedicated technology or media teacher. Schools are now integrating technology into all subjects, which indicates that even more teachers will need technology training.

School librarians are more often than not filling the niche of technology trainer for teachers and students. Library science has included database management for more than a decade now, so many of them fall into the role naturally, but training is needed.

Blooms Digital Taxonomy Pyramid - Training Teachers for Tech

Digital Training for Teachers Should be a 1st Priority

When asked if the school libraries are becoming the technology hubs of schools, Kathy Ishizuka, the Technology Editor at the School Library Journal, said, “The digital transition will surely affect (school librarians), but again, this presents an opportunity, particularly with the explosive growth of ebooks. The library as the technology hub of the school? That would be fantastic, and may be an essential direction for libraries to remain relevant, needed institutions.”

Of course, part of the responsibility for children’s education belongs to parents. PBS, Sesame Workshop and other non-profit groups such as Chicago’s Virtual Pre-K program share their research with parents to help them learn how to better enable their children to learn – with and without technology. The research overwhelmingly shows the benefit of starting education with children much earlier than the kindergarten years.

In fact, Debra Sanchez, Senior Vice President, Education and Children’s Content Operations at CPB, when reviewing Clay Christensen’s list of aspirations for education, said she would add, “Start early, start early, start early.”

Studies show that technology is effective in helping children learn, but that it is even more effective when combined with parent or teacher interaction. Scott Chambers pointed out that one of the biggest challenges is that parents today just don’t have the time. “We tend to be very stressed out…It’s not easy (to have time to help kids learn) because of our busy lives.” Parents themselves are busier than ever in part due to new technology in their own lives.

Parent Partnerships with School for Digital Education

Adults (parents & teachers) are essential to digital education initiatives ...

In the end, it comes down to what children are learning as well as how they are taught. Quality content, effective methods and innovative technology can be combined to truly help children reach their potential. Trends like gaming can help children learn to love learning. Social media can be used to teach children 21st century skills.

There is great opportunity to improve education overall. The real challenge will be in creating the content, the products and the overall delivery system to make sure that everyone can benefit from what educational technology has to offer.

Excerpts from Interviews:

The early adopters (teachers) are interesting…but the early adapters – as they become adapters and really start using it, that’s a really core thing. And then we think the next phase is they become creators or co-creators. They use the media to create lessons, curriculum materials, and learning experiences. So if we make the digital learning objects, teachers are making the digital learning experiences and we think that is a really important sort of metatrend…Students on computers, teachers using computers to help mediate the whole process and more brain science being baked into things like games and curriculum materials because this is one of the huge areas of promise and it’s one of the bright lights in the whole disaster-strewn discussion about education. The popular myth so to speak is that education in the United States is a complete disaster. Well, of course, it isn’t a complete disaster. But there are problems and it is falling behind other nations…But this is one of those places where if we can craft quality well-built, well-designed supports and extensions and supplements to the classroom with media, I have every confidence that they’ll make a gigantic difference.

Rob Lippincott, SVP of Education, PBS

Educational-oriented digital media content is valuable in the learning process. It’s been understood but people have a lot of suspicion. Early childhood educators don’t really like digital media altogether. There is a general sense that TV and games could be bad and they are kind of like cavities for the mind – or they are empty calories. In fact the recent, and it really has been very recent, adoption of core technologies by teachers themselves into their own lives and into their own classrooms has really changed the landscape.

Rob Lippincott, SVP of Education, PBS

I think we need to be pretty relentlessly humble. We haven’t really given education a big think in a very long time. We have been doing kind of what we have been doing for the last 100 years or more. And I think it’s time to bring brain research and new technology to a whole new generation and I think that’s what is exciting about education transformation. It’s because we are trying new technologies and frankly we’re not even positive how this changes – we know it changes. It’s kind of like our findings – that no one can dispute: You learn from television? Of course you do. The question really is: What are you learning? Obviously, if we try to teach you things which make sense, we think we’re confident you are learning some of those rather than things that don’t necessarily make sense. And there’s a lot of that. But I’m very excited about new technology having an impact. I just think we really need to be thoughtful about how we apply it.

Rob Lippincott, SVP of Education, PBS

Regarding partnerships:

You know it’s really interesting because there is a huge industry of developers and creators and what makes them successful. It’s hard to nail down that magic formula that takes something and captures kids attention and makes them excited about it and bakes in the learning as well. I think we’ve found through our work it’s kind of about having that mission up front so really it’s about service and it’s about education and it’s about quality and it’s about value and when we look at partners it’s folks that will help us kind of meet those specific set requirements and also looking at partners that help us go beyond and really reach into different audiences. And clearly wanting to reach into more diverse audiences…

Debra Sanchez, SVP, Education and Children’s Content Operations at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting

We’ve had a huge success in the preschool space. We take little resources and try to make the greatest impact…It’s hard for us to kind of venture into the older space. Just the financial reality to compete in that space is difficult and looking at commercial models is just not an option for us just because we are not about commercialism…It’s something that we are in conversations with PBS about: are there ways that we can look to experiment, and bridging those ages, and keeping kids a little bit longer with really cool and fun and engaging content – primarily online. I think on the TV space that’s where it’s very costly. To build an audience for 11-yearolds is difficult because you need a lot of resources to do that. We make decisions based on the resources that we have. It is something that we are mindful of and that we are always looking at ways to leverage what we are doing now and how we can take it to the next level.

Debra Sanchez, SVP, Education and Children’s Content Operations at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting

Just getting excited and enjoying the process of learning and exploring and discovering and making that’s something that starts early on. It becomes harder and harder as the school becomes more challenging…You really want to build that excitement early on and then sustain it throughout their education and I think sometimes you have to start early…A critical piece for anybody long term is to make learning that they enjoy and get pleasure out of and I think it’s very hard for public school administrations to keep that in mind amidst all the pressures…not that academic achievement isn’t important but it has to be balanced with exploring so that children will continue to want to learn.

Alicia Narvaez, Director of Virtual Pre-K at Chicago Public Schools

What directions would you like to see in children’s educational technology?

We feel things are moving in the right direction, with developers partnering up with educators. We’re beginning to see amazing, innovative, interactive features that the iPad supports partnered with really good educational content. Once you strike the balance of those two components, you’ve got an incredible new way to educate children. Of most importance is finding that needle in the haystack. There are still way too many apps to choose from, and many of them are terrible.  It is far more difficult to find a brilliant app than a mediocre one.

Jayne Clare, Co-Founder, Teachers With Apps

What are the challenges of using technology in the classroom?

Again, lack of appropriate training before implementing a pilot program is a major challenge. Districts forgetting about having a budget for apps is another problem, but our major gripe is that so many educators are oblivious to what’s happening in mobile digital education.

Jayne Clare, Co-Founder, Teachers With Apps 

Technology is really changing the world of education in that it’s becoming more of a 24/7 thing, just like in the workplace. When you go home, it’s not necessarily the end of the day because you can still receive an email, you can still be connected to your work. The same thing is happening for kids. With the use of email and web-based learning tools such as Edmodo, Khan Academy and IXL, it increases the opportunities for kids to constantly be learning.

– Michel Kripalani, President, Oceanhouse Media

The primary challenge of using technology in the classroom lies in the implementation. The effectiveness of the technology really depends on the way the teacher implements it, that they use it in a way that supports the curriculum rather than detracts from it and is used to enhance what they already have instead of replacing what is available.

Michel Kripalani, President, Oceanhouse Media

One of the benefits to using technology in the classroom is more individualized learning. Certain kids don’t learn as well from one medium as another, for instance a traditional book versus an interactive e-book. Our educational consultant, Liz Griffiths, learned this from working with young kids with our omBooks (Oceanhouse Media digital books). There were certain children that the teacher was hesitant to let Liz work with because they had attention deficits and behavioral issues. When they did eventually work with Liz, this group was actually the most focused of all of the kids that she worked with. So this particular medium really reached these students and their learning style versus other kids who do better with the more traditional book format. Engagement is key. Kids are attracted to technology. If it can engage them in content that’s always a good thing.

Michel Kripalani, President, Oceanhouse Media

About this guest post:

This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of the Social Media Monthly and is part two of a two-part series. Part one was about children’s educational technology partnerships and includes further excerpts from interviews with PBS, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and others. It appeared in this blog earlier in May. For more information and to subscribe:

Art of Teaching Assisting Discovery

Images courtesy Studio 360 and Hyperakt

The “Teach” images in this post are very special. WNYC’s Studio 360 asked the design studio Hyperakt to rebrand the profession of teaching. They felt that images like chalkboards, apples, and the ABC’s do not do justice to the current role of teachers. Hyperakt created these magnificent images that visually capture the excitement of activating the potential that is innate in students. They chose a connect-the-dots theme in school bus yellow. Connecting dots can be found in letter tracing, games, brainstorming, maps, molecular structures and more. These images are a great visual language for expressing the important roll of teachers in education which is the key to human progress.

Julie Brannon is a marketing specialist who has twenty years of experience. She specializes in children’s book apps, educational technology, publishing, and financial marketing. She has previously worked with publishers and developers including Cambridge University Press, Disney Publishing, Pearson Education, One Hundred Robots, Adventure House Communications Group, and Noble Beast. Find her on Twitter: @Julia_Brannon

Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

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Category: All About Apps, Guest Posts, iPads in Education, Marketing Apps

About the Author ()

Carisa Kluver is the the editor of, an iPad children's book review site. She has a BA in Anthropology from UC Berkeley and an MSW from the University of Washington. Before starting this project, she was a school counselor, health educator and researcher in child & maternal health.