The future of Education Technology
Education Technology, fondly referred to as EdTech, had to adapt in 2020 for obvious reasons. So, where does this leave things moving forward?
Article written by Hannah Wiggins
Client Delivery Executive, Advice Cloud
It is safe to say that over the past twelve months, the world of Education Technology has gone through some significant transformation in the UK. The sector as a whole has undoubtedly been hit hard by the effects of the pandemic, with potential long-term impacts. Nonetheless, we have witnessed educational institutions rapidly adapt their teaching methods, seeking to maintain a standard of learning across all levels of education.
As a result, there are a number of EdTech trends that have arisen over past year. One example is the acceleration of distance and online learning. Many universities have been investing in these technologies for some time, and this has only been further accelerated; some courses moving completely online.
But this cultural shift in the ways that we work, teach and learn doesn’t end here; there is certainly more to come. So, we’ve taken a look at what we can expect from the future of Education Technology.
Late last year, The EdTech Advisory Forum and EdTech UK – organisations made up of school leaders and tech specialists – put together the EdTech Vision 2025 Interim Report. The report acknowledges COVID-19 as a catalyst for digital transformation in the Education sector, and looking ahead, the following recommendations are presented:
- Increased support for all schools and colleges for digital infrastructure and devices
- A new National EdTech strategy
- National Platform for England
- Increased investment and support for Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND), and digital assistive technology
- Digital economy and clarity about digital skills and EdTech as a national investment priority
- Computing and curriculum reform
- A joined-up approach to data about children and young people
From these points, we can begin to build a picture of the future of EdTech, focusing on some key areas.
Remote learning, digital infrastructure and devices
This first area is one where we have seen the most obvious transformation over the past year. Children and young adults have taken to their laptops, phones and tablets to learn from home, with teachers delivering live or “blended” learning via webcams.
However, there is still a lot of work to be done.
As highlighted in the Interim Report, “the rapid shift to distance learning during COVID-19 has highlighted the long-standing digital divide across the UK and the need to support both disadvantaged children and young people without internet access at home and also schools that lack proper infrastructure.” In short, both students and schools need access to devices, secure networks and digital infrastructure. The unexpected demands that the past year has placed on the Education Sector is yet to be fully matched by available funding and resources.
So, if the digital demands from the sector are adequately met by government resources (emphasis on if), blended learning may well become the new normal – combining the best of face-to-face and digital teaching methods. Consequently, the need for effective e-learning solutions will grow, as well as a scalable and secure digital infrastructure surrounding them; with a focus on ensuring that all students have access to high quality education.
SEND and digital assistive technology
With regards to primary and secondary level education, a report from last year has addressed whether remote learning is entirely negative for learners with special educational needs and disabilities. It is crucial not to ignore the very real worries around students with additional support needs who may have been disproportionately affected for the worse by home learning.
However, the report does highlight several areas where this form of learning may prove beneficial. These are:
- Allowing students to work at their own pace
- Improved 1-to-1 time with less distractions
- Clearer differentiation based on students’ needs
- A wider range of resources
- Single point of access for all work
In short, evidence suggests that there may be ways in which virtual learning systems benefit some students with additional support needs. The power of technology and digital solutions in adapting to the needs of the user can be incredible, and has the potential to change the ways that certain students experience education altogether.
What is more, the Interim Report highlights the importance of “continued investment in digital assistive technology for all young people”, and the need to “view any gains in assistive technology as a positive gain for all children”. Therefore, if the recommendations from the report are followed, we can expect to see a rise in the development of technologies designed to support those with SEND.
Digital skills and training
With the rapidly growing use of digital technologies in education, comes the need for teachers and learners alike to develop their digital skills.
The Interim Report calls for:
- A dedicated Office for EdTech to drive forward coherent national change to support the adoption and use of EdTech and a UK-wide approach to digital skills
- An independent review of the effectiveness of the Computing curriculum and its effect on core digital skills
- A focus on digital learning and education technology for teachers as part of their Teacher Training.
In brief, there is a need for both students and teachers to be efficiently equipped with the digital skills, in order to “leverage next-generation technologies and skills effectively and competitively after COVID-19”.
Although there is very much room for change in this area, there are encouraging signs from the world of further and higher education. A recent article shows that a record number of students have enrolled in Artificial Intelligence-rated university courses; with a 400% jump in acceptances between 2000 and 2020.
So, it would be safe to predict that the future of EdTech will involve an increase in digital skills development and training, across all age groups.
Joined-up data approach
Finally, the safe, secure and efficient storage and transfer of data is an ever-growing trend across public sector; and Education is no exception. Specifically, there is a need for co-ordination within and between local schools, in order to effectively collect and share educational data about children and young people’s lives and circumstances. As is so often the case in government departments, data is currently kept in silos – which is necessary to an extent. However, the report notes that this situation “prevents schools and agencies from working together to best support vulnerable children”.
Therefore, EdTech and the Advisory Forum calls on government to “build a resilient educational system that treats children’s data with the utmost care and consideration for their privacy and rights”. This is an area where there is work to be done, so we can expect more conversations.
In summary, the past twelve months have presented many substantial challenges to the Education Sector, but the use of technology has enabled a great deal of institutions to step up to the task. However, there is a lot of work to be done, and The EdTech Advisory Forum and EdTech UK have called upon government for additional support and resources. Uncertain times do lie ahead, but we are confident that the future of EdTech will involve the development of a better digital infrastructure; improved assistive technologies; a rise in digital skills and training; and a revised way of working with educational data.
What is more, it is safe to say that at some point in the future, the Education sector will turn to the private sector for innovation, development and training in these areas. Watch this space.