Male, female and child working together on laptop in family room. Homework, studying.

Bett 2020: Students will use tech to embrace seamless learning, says Microsoft’s Anthony Salcito

The next decade will see a shift in how children are taught in schools, with technology helping young people and teachers place a greater emphasis on learning outside the classroom.

That’s the view of Anthony Salcito, Vice-President of Education at Microsoft, who delivered a keynote speech at the annual Bett educational technology conference in London on Wednesday.

Salcito said that students today were increasingly keen to start having an impact the world, and are using technology to develop their own ways of learning that fit in with their personal lives. Rather than using tech for the sake of it, more young people were using it to learn new skills and collaborate. That will see teachers and their pupils working more closely together to extend education from hour-long, classroom-based lessons into any place, at any time, on any device.

“I think a big theme of the next decade is technology that enables schools to act as a learning hub, a central place for education, but the focus is on the rest of a student’s learning pathway, not just what happens in the classroom,” Salcito said.

“When you think about the three big investments that schools make, they’re constantly thinking about what’s happening with instruction in the classroom, what’s happening with the operations of their school, and also learning beyond the classroom. Over the past few decades, the focus has been heavily weighted on the classroom experience. I think we will see a shift, where schools will create a foundation of inclusive, flexible, data-driven buildings and spaces that will enable students to learn beyond those walls.”

Anthony Salcito speaks on stage at BETT

Anthony Salcito delivers his keynote at Bett

Salcito’s keynote at Bett, an event attended by 850 companies and nearly 35,000 people, was interspersed with talks from Barbara Holzapfel, General Manager of Education Marketing at Microsoft, and Daniel McDuff, a Principal Researcher at the company.

Holzapfel pointed to upcoming research Microsoft has conducted with the Economist Intelligence Unit. It showed teachers understood the value of social and emotional learning. Technology could “help students and teachers connect”, she said.

Salcito pointed to two Microsoft tools that are already helping teachers and their students work better together – and apart.

PowerPoint Live is allowing young people to remotely log into an interactive presentation delivered by an educator. That can be automatically translated into more than 60 languages with a transcript that can be studied after the lesson has finished.

Meanwhile, Teams is helping entire classes collaborate while they are at home and in the classroom, allowing them to personalise their learning and get what they need, when they need it.

Barbara Holzapfel, General Manager of Education Marketing at Microsoft, speaks on stage at BETT

Barbara Holzapfel spoke about Microsoft’s latest education research

Rather than feel under threat from technology, teachers will be crucial in this new world of always-on learning, both Salcito and Holzapfel stated.

“Technology is changing the world,” he said. “The way in which we work and the jobs we will need are becoming far more dynamic; new careers are being invented and created, while existing careers are changing. We, as people, have got to be nimble and constantly adjust, too.

“That’s why educators are so important and why we need innovative teachers. The need for schools to get students ready to fundamentally change the world is in progress. What we want educators to do is not be bound by the structure of a 40-minute lecture, classroom dynamic or assessment that’s connected to a curriculum, but recognise their goal and mission to expand upon every student’s potential.

“The best innovation that inspires most young people is the teacher.”

Teachers across the world are facing increased workloads and pressure. The UK government recently announced an increase in starting salaries for those joining the profession in England in a bid to attract more graduates into classrooms. In Microsoft’s upcoming research, nearly 70 percent of teachers cited time constraints as their biggest hurdle to providing more personalized content to their students. It revealed technology can help clear away those obstacles by freeing up as much as 30 percent of teachers’ time, so they can spend more time responding to individual and group needs.

Microsoft stand at BETT

Microsoft is a worldwide partner of Bett

Salcito said those in charge of schools and education systems need to shift their focus from tests and grades to helping young people learn in a way that will help them build the right skills for the future. All jobs will use technology in some way, he added, whether it’s a lawyer using artificial intelligence to scan through large amounts of text, or a painter selling their artwork online.

“We need to recognise that every student learns differently and has different aspirations and accessibility needs,” he said. “Personalised learning can unleash an individual to be their best, to connect their passions, energy, talents, interests, their special needs, to make their learning journey unique and untethered by the bounds of classrooms, schedules and the curriculum.

“We’ve got to shift our focus away from supporting and progressing the system, to elevating the potential of all our children. That’s what technology is able to do. I think we’ve got to celebrate that shift, and remember that leaders need to shift their thinking and ask different questions about what’s possible.”

Salcito’s speech came on the first day of Bett, which runs for four days at the ExCeL. Microsoft is a worldwide partner of the event, with a large stand showcasing its work in digital skills and coding, as well as Surface, third-party devices designed for the classroom, and Minecraft: Education Edition.