Mon Sep 14 2020 Michael McQueen

One of the strangest notions I come across routinely in my work with educators is that of the ‘real world’, usually spoken of in opposition to the world of education. When leaders, parents or teachers themselves separate the education of tomorrow’s workers, leaders and problem-solvers, from their future real world, they put that future at a serious risk.

In order to make learning experiences meaningful and impactful, it is this divide between the learning environment and the so-called ‘real world’ that needs to be demolished. Teachers who hope to make learning relevant and engaging must go to great lengths to bring the outside world into their classrooms. While in the past there were practical barriers to this, technology enables a real connection with the outside world in some wonderfully exciting ways.

For instance, Microsoft’s Skype in the Classroom website is a great initiative enabling teachers from around the world to connect students. It features collaborative lessons, games that allow children from different cultures to play together, virtual simulated field trips and virtual guest speakers.[1]

Similarly, Empatico is a good example of an organisation helping students make learning connections beyond the classroom. It is an initiative of the KIND Foundation and is endeavouring to connect students in classrooms around the world using videoconferencing.[2]

In an inspiring example of the power of videoconferencing technology to bring education to life, consider the experience of a kindergarten teacher in rural Maine named Beth Heidemann. As part of a learning unit on poverty in the third world, Heidemann arranged a Skype call with school students in an African slum. The whole experience resonated strongly with the class and students even recognised parallels between food insecurity in their own community and the challenges faced by children in the slum.

Riding the wave of engagement and interest that the videoconference had sparked, Heidemann helped the students research the issue further and encouraged the students to write a fairytale set in Africa that explained the issue of hunger. After the book was illustrated, Beth helped the students publish and sell the book to family and friends with proceeds going to the local food pantry.[3]

Award-winning Belgian educator Koen Timmers has had similar experiences in meaningfully connecting students with the world beyond the classroom. In addition to using videoconferencing technology, Timmers has leveraged the power of social media to connect thousands of students and schools across six continents. Pointing to the power of these connections, Timmers said: ‘What’s better than learning about global issues directly from students living in those countries. The more students experience learning connections to situations outside the classroom, the more emotionally connected they become.’[4]

It is clear that the innovative and intentional use of technology in classrooms is essential if we are serious about connecting students with real-world problems and preparing them for their future. However, in the socially-distanced and increasingly remote world we are now encountering, it seems we are seeing this ‘real world’ transform into something much more virtual than we may have expected.

COVID has meant intentional engagement with online technologies is essential in all spheres of life – classroom, to workplace to personal life. With the sudden surge of remote learning technology and the presence of what feels like an unsolvable problem in COVID, a new interest in these virtual learning technologies has dramatically spiked.

Experts were already predicting that by 2025 the online educational technology industry will be valued at $350B; the pandemic accelerated this exponentially as millions of students have suddenly required an online solution for their learning.[5]

Technologies that allow for more streamlined communication between teachers and students, virtual presentations, online Q&As and AI enabled transcriptions, have become the new norm in the online era brought about by COVID.[6]

Beyond this, in preparing for the real world in a time now characterised by social, physical and economic uncertainty, students have expressed a new and more urgent demand for augmenting their skills for the future workplace. Online courses and training programs have spiked in demand in recent months as people are recognising are new need to develop their personal and professional skills. Professional skills, coding, art and technological proficiency are among the most popular areas in which students, from child to adolescent to adult, were seeking further education.[7]

The development of these skills has been enabled by online technology, demonstrating the way in which the future of our work and our potential for engagement with the ‘real world’ is dependent on our engagement with technology.

Moreover, as many workplaces are embracing a hybrid form of work, technological engagement and proficiency is becoming an everyday reality. As Augmented Reality is becoming common for training and collaborative purposes and Artificial Intelligence for many key tasks and roles within business, it is clear that proficiency in virtual technology is very much a real-world requirement.

While technology has been the thing that connects students to the real world, our current times are seeing it become core to the real world itself. Students who are engaging with online technologies such as these are putting in to practice the skills they will need for their future worlds and workplaces.

Educators and leaders would do well to consider which world we are preparing for as this line between real and virtual is blurring more than it ever has before, and the world of tomorrow is fast becoming the world of today.


Michael McQueen is a trends forecaster, business strategist and award-winning conference speaker.

He features regularly as a commentator on TV and radio and is a bestselling author of 8 books. To order Michael's latest book "The Case for Character", click here.

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[1]Doucet, A. et al. 2018, Teaching In The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Routledge, New York, pp. 114.

[2]Ibid., p. 113.

[3]Ibid., p. 98.

[4]Ibid., pp. 110, 111.

[5]CBInsights, ‘The Post-Covid World,’ CBInsights, 24 August.