Global connectivity revolutionizes self-directed learning

Career and technical educators often limit the use of personal computers and digital devices (except for accessibility), particularly during active learning, in flipped classrooms, or in tech-enabled labs with advanced tools and instruments. Yet, we aim to turn out critical thinking, self-regulated and self-directed, lifelong learners.  If we profess that goal, we must embrace systems and methods that scaffold learning wherever it occurs. That means adapting courses and inviting students to “bring your own devices” to every learning event.

The fourth Industrial Revolution is underway.

Boundaries between physical, digital and biological worlds disintegrate before our eyes thanks to disruptive, groundbreaking technologies. Many instructors readily implement virtual reality, 3D printing, simulations and gamification that challenge and spur learning. But many others still resist advanced tools.

Kevin Ashton, who coined the phrase “the Internet of Things” (IoT) in 1999, describes IoT as a technological universe where computers “observe, identify and understand the world without the limitations of human-entered data.” Enabled devices acquire their own information without input by end-users. Any digital apparatus that communicates wirelessly is a “thing” on the Internet.  IoT devices transmit and receive raw data for later analysis by a person or an automated process known as machine-learning, where algorithms crunch “big data” — colossal compilations of information points created by and about humans — for patterns and associations. Data recording/reporting, transmission and storage are decentralized in cloud-based and local repositories.

IoT influences all our lives, changing the ways we live and work.

Globally, IoT comprises an endless number and configuration of devices possessing the ability to connect and acquire information, speeding up data aggregation and responsiveness to end-users’ inquiries. The largest search engine processes more than 3 billion searches each day. More than half will be conducted on a mobile phone.

Nearly 15 years passed before Ashton’s IoT concept garnered measurable interest among curriculum, policy and infrastructure scholars in primary and secondary education. Beyond smart boards and courseware applications, group calendaring, and classroom management, how can career and technical education (CTE) guide students toward the extrapolation of valid, applicable data in their learning experiences?

IoT and CTE

IoT offers a perfect complement to personalized learning. Instructors can monitor analytics from anywhere and provide targeted, time-sensitive intervention. Microlearning pathways offer options for self-regulated and self-directed learning in both school and workplace education settings. Instructor-mentors work directly with students, guiding them through a recursive process:

  1. Determine what the learner needs or wants to know.
  2. Deliver jointly designed content.
  3. Assess completion of goals and objectives. Ideally, learners will share their accomplishments with others through IoT.

CTE students encompass a broad array of technology experience. International higher education pundit Marianne Bray observed, “The Generation Z student population is the most dynamic, with the highest tech expectations.” As more tech-savvy, emerging-adult learners enroll in CTE classes, student-to-teacher, student-to-student, and teacher-to-faculty partnerships promote engaged and collaborative learning. Literally, the cloud is the limit.  But what effect does information overload pose, especially on mental health? Informatics consultant-blogger Margie Kiesel said, “People are so inundated and overwhelmed by the deluge of information overload, that they lose the ability to think and feel.”

How can CTE educators transform the industry to meet future needs of all stakeholder groups? Our communal goal, after all, is sustainability of CTE education on an individual basis through school-based and workplace learning. John O’Brien, president and CEO of EDUCAUSE, acknowledged IoT requires “unprecedented collaboration.”

High-quality CTE prioritizes “people, not things.”

Jesse Stommel, executive director of the nonprofit Hybrid Pedagogy, counsels educators to bring unique perspectives into IoT. “We must approach the Internet of Things from a place that doesn’t reduce ourselves, or reduce students, to mere algorithms. We must approach the IoT as a space of learning, not as a way to monitor and regulate. Our best tools in this are ones that encourage compassion more than obedience. The internet is made of people, not things.”

The educator role, then, requires practitioners to remain current and accurate not only in subject-matter expertise but timely awareness of the scope, scale, reliability and security of available instructional methods. Students, colleagues, administrators, accreditors and community partners expect nothing less. Instructor-mentors find methods that harness information and technology in such a way as to encourage students’ self-regulated and self-directed learning, to embellish the material provided through structured classroom settings.

IoT offers an integral tool for self-directed learning among CTE students.

Besides task-specific knowledge and abilities, educators can easily incorporate IoT for students’ workforce preparation: job-readiness and job-retention skills that are crucial components of CTE courses.

Ashton believes IoT “has the potential to change the world, just as the internet did. Maybe even more so.” Perkins V requires us to modernize CTE training. Leveraging IoT as a teaching and learning tool will aid in meeting that mandate. We must get busy revising our courses. Encourage students, in big, bold letters, to “BYOD!”

Billie McNamara has a Master of Science (adult & higher ed) from University of Southern Maine and is pursuing a Ph.D. (adult learning) at University of Tennessee–Knoxville. Her passion is guiding nontraditional CTE students toward sustainable metacognition, agency, and workforce-readiness.