Digital technology has been rapidly making itself comfortable in our classrooms, and it's not going anywhere. But it's nothing to fear; in fact, it's something to embrace as the new methods are designed to make education easier and more accessible for both students and teachers. Because we are now teaching a generation of digital natives, the methodology must be adapted to their learning styles and the current technology trends. Here are five technologies being used in education that have led to more engagement, better understanding, and much more enthusiasm.

Social Media

Most people think of social media as a distraction from learning, but educators are now using it in the classroom. It gets students interested and engages them in conversation. A twitter hashtag based on a specific class topic can turn into an interactive discussion. Students can also collaborate easily on projects and assignments in a way that's familiar and enjoyable to them. It also helps build interpersonal skills, especially among ELL (English Language Learners) students who may struggle with communication.

Although it's a growing learning trend, social media must be handled with care in the classroom, especially with young students. With the emergence of cyber-bullying and inappropriate internet relationships, many schools have banned social media. But experts agree that it is the future of education and steps need to be taken to facilitate the proper use of it in the classroom. To start, teachers must be trained in social media in order to use it properly and teach the students to do so as well. Some schools use a digital citizenship code to reinforce positive online behavior. Others use closed systems like Edmodo or Saywire which operate like Facebook and Twitter, but don't allow anyone unaffiliated with the school to participate, which protects both students and teachers.

Virtual Reality

You've heard about virtual reality as the future of gaming, but what about the future of learning? Virtual reality is a great classroom tool for those students who learn better by doing rather than listening. A VR headset allows a student studying history to travel back in time and study the foundations of a civilization as well as touch and feel ancient artifacts. On the other hand, some students may find a formula written on paper impenetrable, but perhaps interacting with it in the VR world may help them break it down and grasp the concept better.

The completely immersive experience of VR allows for no distractions and immediately engages learners with short attention spans. It helps students retain information and is suited for all types of learners, e.g. kinesthetic, visual. VR has even been used to train college and professional football teams, and has shown incredible results.

Mobile Learning

As a result of the growth in smartphone usage, mobile learning in the U.S. market is predicted to grow from $7.98 billion in 2015 to $37.6 billion by 2020. It has taken off mainly in employee training programs, especially with Millenials entering the workforce. Mobile learning is perfect for this generation that prefers to learn through podcasts, videos, and other multimedia content, in small doses. The short 20-minute lessons, that can be accessed on-the-go from any device, increase employee engagement and retention, which in turn increase company productivity.

Digital Textbooks

Today's kids are digital natives – people who were born in the age of digital technology and have never known a world without it. Because they've never needed to open an encyclopedia, it's no surprise their preferred learning methods have changed. Many schools have switched from traditional textbooks to digital ones, which may sound expensive, but so is buying seven textbooks per student, and replacing them when the new edition comes out. In the long run, a one-time purchase of a digital textbook is more cost efficient, and the device can be easily updated to contain the most recent information. It can be accessed from anywhere with any device, and to save money schools can use BYOD (bring your own device) so that students can use devices they already own. Beyond the logistics, digital textbooks are more interactive and provide a better learning experience.

Big Data

From the millions of online learners over the years, trends can be observed and used to develop a new system of learning that caters to the individual student. By following the patterns of previous students and using level tests, a unique learning path can be paved. And because all devices can be linked, a teacher can collect data from the class as a whole to decide what works and what doesn't. From the simplest things like weather or not students are having trouble with the wording of a particular question to finding the best time of day for successful homework completion, all classroom data can be stored and observed for better learning strategies.