COVID-19 and what it means for the future of edtech

The surge in edtech uptake, spurred by the pandemic, will likely mark a turning point for the sector

In the wake of COVID-19, technology has enabled education providers and learners alike to cope with the enormous challenge of remote learning.

The initial response from the sector was to look to digital solutions that could plug the immediate education gap. And with schools, universities and learning centres forced to close their doors in late March, the scramble for digital alternatives quickly took hold.

But as the pandemic continues with social distancing restrictions still in play, technology is starting to transform the way we learn. Indeed, the surge in the uptake of digital solutions will likely mark a turning point for edtech, propelling educational technology from a fringe tool to the foundation of education.

With providers battling to make up for lost time, technology that has to date been largely peripheral will be pushed into the mainstream: moving from a classroom aid to a core part of the curriculum.

This presents some interesting questions. Firstly, what will the future of edtech look like? And, more importantly, how can we best take advantage of these latest trends?

Why now is the time to reinvent the education sector 

The coronavirus pandemic has caused huge disruptions; but it has also given us the opportunity to bring about positive change to global education systems.

With global edtech investment on track to grow by 15% in 2020, COVID-19 has served to inspire a longer-term view of how tech can be used to support learning.

Few would argue against having better access to more learning opportunities, for instance. The rise of online courses has meant that those who would otherwise be prohibited from enjoying world-class education can now access classes without extortionate fees. As a prime example, Coursera – which offers free online courses from top universities – saw 10.3 million enrolments in 30 days at the start of the pandemic; a whopping 644% increase compared to the same time last year.

The democratisation of education is one outcome we should continue to encourage. More than that, though, COVID-19 has highlighted that learning can take place anywhere, at any time, and at any age. And as such, teaching methods must adapt to meet the ‘new normal’.

The global shift to online learning, for instance, raises challenges about how to facilitate higher demand. Upgrades to underlying technical infrastructure must be made to support the rise in online traffic and ensure that nobody is technologically isolated. Modern broadband infrastructure and connectivity will be key to facilitating these changing patterns of learning, as will the transition to a cloud-based approach to enable more effective data storage.

Beyond this, technology should not be adopted for technology’s sake. Providers must take the time to identify how it can best be used as an effective tool to increase efficiencies, engage students and ultimately raise student attainment.

How to ensure digital solutions stay relevant

As in the business landscape, the future of education is likely to be a hybrid learning environment – a combination of in-person and online teaching. With this in mind, education institutions must look to technologies that will continue to stay relevant as student needs evolve.

This naturally means evaluating which tools are best suited to different audiences.

Those in the primary and secondary education space would do well to look to solutions that enable adaptive and hands-on learning. Engaging video content and interactive activities are considerations to keep in mind when seeking out appropriate technologies. Software solutions like Classcraft, which use gamification principles, for instance, are key to invigorating the learning experience and keeping children engaged beyond the four walls of a classroom – as are solutions integrated with augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).

Another point to bear in mind is the ability of technology to take on administration and assessment processes. Artificial intelligence- (AI) enabled solutions, for instance, will help enhance the role of a teacher and allow educators to dedicate more time to what really matters: supporting student development. Providers must look to solutions that can reduce the burden of ‘non-teaching’ tasks as well as time spent on preparing, marking and analysing assessments.

Those focused on the higher education sector, meanwhile, ought to leverage tools that can offer sophisticated examination options, and facilitate teaching in specialised areas – whether this is coding or biochemistry. Finding ways to digitise existing learning materials and indeed whole chunks of the curriculum will be key going forward, particularly for subjects that generally rely on in-person learning.

As universities branch out to offer more virtual opportunities – whether this is entirely digital courses or a blended model – edtech can also offer them a route beyond the coronavirus crisis. Successful digital transformation projects in higher education must necessarily be adaptive: as students navigate the new virtual learning environment, challenges will no doubt present themselves.

Some solutions used today will not be fit for purpose a few years, or even months, down the line – offering only a quick, temporary fix. With this in mind, providers should continuously make improvements and find tools that cater to the needs of both students and educators.

For example, platforms that offer seamless video and lecture capture, sophisticated learning management systems and immersive learning solutions should all be on the radar of providers looking to bolster the quality and delivery of teaching in the long-term. Thought must also be given to how technology can help students succeed in higher education, and the impact that going digital might have on student satisfaction.

Outside of formal education, there is also an increasing role for edtech in supporting adult learning. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that technology can help overcome barriers to lifelong learning; a lack of time, geographical barriers and an absence of appropriate local courses can all be overcome with the help of digital solutions.

People of all ages are looking for virtual classrooms that can blur the lines between face-to-face and virtual learning, to make the digital experience as engaging as the former. Language services like Langu have been increasingly sought-after to mimic the personal learning experience, for instance by connecting human learners with human teachers.

Platforms that can support corporate training and up-skilling are key considerations to keep in mind given the changes taking place in the professional landscape, too. Businesses must continue to evaluate digital-first solutions that will allow them to nurture and empower their increasingly disperse workforce, and ensure professional development doesn’t fall on the back foot.

Many temporary solutions that have been employed during the pandemic will become permanent. As digital transformation accelerates, providers must take the time now to experiment with and invest in tech products that meet the changing demands of their students, and can help them achieve their long-term learning objectives.

Ritam Gandhi, is the Founder and Director of Studio Graphene – a London-based company that specialises in the development of blank canvas tech products including apps, websites, AR, IoT and more. The company has completed over 100 projects since first being started in 2014, working with both new entrepreneurs and product development teams within larger companies.

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