Improvements in Education are Vital for the Future – an Interview with Microsoft Leader

Barbara Holzapfel: Improvements in Education

What are the skills students will need in the future? And more importantly, how can students develop these skills of tomorrow? In the following interview, Barbara Holzapfel, General Manager, Microsoft Education Marketing, explains which skills students will need in the future and how improvements in education are changing the journey of students today.

Preparing students for the future has changed dramatically

Barbara, which themes and tools are likely to be most important to help students develop the skills they will need in the future?

The ways people interact, socialize and work are shifting rapidly. By the time the kindergarteners of today become the graduates of 2030, the world will be vastly different from anything previous generations have faced.

Research undertaken by Microsoft on the Class of 2030 revealed that unprecedented opportunities for collaboration, the progressive automation of lower-skilled jobs, employers’ demands for workers with more well-rounded skills and students’ desire and expectations to operate with autonomy and choice all indicate that our education system needs to prepare students for the future in very different ways than it has in the past.

Our research revealed two core themes: Social emotional skills and personalized learning.

While not new in education, these are newly important for more people. Employers are placing a premium on social skills and emotional literacy with up to 40% of future jobs requiring explicit social emotional skills. Academics are noting their impact on deep learning and the students themselves recognize these skills are critical for success. The research highlighted personalized learning as an approach which supports skills development — both cognitive and social and emotional by guiding students towards greater autonomy.

Students, young people. Education

Personalized learning approaches that help students navigate their own learning are critical. Mixed reality (including game-based learning approaches), collaborative platforms and artificial intelligence are technologies that will enable more student-centric approaches.

Creating improvements in education is essential

How are new learning tools in tech changing the educational journey of kids and students?

One of the most exciting ways technology is already transforming education is by enabling teachers to create learning environments that are more inclusive than ever.

Consider the experience of students with dyslexia. It is estimated that more than 700 million people globally have dyslexia, including one in five students. These students, whose language-based learning difference causes a deficiency with phonological processing when learning to read, are often mistakenly labeled as having a learning disability and, as such, make up approximately 70 to 85 percent of today’s special education classes.

Yet research shows 90 percent of children with dyslexia can be educated inside an inclusive classroom when teachers are trained in early dyslexia identification and intervention.

Over the past three years, we have made big strides increasing inclusivity with Microsoft Learning Tools, a set of features created to help improve reading and writing, especially for people with learning disorders such as dyslexia and dysgraphia.

Free for all users of Windows and Office, Learning Tools transforms the way many educators think about using digital tools to unlock the limitless learning of every student. Teachers and parents of students with dyslexia tell us they particularly appreciate that Learning Tools features are built in so all students can use them in a mainstream, non-stigmatizing way.

Learning Tools is now being used by more than 14 million people worldwide, up from just 100,000 a year ago. Here are a few of the most impactful features:


Immersive Reader:
A versatile tool that enhances reading comprehension by allowing students to hear text read aloud, highlight different parts of speech and adjust the spacing of words. Immersive Reader also allows students to change the size of text, switch fonts and choose a background theme.


Both Office 365 and Windows 10 now offer speech-to-text dictation. Students who have difficulty typing a response with a keyboard or using pencil or digital ink can use the dictation feature to capture and, importantly, share their learning.


Microsoft Translator:
To reduce the friction and stress experienced by learners who struggle with the dominant language in a classroom, Microsoft Translator provides live captioning within PowerPoint. Microsoft Translator also helps promote cross-language understanding by enabling casual, multi-lingual conversations between students, educators and families across a range of Microsoft apps.

Enhancing the learning experience is Microsoft’s priority

How is Microsoft opening the door to create improvements in education like new features for classrooms and beyond?

We are constantly listening to teachers, parents and students to identify ways to improve our technologies to provide the education features and outcomes they need.

Minecraft Education Edition (MEE) is a good example. We worked closely with teachers when we created MEE to ensure it would be a powerful platform for learners to explore, build, collaborate and solve problems. We continue to enhance MEE by adding features like the Chemistry Resource Pack, which allows learners to manipulate elements and build compounds, and Code Builder which brings a number of popular coding languages into the Minecraft experience.

Another example is Flipgrid, an active, social learning platform that engages learners through video-based discussion, creating new possibilities for reflection, demonstration and collaboration. We made Flipgrid free for schools and integrated it into other products used in classrooms such as Microsoft Teams to further enhance the learning experience.

Microsoft Teams is the hub for teamwork in Office 365. For education settings, we added features to support the modern classroom including OneNote Notebooks, to help teachers organize interactive lessons and deliver personalized learning, and end-to-end assignment management including grading and feedback.

Our mission at Microsoft is to help every person on the planet to achieve more – and that truly means everyone. Regarding improvements in education, that means providing technology that helps teachers create inclusive classrooms that can enhance the unique strengths of all students. We are also working hard to ensure educators have the tools and the time they will need to provide students with the personalized learning that will enable them to develop the cognitive and social-emotional skills they will need to thrive in the future.

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