The way we are educated seems to change from generation. It was not too long ago that our parents or grandparents could never have fathomed the used of electronic tablets or personal computers being used in classrooms instead of pen, paper and chalkboards. Yet here we are, even how us as the research team was educated does not compare to how current generations at school are being taught. Let's see how education is changing faster than ever before, and what themes are dominating.
Written by: Tanay Sonawane, Jonathan Ouyang and Filip Vrábel
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT FOR TEACHERS
For our younger readers, do you remember when the teacher had put up a movie on the projector, but just can’t seem to get the audio to work? Do you remember the COVID-19 days, where half the lesson was just the teacher trying to work through Zoom to share their screen? Do you remember the teacher asking if there were any tech-savvy students in the class to fix what seemed to you a simple problem? Ha! Good times. But no, our raising this point is not to criticise teachers for their tech-literacy, rather it is to illustrate a prevalent issue for the market penetration of Edtech – the significant barriers of development as many teachers resist the use of newer technology.
A lot of us can all recall the strict “no devices in the classroom” rule the teachers enforced. And it was no doubt a moment of immense joy for most of us when we were finally allowed to put on headphones and use our laptops to watch a short “educational” YouTube video. Indeed, technology was often pushed aside, and was thus a comparably small part of our generation’s education, both in early years and possibly even later on. But the story for Edtech is now beginning to change in the post-COVID world.
In essence, the pandemic was a catalyst that induced decades worth of digital transformation in schools. At the onset of the pandemic, the transition to remote learning wasn’t easy. It wasn’t easy for the students, and certainly not easy for the teachers. In fact, in the United States, only 1 in 10 teachers felt they were adequately trained to teach remotely. Nevertheless, teachers suddenly became more willing to use technology, as there was really no other alternative in these situations. With this, entrepreneurs saw a golden opportunity. They have since understood that their technologies must be designed to support teachers in the classroom, working with the teachers in a symbiotic relationship to not only make learning more comprehensive for students, but also make teaching with technology more enjoyable for teachers. As of 2020, US$2.2bn in venture capital has been raised to realise this vision.
And indeed, with this rise of Edtech, professional development for teachers is the way to revolutionise teaching methods to merge innovative technologies with traditional methods of teaching. In fact, Edtech itself is being used to achieve this aim. At the University of Virginia, researchers are working with Mursion, a tech company, to provide virtual practice scenarios to train teachers. The simulators will help remove the pressure of using new methods of teaching in front of real children for the first time, allowing teachers to develop the necessary digital literacy in their own time. Additionally, apart from private efforts, there are also governmental efforts to provide professional development for teachers. The Michigan Department of Education now offers two programs – the Digital Teacher Academy and the Digital Learning Coach program to help teachers set goals and implement digital tools in their classrooms.
The changing attitude towards technology from teachers, facilitated through both private and governmental professional development programs provides an opportunistic chance for Edtech to break further ground.
Ever fallen asleep in class? We definitely have. Apart from a boring class, there’s another reason. For most of the history of education, whether that be in primary school or university, teaching has largely been unilateral, where information flows solely from teacher to student. This lack of engagement and collaboration can often cause students to lose focus, and even disdain learning in serious cases. With this, Edtech tools for teachers have started to forge a more active teaching process, where collaboration and peer-to-peer learning has started to rise up. With adequate teamwork skills being in large demand in today’s workforce, this shift towards a more personalised and collaborative teaching style will not only equip students with suitable skills for the future, but also facilitate a more hospitable learning experience for students of differing abilities.
In this regard, perhaps the most important realisation that Edtech has helped to shed light on in recent years is the importance for students to have a social classroom experience. Why is this important? Well, let’s take a trip down memory lane. How many times have you made friends with the person sitting next to you because while the teacher was going through a difficult concept, you both looked at each other and saw the absolute confusion in each other's eyes? After that, how many times have you sat down with your new found best friend to help each other understand that difficult concept?
Students typically have 3 types of relationships: with parents, teachers, and with each other. As I showed above, we can probably all attest to the statement that the quality of student-peer relationship is most closely related to academic achievement. Indeed, the more social the classroom is, the more students want to learn. Indeed, this sense of belonging achieved through a social experience will boost a students’ motivation and thus eventual success.
So, what have Edtech done to support this? We’ve already started to see a few examples that are being implemented to promote group problem-solving and collaboration. This includes the breakout rooms in Zoom, online forums from Google and Microsoft, and even Minecraft when used in education contexts. A start-up named Wise has developed a product called Lens, a Zoom add-on that provides real-time metrics around student talk time, screen attention, and engagement levels that helps educator understand the extent of participation and collaboration during lessons. Lens also provides a leader-board feature that gamifies the virtual classroom, offering a competitive atmosphere to encourage student participation.
Yet, this is likely to be only the start. Edtech related to collaborative learning will deepen and intensify the learning experience for all students.
The world of business is constantly evolving, changing and shifting our paradigms. Last year, the world was taken aback by geopolitical shocks, the popularisation of machine learning and the drying up of capital, which produced multi-sectoral shockwaves affecting practically every industry. The need for lifelong training is thus more pressing than ever, yet employees struggle with combining training with a regular job. Thus begins the search for innovative solutions towards this up-skilling issue.
Based on dividing up new concepts into manageable chunks or content pills that can be taken quickly, “micro-learning” is a convenient solution applicable to this and many other situations. The chunks are usually less than 20 minutes long and are suited towards a singular objective. Microlearning is heavily influenced by the concept of “cognitive load”, developed by John Sweller at the end of the 20th century, which presupposes that people only have a limited working memory and thus the burdens placed on it should be optimised for best performance. Microlearning has had a severe impact on our approaches to issue resolution and has distinguished itself from macrolearning by answering the question of “I need help now” rather than “I want to learn something new”. The distinction becomes more prevalent as content grows in volume (ibid). Microlearning consists of “things we can quickly read, view, or consume and they only take 10 minutes or less”, while macrolearning is “something we do when we want to truly learn a whole new domain” - or think of it as the difference between a video, a blog, or a set of instructional questions compared to a series of videos, an instructor-led program that includes simulations, group discussions, and exercises (things we used to call ‘courses’) - so that microlearning is more of an everyday activity and macrolearning represents a deeper commitment. Thriving business solutions exist for each, with microlearning these are social media like Youtube or Twitter and vendors like Grovo, Axonify, Qstream, Pathgather, and Edcast. For macrolearning there are vendors like Coursera, Udacity, EdX, Udemy and hundreds of others.
Consider 5Mins.ai, the AI powered bite-sized training and upskilling platform. This startup aims to reduce training times, so addressing the key issue we outlined in our introduction. Yet it is quite unique and stands out from everything mentioned thus far. It used to be that any material was bite-sized manually so that things had to be hand-picked and one subject torn from another based on human discretion. Meanwhile, 5mins is an AI business. Its technology “serves highly personalised lessons to our users, based on role based skill taxonomies” and offers a wide ranging of customisation tools so that corporate leaders can structure learning processes to their tastes. It has a conventional AI pricing setup: there are three broad categories, the first being a limited free version and another being the “Enterprise” pricing which requires speaking to sales to establish a custom appropriate-for-your-business price. The medium pricing category, intended for small and medium-sized business starts at 10 pounds per user per month and is described as “[i]deal for start-ups and businesses from 50 to 250”, which leaves the free version as viable for individual and >50 member teams and the enterprise version for >250 member teams. 5mins is a good illustrative example of how the microlearning sector is going to move towards more customisable solutions which will be AI-generated.
GAMIFICATION AND IMMERSION
Another transformation which has shaken the education industry is gamification. Gamification allows users to engage with educational content as if they were playing a game, so that reward-and-punishment systems can be used as an incentive and the user can be immersed in the topic by his attention being retained through the gamified system.
Gamification emerges as a transformative force in the EdTech industry, leveraging AI, VR, and other technologies to enrich learning experiences. By infusing educational concepts with gamified elements, students are engaged and encouraged to explore real-world applications creatively. EdTech companies play a vital role in supporting educators to balance entertainment with educational rigour, fostering interactive and compelling learning environments. Gamified learning not only enhances student engagement but also introduces healthy competition to traditional learning paradigms. Technologies like VR offer immersive experiences, while rewards and certifications incentivize productive study habits. Overall, gamification alleviates stress, strengthens student-tutor relationships, and revolutionises the educational landscape, offering a dynamic and enjoyable approach to learning.
A notable startup in the space is seppo.io. It offers a comprehensive range of game mechanics, including points, levels, scoreboard, code locks, feedback, and branching game paths. It provides five task type options, allowing players to engage with tasks through checkbox, multiple choice, match pair, missing word, and creative exercises with text, audio, video, or picture responses. The platform supports customizable game boards, including standard and 360° images, as well as GPS location-based games. Players can progress freely through tasks or follow structured levels, themes, or personalized paths. Real-time monitoring and progress tracking enable instructors to provide feedback and communicate with players during gameplay. Additionally, Seppo.io features a template library and community for educators to find inspiration, access ready-made games, and share their creations with others. It offers separate pricing models for businesses and education. For businesses, there are distinctions between a “mini-team business” (50 licences), super-team business (500) and there is also a customisable option. These are all paid, with mini-team being 250 euros and super-team 1750 euros. The pricing model for educational institutions is the same except the prices are 62.50 € and €437.50 €.
Learning seems to have transformed so much in the span of only a few years. From professional development to the how we can learn every single day - technology has made education more scientific and better planned. Some say that the edtech space is too crowded and innovation is no longer possible, but we disagree. Edtech still has much further to go, and we certainly are curious as to what interesting innovations come next.