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The four most successful turning points in the (recent) history of education

October 18, 2017

By Amanda Wilks

Education itself has been around for centuries, but recent innovations have begun to help students more effectively process, retain and use what they learn. 

Instead of memorizing information and regurgitating it for tests, students now can use what they've learned while playing games, working with classmates and applying knowledge through hands-on experience.

Below are four of the most successful educational turning points in recent history.

1. Interactive Learning

You may remember classes where you and other students simply sat in desks (or lecture halls), took notes and left. This process is known as passive learning. Active or interactive learning, on the other hand, asks students to critically engage with the material being presented. Eric Mazur, who is the Balkanski Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, is a firm believer in the power of interactive learning. Mazur explains that, in his earlier days teaching, his students had trouble grasping the concepts he presented.

One day, he asked students to discuss a question amongst themselves. Almost immediately, he saw the difference interactive learning could make. And while Mazur's peer instruction is one way to make learning interactive, educators can take a variety of different approaches. These might include asking students to debate, having them answer each other's questions or incorporating group projects into the curriculum.

Newer response technologies are making it easier than ever for educators to streamline the process of interactive learning. Programs like TurningPoint interactive polling software provide immediate feedback and enhance active pedagogies like team-based learning with instant assessments and features that allow students to choose their own teams. Teachers have the option of making activities competitive, and the program itself keeps score.

2. On-the-Spot Training

This sort of training, also known as a hands-on learning opportunity, allows students to directly apply what they have learned. The hands-on approach engages multiple areas of the brain and helps students retain more of what they've learned. 

On-the-spot training is particularly vital for those pursuing vocational degrees. This is part of why Pulaski Technical College and similar institutions offer courses in the technical sciences that emphasize hands-on learning and practice. After all, a student can be very well-versed on HVAC installation in theory, but until they have actually practiced it, they may not be effective or efficient in the field. 

Hands-on learning and on-the-spot training factor prominently in technical fields, but business and commerce schools are increasingly using experiential learning to better prepare their students for the workforce. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has instituted programs where students meet business leaders, serve on the boards of nonprofits and practice vital industry skills. 

3. Gamification

Gamification, in this context, simply means adding game-like elements to the classroom. This mode of learning helps students to tap into their competitive spirit, whether that means competing against themselves or against their classmates. 

Khan Academy incorporates gamification into its curriculum by giving students badges. Every time a student completes a module or problem set, he or she receives a digital badge. These badges both motivate students and track progress. 

Gamification may be a way to engage students who previously were unmotivated. Educator Vicki Davis explains that, to her, one case in particular stands out. She had one student who didn't seem to care about grades or engagement at all. But after this student found an educational game he resonated with, he started showing up to class early and engaging more completely with all class material. 

4. Cloud Computing

You might be familiar with the way cloud computing lets you store photos and videos, but it also has myriad educational applications. Cloud computing has the power to connect students and educators across the globe. For instance, the Global Curriculum Project offers students a virtual exchange program where they connect with students in other countries. This project is especially useful for those who may not be able to afford to go on an exchange trip. 

Cloud computing also benefits educators by allowing them to crowd-source lesson plans, classroom activities and other resources to facilitate learning. 


The educational field is constantly developing and changing. The advent of new innovations and technologies means that there are ever-expanding opportunities for students to engage with the curriculum and with their classmates. This improved engagement leads to learning outcomes better than those we've seen before.