The Impact of Innovation in Education

Andrew C. McMillan
Andrew C. McMillan
High school principal; Ed.D. in Educational Administration
High school science teacher explaining a cell structure model to high school students.

In the field of education, school leaders are always striving to improve their practices, the quality of their educational programs, and the total school program in general. These improvements are geared towards student success, whether it be through accountability measures like high-stakes testing or general programs that contribute to the overall wellbeing of students. By definition, innovation means the “action or process of innovating, through a new method, idea, or product.” Innovation is a term used overzealously in the business and industry world and has recently made its rounds in educational jargon.

How Does Innovation Impact Education?

When examining the American Educational System, there have been many changes to how education has been provided since the forming of the United States. In 2021, educators are highly aware of the need for constant collaboration with colleagues, and the general consensus that as educators, we simply cannot deliver the same instructional practices that were in place 25+ years ago.

As the great philosopher Plato stated, “necessity is the mother of invention.” In the business and industry world, innovative thinkers are responsible for many of the expected, normal operations that years ago weren’t even thought of. Goods and services like mobile food delivery services powered by innovative apps on our smartphones, tv/video streaming platforms, shipping features from companies like Amazon and Walmart that deliver items in 24-48 hours (sometimes by drone), and so many more innovative ideas exist solely because creative thinkers saw a need for these goods and services.

These concepts we take for granted today were once ideas drawn or developed on a whiteboard in a room full of people brainstorming. All of these ideas were born out of the notion that innovation is critical to the consumer mentality of the world.

Recent Educational Innovations and Their Impact

Like the consumer world, innovative practices in education are critical to new growth and change as well. When examining innovative practices in education, there is more to innovation than technological innovations. Innovative practices in education involve how we use technology and harness its power.

Moreover, innovation in education can be as simple as doing things in a new way, requiring different approaches, processes, products, or strategies. For educational leaders, we strive to constantly re-design the concept of education to meet the needs of diverse learners, paving the way for innovation that is relevant, personalized, and responsive to the students in our classrooms and schools today.

Innovation in education can lead to better overall outcomes in the school environment. Innovative classrooms are filled with students who are developing stronger communication skills and building engagement capacity amongst their peers. Personalized learning and differentiated opportunities for students due to innovative practices in education are key components to preparing students for a global, competitive workforce in the 21st century. In this digital age, students learning in innovative classrooms can potentially retain more information and process at a deeper level of understanding.

Innovation in education is not just limited to students or teachers. Communication apps, surveys, and other innovative programs allow for parents and guardians to be more plugged into their child’s school, and can lead to greater involvement and engagement between students, parents, and school faculty.

Over the course of the last ten years in education, multiple innovative trends and practices have emerged. The first is Problem or Project-Based Learning (PBL), in which students take an identified problem and, using innovative practices, collaboration, and creative thinking processes, come up with new and imaginative ways to solve common problems.

Additionally, the PBL method is popular due to the fact that it often combines multiple disciplines into one project, thus creating and promoting active engagement, learning, and a deeper dive into understanding for students. Ultimately, students see and experience the payoff moment of taking a problem from start to finish and creating new and unique solutions to that problem for the betterment of the group impacted by the initial problem or challenge.

The next innovative practice is Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). As educators seek to constantly evolve and better their own practices and methods, the PLC model allows for them to gain valuable input, advice, and ideas from those not only in their own schools, but across the country and world.

The PLC model is made possible by innovations in technology, like shared resources through multiple learning management systems offered by Google and Microsoft. The influx of virtual and hybrid learning brought on by COVID-19 actually increased the amount of engagement between educators through the use of Zoom and Google Meet, as well as the professional learning networks through various social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Educators today have a world of knowledge and connection at their fingertips, and these PLC communities are being utilized to better serve our students.

Another example of innovation in education is not necessarily an advancement in technology, but rather an advancement in what education looks like and how it best serves students. Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is a relatively new way of educating that takes into consideration the social and emotional components that students come to school with and forms educational practices around providing the tools, strategies, and support that students may need to be successful at school, while navigating challenges within their physical environment or past traumatic experiences they have encountered.

Innovative educational practices are critical to produce graduates that are equipped with the tools to be successful in an ever-changing, global society. High quality learning outcomes are pivotal for students, and exposing them to innovative educational models in education can only heighten their preparedness.

As society trends towards technological advancements, creating conditions in our schools that foster and support innovators and educational entrepreneurs is key. Radically improving education as a whole, including the quality of teaching, as well as the accessibility to innovative tools for the learner, teacher, parents, community, and society, are strong justifications for innovation in education.

Although technology is a key component of innovation, remembering the human element of our learners is absolutely vital as well. Although innovative tools are useful, the effectiveness of them depends on the learner, and providing them with the appropriate exposure to innovative tools can only help in their understanding of how to properly use these tools. When integrating various innovations in technology, we must consider the potential benefits and challenges, while developing these innovations into successful teaching and learning practices.

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