One of the biggest consequences to education in the last year has been how schools have struggled to build effective distance learning programs, while students have simultaneously struggled to adapt to learning from home.
But as the pandemic progressed, educational institutions and teachers began to gain comfort with the tools they needed to become effective online educators. Education technology (EdTech), already being adopted in various educational environments across the globe (albeit somewhat slowly), began a rapid ascent.
EdTech is an assembly of IT tools available to educators allowing them to enhance both in-person and remote learning. With EdTech solutions, educators can create more individualized learning experiences geared to engage students in ways that will resonate with them. When combined with the right infrastructure and equipment access, EdTech may also promote a more inclusive learning experience.
Not surprisingly, IT and cybersecurity learning programs have been generally receptive to EdTech. But the remote learning requirements of the Covid pandemic, coupled with the growing shortage of cybersecurity professionals, have renewed interest in how to use EdTech to facilitate cybersecurity instruction.
Why EdTech for Cybersecurity Training?
For years, there has been a shortage of trained cybersecurity professionals. While the shortage is good for professionals who have completed their training (cybersecurity has had 0% unemployment for nearly a decade), the shortage poses a threat to many industries and organizations.
Educational institutions and providers need to find innovative ways to increase the speed and accessibility of cybersecurity education. Edtech allows these institutions to broaden their student bases, provide engaging and effective training and shorten the training cycle compared to traditional four-year college degree programs. More students and shorter programs equals more talent in the cybersecurity job pool.
Improving Cybersecurity Instruction with EdTech
As remote learning became more widespread educators faced difficulties in maintaining student engagement. In addition, some educators found that communication with remote students was strained and ineffective. EdTech has a number of features and tools that not only minimize or correct these issues, but also are especially advantageous for cybersecurity training.
Anytime, anywhere training is a tremendous benefit of EdTech. With it, educational institutions and providers can reach a broader range of students than with courses having standard learning hours. On-demand training also allows students to train at times that are most convenient for them, and at times when they learn most-effectively.
Keeping students engaged in fully remote learning environments has been problematic at best. It is difficult enough for students to pay attention to a teacher lecturing when they are in the controlled environment of a classroom. It is that much more difficult when the students attend remotely and are surrounded by the innumerable distractions of their home.
One EdTech solution teachers can apply in both in-person and remote environments is gamification. And gamification is not just for younger students; it is equally effective for adult training. Studies indicate that gamification of training at work results in substantially higher motivation during training (83% versus 28% for non-gamified training) and far less boredom (10% verus 49% for non-gamified instruction).
How could gamification work for cybersecurity instruction? Consider, for example, a series of challenges requiring students to identify potential cyberattacks and decide on the best measure for addressing them. Need to train students to test web vulnerability scanners? According to cybersecurity expert Mark Preston of Cloud Defense, web vulnerability scanners are “software that will automatically scan web applications and various websites to identify security issues, like potential vulnerabilities to specific attacks.” You can present students with a few scanner options and target sites and make testing and selection a game with goals and rewards.
Each vulnerability identification and solution can be assigned points which the educator can use in several ways. For instance, students with the highest number of points could exchange them for free passes from additional homework assignments for extra credit points, or for extra credit.
With many college-age students having grown up as frequent players of interactive video games such as Fortnite, they are more open to competitive gaming where results are known to all. Badges, achievements and leaderboards now are likely to enhance learning motivation for these students, whereas in more traditional settings, disclosure of students’ relative positioning is considered detrimental to motivation, learning and self-esteem.
There is a growing recognition in the high-tech and IT industries that the traditional four-year degree program may be a relic. Companies such as Google, Microsoft and IBM have started to move away from degree requirements for many high-tech positions.
These companies recognize that many people have built substantial skills through personal experience by the time they leave high school. Minimizing the importance of degree requirements also broadens the pool of potential candidates for job openings – an important consideration now given the drastic shortage of trained cyber professionals.
Organizations are beginning to realize that training involving hands-on experience may be more important than structured learning. Cybersecurity bootcamps are taking their place as recognized sources of well-trained cybersecurity specialists. Hands-on bootcamp activities such as training in ethical hacking develop skilled cybersecurity practitioners, whether or not they have a degree.
EdTech allows educators to more effectively engage in role-based learning, which targets practical activities and instruction towards specific job activities. Role-based training has numerous benefits in the context of cybersecurity instruction, as well as more generally in skills-based education.
Because role-based learning tends to be more practical than theoretical, it enhances student engagement. Engaged students are more likely to complete a training program and to get more out of it. And with practical exercises under their belt, students of role-based learning environments are more ready to hit the ground running once they start a job.
Ease of Update
Cybersecurity is an area that evolves rapidly, with new attacks and new defenses popping up at dizzying speed. It is therefore important that educational programs are adapting instruction just as quickly. It is also easy to update EdTech systems with respect to non-substantive changes, for example, changes in data privacy laws or advances in cybersecurity tools.
Updates are far simpler to effect (and probably far less costly) in the EdTech environment than in traditional instructional environments. Thus, students and educators alike can be certain that they aren’t working with outdated information.
Online skills assessments provide educators with valuable instantaneous information about each student’s progress and areas where the student needs focused learning. This allows the educator to more easily develop individualized learning plans for each student. Students also benefit from receiving instantaneous feedback and can tailor their own studies towards areas of weakness.
EdTech is a promising solution for providing effective remote-learning solutions during unexpected events like the Covid crisis. EdTech’s benefits, however, extend far beyond that narrow application.
Whether in-person or remote, EdTech provides a suite of features and tools that educators can use to invigorate the cybersecurity learning experience, train the next generation of cybersecurity professionals, and begin to narrow the existing talent gap.