I had the pleasure of attending the Worldwide Innovation Summit for Education (WISE), held in Doha, Qatar recently. This is the third year Microsoft has participated in the summit and it continues to be a very valuable K-20 conversation around the state of education around the world, and the need for reform. I participated in an interesting conversation regarding the need for reform in education.  The official session was titled, “Rethinking Innovation in Education.” You can watch the discussion in the embedded video below.

One of the things I tried to do in my comments was disconnect innovation with technology, because too often it's synonymous for schools…as people think about innovation, they jump too quickly to technology as the solution.

There is tremendous enthusiasm for technology in education and it's definitely part of learning's future.  The opportunity to share information, collaborate around the world, to consume truly endless amounts of content and get access to information anywhere, anytime, anyplace, is a game changer that fundamentally will have a huge role in the future of the way learning takes place. But the lessons we've learned in the past remain constant, and frankly even more important now than ever…and that is supporting great teaching, making sure kids are properly motivated to succeed, and that we align a holistic approach to a student's learning environment, from a classroom environment to getting parental involvement to making sure that we've got the right assessment in place, etc. Technology can support, enable all of those things, but technology alone isn't going to overcome a bad teacher or a bad environment.

The other issue we have to think about is as it relates to the technology itself, because in many cases the technology will evolve to create a new opportunity for learning.  Most of what we've done with technology in schools all over the United States and the world has been to automate the passive learning models and modalities.  So, we've taken classrooms and turned them virtual. We've taken tests and turned them online. We've taken books and created electronic books. While all these transitions are valuable and helpful, they don't provide any transformative experience other than moving from a piece of paper to a digital screen or a phone conversation to a text message.  And while the value and efficiencies can support schools and help budgets, the learning process isn't transformed.

What can make a change is how technology is applied to create much more responsive, reactive and personal learning environments. To create the settings to connect students to quality of content and information that previously was unavailable, to refine learning to respond predictively to a learner's need based on learning styles, test scores, etc. And when all these elements come into play, learning retention increases, test scores potentially increase, and we have more engaged and motivated students.