How New Educational Technologies Can Support Learning and Resilience

How New Educational Technologies Can Support Learning and Resilience

Over the past 100 or so years, countless technologies became so transformative and ubiquitous that they changed fundamental aspects of society. Not surprisingly, their emergence led many to hail each as transformative for education, as well. For example, radio was once thought to be “destined to take its place among the great educational influences”. In 1923, Thomas Edison predicted that movies would replace textbooks within 20 years. In 1966, a leading philosopher and winner of the National Medal of Science, Patrick Suppes, predicted that “in a few years,” students using computers in educational contexts would use “the personal services of a tutor as well-informed and responsive as Aristotle”.  

Needless to say, those predictions haven’t exactly panned out. Now, we stand at a different moment, where emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality may potentially have transformational impacts on many aspects of society. But will they really have a big impact on education? Here, let’s cover some potential use cases which may indeed lead to widespread changes and improved outcomes. In particular, let’s focus on how these technologies can help English Language Learners develop their skills, as well as their resilience.

VR and Practicing Resilience 

As discussed in the Brave Steps, Bright Horizons report, resilience includes an element of effectively managing negative emotions. As with any skill, that kind of emotion regulation benefits from practice. But how can we safely and humanely allow people to practice dealing with negative emotions? It would be strange to suggest that, for example, an instructor should pretend to be rude to their students, just to get them in the habit of dealing with a negative experience. However, industries, like hospitality and customer support, that prioritize empathy (particularly in the context of difficult conversations) have begun using VR systems to allow people a safe training space in which to practice those kinds of difficult interactions.

Similarly, for language learning scenarios, practice is important. Practice embedded in appropriate contexts can be even more critical; a role-play dialogue about asking for directions can be made to feel much more authentic and dynamic if it is done in a VR setting that simulates being in a recognizable location and using contextual cues to help the learner develop their communication skills.

Tools with Levelled-up Language Skills 

To create those kinds of dialogues requires a dynamic and powerful set of capabilities; namely, natural-sounding language generation and on-the-fly translation, all done by a computerized system. This is one place where Generative AI systems are outshining previous technologies. While tools like Google Translate can be very helpful for small snippets of text, it often struggles with longer pieces of text with more idiomatic expressions, while tools based on Large Language Models (LLMs) are much more capable.  

Pairing these language and translation capabilities with VR-powered experiences can lead to interactive language exercises and games that will let learners use their language skills to make progress towards engaging and meaningful goals. For example, developers have begun using these Generative AI systems to allow players to be able to chat with video game characters, and we may not be very far off from language learning experiences delivered wholly in VR games, where learners get to actively engage in conversations as ways of developing proficiency.  

Learning from, and with, GenAI 

Another place where Generative Artificial Intelligence (GenAI) tools like ChatGPT can potentially support learners is in real-time tutoring. Research on tutoring finds that is effective both because of the cognitive scaffolding for student learning that tutors provide, as well as the social connection and motivational support they offer. When it comes to the cognitive elements, there are many clear uses for tools like ChatGPT; they can provide explanations, review initial student work and provide feedback, and be instructed to offer the kind of careful step-by-step explanations and questioning that make tutoring so powerful.  

On the motivational support side, it may seem surprising to expect a computer program to take on those kinds of functions. However, with the right instructions and prompting GenAI systems can provide surprisingly empathetic and emotionally supportive responses, and can be developed in ways that focus specifically on helping students develop their abilities to regulate emotions.  

In addition, to supporting students, GenAI can also play the role of a learner, letting students serve as tutors. Research on earlier technologies called “Teachable Agents” found that there are both cognitive and motivational benefits to helping a computerized persona learn. Specifically, there is a body of research that shows how preparing to teach others is an effective instructional technique. In addition, students often feel a lot of ownership and responsibility for the teachable agent, and are eager to help them learn. Look for new GenAI systems to emerge that help students develop their own skills through the act of teaching an LLM-powered student.

Collaborative Learning 

This infusion of technology does not mean that students of the future should expect to spend all their time interacting only with software. The social aspects of learning are integral to producing good outcomes, both in terms of developing one’s skills and in terms of creating a sense of community and belonging, confidence, resilience, and many others.  

As such, look for new technologies that use these tools to create more impactful social learning opportunities. For example, AI can be used to help students engage in more meaningful dialogue, whether as a guide to in-person activities or by helping lead text-based systems like discussion boards.  

In addition, online courses and broader learning communities can help people connect and collaborate with other learners from all over the world, and VR can potentially make those interactions more engaging and impactful by creating shared virtual spaces for people to inhabit together. 

Focus for the Future 

Returning to where we started, it can be easy to get lost in a rush of excitement when new technologies emerge. When it comes to education, however, we know a number of things that must be true for any new tool to provide a benefit.  

Students need to be given opportunities to engage in meaningful practice, to receive adequate and timely feedback, to have social connections, and to feel supported. As you come across new educational technologies, look for these elements to know whether or not it is likely to have a positive impact on your learners.  

About the author 

Dan Belenky, Ph.D. is a cognitive scientist with a passion for using learning science research to help educators and learners achieve their academic goals. He has over 15 years of experience researching the psychology of learning, motivation and overcoming challenges, and applying it to the design of educational experiences. 

Explore more strategies to build resilience in English Language Learners in Dan’s whitepaper, “Brave Steps, Bright Horizons: Teacher strategies for supporting resilience In English Language learners”. You will also find additional practical tools for teaching resilience on the website: www.macmillanenglish.com/brave-steps-bright-horizons