Why edtech needs to get its head out of the clouds

Less blue-sky, more on-the-ground thinking please, says Dave Tucker, Director at Sonocent

The world of technology is an ever-changing and exciting one. Every week, we see new apps and services launching, all offering to improve our lives by giving us things we want. Inevitably the things we want are to make some task easier and cheaper, or some form of entertainment. Sometimes  technology can be completely disruptive to the status quo. Uber is changing how we use taxicabs with their on-demand private car service. Spotify enables us to listen to almost any track ever published when we want, for a nominal subscription fee. Netflix gives us access to huge amounts of television programmes and movies for a very low price compared to satellite or cable services.

However, while there is no denying that consumer tech enriches our lives, it does come with its consequences. Not only does it further encourage a culture of entitlement and instant gratification, but we also risk losing something irreplaceable in the process. Uber’s on-demand system means that once the taxi companies have all gone bust, people living in the suburbs will no longer be able to book a car. Spotify’s instant access means that treasured record collections are a thing of the past. And Netflix’s vast library means we are less willing to invest in watching programmes unless they grab us quickly. After all, if something fails to grab us in the first 5 minutes then there is always something else that might. This in turn has an impact on what content gets produced.

We can see the same thing happening in EdTech. Facebook recently announced that it will offer free education software in the US, to allow content and tests to be delivered online. MOOCs and online classes on any conceivable niche subject have brought content to students who would not have had access otherwise, although the creator of MOOCs himself reported a 90% dropout rate of students signing up to his online classes. Trends such as using iPads in the classroom and the gamification of learning seek to solve the issue of engaging learners, but have had mixed results. If these trends continue do we risk losing something important from education too? Computers may make it easy to disseminate content and make learning fun, but we need real human beings to act as role models and motivate students to want to learn.

‘Education is our way of investing in future generations, helping people to achieve their potential and cultivate the skills that they need for success. We need technology which works towards that goal’

When it comes to education, easier does not necessarily mean better. Technology should be used to improve the quality of learning; to overcome the barriers some students face; and to develop hard-to-teach skills. Education is our way of investing in future generations, helping people to achieve their potential and cultivate the skills that they need for success. We need technology which works towards that goal.

As a society we have become hooked on the concepts of ‘disruption’ and ‘innovation’. We love talking about the big ideas that, if successful, could change the world. Although these big ideas have huge potential, we should be paying more attention to the small ideas that enhance what we are doing now, not just the big ones that change the future.  We need to spend time identifying what it is that hinders students from achieving their full potential, and utilize technology to equip both learners and teachers with the tools to overcome those barriers.

As we increasingly become a society of automation, in the future it will be the tasks that only humans can do that will be the most valued and sought-after. A recent report from Oxford University and Deloitte found that about 35% of current jobs in the UK are at a high risk of computerisation over the next 20 years. In a world of instant access to information and increasing automation, abilities such as oral fluency, teamwork, problem solving and social skills could easily become more desirable than academic knowledge. These are the skills that EdTech needs to address.

It is time that we took a step back and remembered why it is we educate anyone in the first place. We want to inspire, to motivate, to prepare the next generation and give them the skills to take society to new heights. We want them to face the challenges of tomorrow and push boundaries. Schools are businesses and want technology which will attract more students and enable them to educate those students for less money. We must be careful not to just create the technology that schools want, but the technology that teachers, students and society actually need.

W: www.sonocent.com

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