«Teaching means transferring knowledge to those who listen; as such, it is imperative to innovate contents and teaching methods in line with the needs of those who listen.» This is the belief of Andrea Cioffi, Professor of Digital Communication Management for the Master of Science in Business, Media and Organisational Communication at the Catholic University of Milan. He is also the founder of Enjoy Your Learning, a non-profit association established to develop innovative and sustainable educational and learning programmes. In other words, “smart education”, a model of learning adapted to the new generations of digital natives.
In a world overrun by technologies, schools and universities cannot just stand by and watch. Millennials are not the students of 20 years ago. They don’t look up encyclopaedias. Instead, they use technology to express themselves. Generation Z is no different. Unidirectional, theory-based teaching methods no longer work on their own.
The Internet has dispersed contents, which are no longer to be found merely in the classroom or in the library. Smartphones and tablets have become a central means of expressing oneself and accessing knowledge. But that’s not all. Nowadays, there are collaborative educational platforms, QR codes to access and share content, and revising platforms offering online video lessons. Even universities must compete with the new e-learning formulas, offering low-cost courses aimed at the workplace. Indeed, in the United States, the National Center for Academic Transformation is encouraging universities to experiment with innovative teaching methods rooted in the use of new technologies. As a result, average costs have reduced by 38%, and the percentage of exams passed has increased, along with the satisfaction of students.
«The new media have had a significant influence on learning», explains Mr Cioffi, who has also written a book, published by Erickson, entitled Enjoy Your Learning. «Learning goes beyond the mere lesson; it starts beforehand and ends afterwards, on the social media. That’s why video, an essential element of visual learning, is so important. New technologies permeate the field of learning, and should not be forbidden in the classroom, as one might think, but exploited as learning aids.»
Teaching means transferring knowledge to those who listen; as such, it is imperative to innovate contents and teaching methods in line with the needs of those who listen.
It is only through innovative education that students can be trained to face a continuously evolving world and labour market. That’s why, according to Mr Cioffi, any truly innovative teaching method «should be centred on the student, and not on the teacher. In this new context, the teacher is no longer an authoritarian figure, but a guide, a learning companion, in what is effectively a bi-directional process».
The smart education model underlying Enjoy Your Learning focuses on openness to the labour and business world, the use of social media and new technologies, and the use of new media, especially audio-visual tools.
All this is replicated in Enjoy Your Learning. «First of all,» he says, «we bring managers into universities, to teach students about working hands-on within a company». The jewel in the crown of Enjoy Your Learning is its Talent Academy, «an educational system, built on the principles of gamification, that helps young people enter the world of work». Designed as a fully-fledged university contest, it is targeted at MSc students, and lasts one semester. The winners obtain a place on an internship that often transforms into a proper employment relationship. The fourteen Talent Academies held to date have given rise to 97 internships and 10 employment contracts.
The path is similar to that of a video game, where players progress through several levels. Firstly, students study how they can develop a specific corporate project. Then, they move onto the platform provided by Blogmeter, to learn how to perform a sentiment analysis, i.e. how to «listen» to the online market and understand the brand reputation. This will give them a basis from which to create a veritable digital communication plan for the enterprise. Groups of students are assigned to a company (3 or 4 per enterprise). These teams then compete with one another to be chosen by the company. During the semi-final, the teams make a 30 minute pitch to present their communication plan. Each company then selects a team. The winning communication plans are then entered into a final corporate contest, which last year was won by Adecco.
What do the students take home from a method of this kind? «Students generally focus on ‘what’, on theoretical aspects. With this method, they concentrate primarily on ‘how’ things are done. It is a more pragmatic approach to learning», explains Mr Cioffi. «Moreover, it improves soft skills, such as public speaking, working in teams and under pressure, and focusing on results. These are all things that will have to put into practice when they start working.»
Any truly innovative teaching method should be centred on the student, and not on the teacher. In this new context, the teacher is no longer an authoritarian figure, but a guide, in what is effectively a bi-directional process.
What is the current status of smart education in Italy? «Italy is performing well in primary and secondary schools,» says Mr Cioffi. Indeed, several of the best Italian schools, identified as «change maker schools» by the non-profit organisation Ashoka, have developed highly innovative teaching methods. The Ettore Majorana Institute of Brindisi, for example, is the first school to use the Oculus Rift virtual reality system. This school has gone so far as to abolish the teacher's desk. The classrooms are structured to encourage collaborative learning, and centre around an agora, where students present their projects. There is also an area for editing videos and another in which to relax. The Institute has also launched a project (Book in Progress) that allows teachers to work together to produce textbooks, also in digital format. By saving on books, therefore, families can invest in educational technologies such as tablets. Which are not forbidden in class. Quite the opposite.