E-learning with educational robotics

4th July 2022
Sheryl Miles

Particularly in the UK, engineering is a vital, yet sadly underpopulated, industry to work in. There are nevertheless already many initiatives that seek to drive higher uptake of engineering positions, but one aspect that people may overlook is how prospective engineers are receiving an industry-friendly education in the first place. Electronic Specifier’s Sam Holland and Paige West discuss e-learning, short for electronic learning, and some of the many ways in which it can help to inspire career interests in the engineers of tomorrow.

This article originally appeared in the June' 22 magazine issue of Electronic Specifier Design – see ES's Magazine Archives for more featured publications.

Sam notes: “One part of my work at Electronic Specifier that I find fascinating is hearing the exciting news about what the industry can do to make engineering as much of an inclusive field as it can be – and indeed should be. And on top of this, I believe that a good place to start in inspiring the engineers of tomorrow is to teach engineering with engineering.”

In view of this, we’ve chosen to start this column with a particular field of e-learning: educational robotics. But first, given that such an area of robotics is an offshoot of e-learning, we’ll now introduce a criteria for the umbrella term ‘e-learning’ itself.

Defining e-learning

Google explains e-learning with the simple definition: ‘Learning conducted via electronic media, typically on the Internet’. Such a definition provides the core example of e-learning, namely the use of the web to access and engage with educational resources – but modern technology makes this criteria a little redundant. After all, especially after the increase that this decade has brought to working and studying from home, how many people don’t receive at least some of their education online nowadays?

In this digital age, the scope of electronic learning goes far further than simply the utilisation of online academic resources. So, for the purposes of this column, the term ‘e-learning’ will be used in its broader sense to refer to educational approaches that are the product of technological innovation, not just in terms of the Internet – but within any area of education that is delivered with the use of modern electronics. With that said, let’s have a look at just one example of modern e-learning: educational robotics.

Educational robotics

Many would argue that a key to engineering education is to approach it at what is often called the ‘grassroots’ level: in other words, the very foundation. In the case of schooling, this means teaching those in their early childhood – after all, every engineer was a kid once!

There are some exciting initiatives already on the market and Paige explores two of her favourites here:

LEGO robots allow children of all ages to learn how coding skills are used in robotics and how to incorporate these skills into their own robots, machines, and designs. Easy to follow, step by step instructions come with all LEGO robots and the LEGO BOOST set comes with instructions for five different toy robots all with their own unique functions, purposes, and personalities.

Nintendo also released a Switch game in 2018 called Nintendo LABO: Robot Kit. By assembling sheets of cardboard into a variety of shapes, and combining them with the Switch, children can create their own wearable, in-game robot. The fun and engaging build process is a great opportunity for children to be creative and learn about engineering and programming. What child wouldn’t want to be a real-life Transformer?!

E-learning with robotics

By introducing this column, we wanted to show that e-learning is not only a long-standing approach to education already, but it is even growing in prominence as technology improves with time. And if there’s one area of technology that is set to improve substantially, it is of course robotics.

While it’s a cliché, children really are the future – and so are robots! So, what better way to prepare for better times ahead than with educational robotics applied at the grassroots level. Again: if you want to inspire the engineers of tomorrow, teach engineering with engineering.

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