Technology as the basis for learning: What the UK can learn from the US

According to Pearson Education, the UK’s education system ranks higher than the US, coming in sixth compared to America’s 14th place. Starting formal education earlier and following specialised subject areas are two factors that some believe contribute to this success.

However, where academic prowess and examination success are the main judging criteria in the British curriculum, in the US, critical thinking and project-based learning driven by technology has come to form the foundations upon which learning is based.

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The US has been an early adopter of EdTech and, consequently, their use of the ‘Four Cs’ – critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity – has technology embedded throughout. And with curation forming a significant part of teaching in the States thanks to its ability to force analytical and higher-level thinking, many have said that it should become the fifth ‘c’.

The result?

US students of all ages are able to use digital dexterity to reason, problem solve and share ideas to stimulate intellectual growth and develop higher order thinking.

The ‘Four Cs’ of modern education

The US is leading the charge when it comes to helping students master 21st century life skills and innovation. And the Four Cs – identified by the US-based Partnership for 21st century skills – are widely considered the most important competencies required for a modern education. As a result, they’ve been adopted and implemented into the curricula of schools across the country, from California to North Carolina.

By embedding the Four Cs – and technology – into the fabric of the classroom, American teachers are encouraging positive use of social media to connect and learn, with digital citizenship a vital component. Students are using technology effectively to present and share information and engage freely within a safe online environment.

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When four becomes five

With its ability to challenge and nurture critical thinking, curation is fast becoming seen as the fifth ‘c’. When students are set a curation assignment, they’re required to conduct in-depth research, collate resources and analyse information, all of which demand higher level thinking.

But how are American teachers supporting this learning to ensure pupils don’t get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information available to them?

The four Cs of Curation

By using a curation platform, teachers as well as students can collaborate, critically think, communicate and get creative.

Critical thinking

US students are increasingly using curation platforms to organise their research – it’s quick, easy, and leaves them with more time to focus on analysis and critical thinking.


When empowered to undertake their own problem-based learning projects, students can be creative about how they collate resources and curation platforms allow them to present that information creatively.


Curation platforms are enabling US students to collaborate like never before. With over 40,000 searches performed every second[1], it can be hard for search engines to make sense of all the information posted online and therefore, students may face biased information overload. By using digital curation, pupils are able to share the best resources and information, online.


Online collaboration leads to communication, which lies at the heart of academic success. By using online curation platforms, students are encouraged to engage with their peers, parents and teachers.

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The cure-ated teacher

In the US EdTech market, online curation has taken off. It has empowered collaboration and communication among teachers and a passionate online community has emerged. In the UK, teaching continues to suffer from an ‘outflux’ of teaching talent. According to a recent National Education Union survey, 80% of classroom teachers in the UK have seriously considered leaving the profession in the past 12 months because of their workload.

Content curation can improve teachers’ working lives in wide-ranging ways. Lesson planning is one of the most time-consuming parts of an educator’s role and one that using a tool like Wakelet can make a lot more entertaining, while also challenging teachers to be more creative in their lessons. Embedding resources straight into an interactive lesson plan also means that, when it comes to teaching, everything is to hand.

Similarly, one of the biggest challenges faced by teachers is communicating effectively with parents. Keeping parents informed and engaged with their children’s activities is an important part of being an educator. Content curation platforms can be used to create a weekly email newsletter containing everything from links to student projects and PDFs of homework tasks to the best Tweets from the school’s community. It’s more cost-effective and less labour-intensive than continually updating the school website and can also reach those parents that don’t have a social media presence.

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When searching the internet, teachers need reliable and trusted sources of information, however, search engines are unlikely to provide the confidence required to verify the findings returned.

The personalisation provided by the search engine, which is mainly driven by their algorithms, may also isolate individual teachers from a broader spectrum of information, exposing them only to content that is in line with their views and experiences.

With the level of curation inherent in a teacher’s role, digitising this process and making it a piece of shareable content will significantly reduce the amount of time teachers waste searching through Google’s information to find high value resources. For example, seeing a collection of resources on WW1 from a GCSE history teacher is much more reliable than a link on Google, that’s probably been paid for by the company who posted it.

Teaching the teachers

Another feature of the US education system is that it incentivises teachers to undertake continuous professional development. It’s perhaps unsurprising then that ‘tech coaches’ are some of the most in-demand education jobs – teaching teachers how to teach tech.

The UK doesn’t seem to share a similar approach to professional development, which may be contributing to a tech knowledge gap among teachers. A lack of confidence in this area will likely lead many to simply avoid the more complex aspects of teaching tech, to the detriment of the student.

Generation textbook

So, what does this mean for the UK’s education system? Are we at risk of creating a generation of learners who can use adverbial phrases and loosely understand Pythagoras’ theorem but can’t use digital trial and error to solve a real-life problem or curate, analyse and share information effectively online?

The booming trend in America is to embed digital curation into all classroom activities – it’s proving to be a cornerstone of the country’s modern education system. While the UK continues to prioritise exam results over real-life problem solving, we’d argue that, to stay relevant and create a generation of critical thinkers, the UK’s education system must align the needs of today with academic success, with technology at its heart.

We need to move away from textbook-based teaching to meet the learning needs of students today or risk falling behind the US in educational rankings.

Written by Nick Blow, VP of Engineering, Wakelet
Written by Nick Blow, VP of Engineering, Wakelet

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