This guest blog post is by David Langridge, Senior Director Partner Development at Microsoft Education, who presented at last week’s Publishers’ Association Annual Conference on technology in education.

Three key trends are currently defining the future of education. Here at Microsoft we define these around three pillars: Society and the Economy, Advances in Technology and 21st Century Learning and skills. These are all trends that are driving innovation in many different market sectors, but I also believe they also have the power to transform education from something that is still didactic into a far more holistic experience for millions of people worldwide.

The question for us as a technology company, for teaching professionals and for education publishers is how we can all harness these trends more effectively for all concerned. Holistic transformation in education is not about the device – transferring from whiteboard-based teaching to tablet-based teaching will result in very little progress in itself. Real change in education will happen when innovative content and innovative teaching work hand in hand.

In many ways recent developments in technology underline how little has changed in schools, colleges and universities. A hundred years ago classrooms were like an airplane experience: teachers lectured students from the front, with very little testing and tailoring of the content they delivered.

Fast forward to today, the blackboard is probably an interactive whiteboard and students use laptops instead of exercise books, but the classroom is still set up like an airplane. While this system worked well when schools were primarily intended to ready people for working lives in manufacturing industry, it is out of step with the needs of 21st century employers. These business value “21st Century Skills” such as a collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking, so we need to think carefully about how educators can cultivate them effectively.

As employers are already beginning to realize, the generation of ‘digital natives’ now entering the workforce have extremely high expectations of technology and the tools they should be able to use at work. This is a generation of workers used to ubiquitous connectivity. They have faced the fast pace of modern business by using their always-on consumer devices to blur the boundaries between their personal and professional lives. As a result, people’s individual workstyles are an increasingly important part of how things get done, with users having a final say in what technology they use to do it. In the technology world this is the trend called Consumerization of IT.

At Microsoft we believe that Consumerization of IT can also have a transformative effect on education, in that saying “yes” to students’ technology requests sends a powerful message about learning as a collaborative process. Embracing Consumerization of IT is not easy for companies let alone schools, colleges and universities and it represents some key challenges. However embracing technological change in the right way can reap enormous rewards – particularly in terms of introducing more personalized approaches to teaching and learning.

For an inspiring example of how a personalized approach can be much more engaging for students, I recommend you watch the game designer Jane McGonigal’s latest TED talk. Her solution to the problem of engaging learners is based on bringing the reward and feedback systems that make video games so enjoyable into the learning process. She calls these “Epic Win Moments”, and highlights how a gameplay or ‘gamified’ approach to creating and presenting learning materials in the classroom can have powerful effects. When you think about it… games and education are not that different: Both have tasks to complete and next levels to be overcome. Both have scoreboards or grades and leaderboards, both have an end point, and both take a certain level of mastery to complete, but unfortunately, the similarities end there.

McGonigal’s approach is all about de-emphasising the idea failure in favour of empowering students to try again. A big red ‘F’ on a piece of work demotivates the learner, whereas the sign ‘Game Over’ encourages the learner to try again immediately and even gives them the chance to start from the point in the game where it got most difficult. It’s a form of learning based on incremental improvement, positive feedback that we believe can be easily and effectively applied to educational content.

This is a principle that we’re testing in Just Press Play, a pilot we are doing with the Rochester Institute of Technology to see how gamification can improve student performance. Just Press Play focuses on motivating out of classroom behaviors – so, for example, we are rewarding ordinary behaviors like proposing new ideas to professors, utilizing campus resources, helping out a peer, entering contests. And by doing this we are researching if motivating students in these areas will actually improve their in-classroom outcomes

As we look forward, we need to continue using technology as a lens to understand how learning is changing, and also use technology to effect real and holistic transformation of the education experience. The changes required of the education system are partially driven by technology, but also by governments who know that driving long-term economic growth is dependent on smart investments today. There is also a clear need to develop curricula that help kids leave school with the right skills for work and life. As a private sector company Microsoft itself needs new hires not just to be technologically literate, but also able to use technology to communicate and work effectively with other people.

Teachers and school leaders – like many of us – are having to do more with less. But it’s not just about doing more, but how you do it. Introducing more innovation to teaching practices and the production of educational content is key to the achievement of 21st Century Skills. It’s critical that teachers and educational publishers alike think of innovation as the norm not the exception, which is why our partnerships with entities like the US Department of Education are so critical.

Student-driven learning is about creating a personalized education experience for the learner that is enhanced and sparked by explosive growth in quality digital content. It’s a challenge which educational publishers will increasingly need to face as the reality of teaching and learning in the 21st century changes fundamentally.