Review roundtable: James Silcock

Charley Rogers speaks to CoSector UOL’s Commercial Director about how 2017 has changed the edtech landscape, and what’s in store for 2018

1. What trends do you see emerging in 2018? Which innovations or companies do you think will take the lead?

There are a number of key trends that will become prevalent in 2018. The first point to recognise is that the 2018 student cohort will have all been born in this millennium. This is the ‘always-on generation’; their expectation for university life is that it should match their broader lifestyle. This will create great pressure for higher education institutions and force them to adopt more digital working practices, transforming the way they interact with and develop their students. However, it is essential that data protection (including use of personal data and ensuring data security) is kept to the highest levels, especially with new data protection laws coming into force in 2018.

TEF will have a significant impact on the technology in education, as student outcomes will be based on areas such as the virtual learning environment and technology as an aid to teaching. We are, therefore, likely to see technology such as chatbots assisting students, greater use of learning analytics, as well as more sophisticated use of this data within the guidelines of GDPR, for example, employing adaptive learning techniques. However, with greater constraints on budgets there will be increasing pressure for HE to move more of their services to the cloud and outsourcing providers. This in turn will create challenges as there will be a move from Capex to Opex spending.

2. One of the trends we’ve seen this year is big data – what role do you think analytics will play in improving edtech applications moving forward?

Analytics will play a greater role in personalised learning; however, the adoption of this kind of edtech is not easy and institutions will require support so they can effectively harness the power of analytics. From 2018 there will be greater capability to monitor the sentiments of students by using the data available on social media platforms. Current edtech platforms will have to become far more flexible and adapt to handling data from multiple sources. A good example of analytics in action would be the continuous management of a student from their first interest in a course or university, to their final graduation and subsequent employment.

3. What would the ideal 2018 look like in terms of edtech? Are there any tools or capabilities of which you think the sector is desperately in need?

The next cohort of students will be the first group of people born in this millennium to go to university and are therefore truly digitally native. Students will expect tools including instant chat, using greater collaboration, mobile compatible applications, and accessible online content. They will expect digital interaction, lecture delivery in a ‘flipped’ model, and 24-hour access to university resources (e.g. cafés, libraries). This will require universities to upgrade their infrastructure and support services. Also, as universities push for additional revenue streams from distance learning and increased utilisation of assets, they will require an ‘always-on’ service paradigm. This will mean using more third-party service providers as well as the cloud.

4. What was edtech’s greatest achievement this year? 

The greater use of learning analytics to identify at-risk students meant that the right levels of intervention could be provided. Also, ease of access to learning has been improved by making learning applications available on mobile devices.

5. We have heard a lot of concern over the skills gap this year. How do you think the issue has progressed, and is 2018 looking any more hopeful?

In 2018 the skills gap will increase as more universities undergo digital transformation, for example, as more services are hosted on the cloud, there will be a shift away from on-site solutions, necessitating a different skill set to provide support. This issue will be exacerbated by tighter budgets and a focus on increasing academic real estate by converting non-academic areas. This will lead the IT infrastructure services within education to be outsourced to third-party service providers or to the cloud. 

In the academic space, there will be an increasing skills gap in the provision of instructors, particularly in developing materials to be hosted on flexible learning environments. This includes curated content for learning, reading lists, video, audio, social media, and ultimately digital assessment.

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