Roundtable: What the key edtech predictions for 2020? Sam Blyth answers

In the third in our series, Hazel Davis quizzes four experts on their key edtech predictions for 2020

Sam Blyth is director of schools at Canvas EMEA.

Q. What are the key events this year that have affected your sector?

A new Ofsted framework (EIF) announced in the first half of 2019, and rolled out in September, called for a shift away from focusing on exams. The new framework puts more emphasis on the substance of education and actively discourages unnecessary data collection.

For many, the new framework has made it necessary to fundamentally re-evaluate the way that they measure progress in education. Ofsted’s new approach will draw attention to the idea there is good data and bad data.

Bad data is labelled ‘national accounting’ – designed to report to assessors how the system as a whole is performing and to contrast good practice with bad. Good data – the nuanced ability to understand students’ strengths and weaknesses and progress paths – will become much more important under the new framework.

This is, of course, more difficult to measure than the pass/fail tests of the past, and calls for broader, ongoing, and real-time assessment, which can only be delivered by the use of technology. Indeed, data-driven learning technology can help educators understand students’ learning behaviours, which courses are being consumed and where students are excelling or struggling. It also allows teachers to personalise learning journeys and demonstrate added value.

Q. Has there been a particular edtech trend or service focus that has affected you?

More than ever before, our focus at Instructure has been on lifelong learning. It’s a phrase that comes up a lot, but we’ve been focused on meaningfully digging into what that looks like in the classroom and in the workplace – and by extension, how tech plays a role in facilitating this.

And while engaging with flipped learning to encourage independent learning is nothing new, the kinds of tools schools are using to better facilitate this are developing continually. Incorporating video learning is one example – this is a way of reaching students that are already it using to solve problems day to day. By making it a part of lessons too, it enables them to access information in a digestible way, from any location via smartphone. These kinds of skills are useful until your last day of work and go way beyond the outcomes of a single lesson.

Q. What has been your biggest challenge this year?

Skills is a perennial issue and it’s challenged our customers again this year. Sector leaders are frequently warning that those entering the workforce aren’t properly prepared – including statements from the likes of Microsoft and the Royal Institution who are feeling the £1.5bn impact in recruitment and additional training costs.

For many, the skills and knowledge being taught across all levels of education are in need of attention and this year we’ve seen the skills debate move on to focus not just on subject-specific knowledge but on the often overlooked ‘soft skills gap.’

Our own report earlier this year shows that two-thirds of both secondary school teachers (68%) and businesses (64%) believe that students don’t have the soft skills needed to be successful at work. Furthermore, seven in 10 think that soft skills don’t get enough attention in the much-publicised skills gap debate (69% of businesses and 73% of secondary school teachers). 

We believe this soft skills gap threatens to make employees less productive and ultimately negatively impacts on the prosperity of business, and that we need closer collaboration between industry and academia in order to fuel the workforce with better-skilled graduates.

Q. What does 2020 look like for you and your sector?

Looking ahead, our researchers have predicted that four key trends will force academic institutions to re-evaluate the services they offer in 2020, further calling for a renewed focus on enhancing the student experience.

Harnessing the power of data

Over the next year, we believe the education market will adopt analytics-based modelling, using data to make more accurate predictions about learning outcomes. Success will depend on how institutions harness data for good and turn tests and measures into actionable insights. Being able to alter teaching quickly to address student needs can increase student engagement and motivation, and ultimately, improve results.

Open technologies

This coming year will also see tech providers embracing open technology and a move away from a proprietary model. A move to open source and more adaptable software tools and solutions will lead to bold innovation which will empower and revolutionise how institutions shape their teaching and learning.

Lifelong learning

Pressure from students, combined with an increasing need for institutions to demonstrate the return on investment from education will put renewed focus on employability in 2020.

Higher education institutions particularly must adapt or die, demonstrating their value by fuelling the economy with graduates primed to succeed at work.

24/7 student experience

With students calling for always-on access to course materials, institutions will demand improved availability from their technology partners. Cloud computing or managed services will again prove appealing as institutions realise the value of consumption versus ownership. But maintaining uptime and data integrity requires trust, which many technology vendors will have to build with the schools and colleges they serve.

Useful resources

Jisc’s Step Up programme:

  Ofsted framework:

  Edtech strategy:

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