How Covid-19 shaped edtech trends in 2020
– Stewart Watts is VP EMEA at D2L
Summer is an odd time to be writing an article on trends and making predictions. Usually experts will be thinking on this topic with a year in the rear-view mirror and a new one just on the horizon.
The Covid-19 pandemic, however, and its impact on education (and all facets of our lives for that matter), calls for a re-examination of what the future holds for educational institutions and their relationships with learning technologies and edtech vendors.
This article details how necessary remote learning during the Covid-19 pandemic has shifted education’s use of edtech, and how this relationship will likely evolve in the coming school year and beyond.
‘Scale’ – Digital Transformation of the Education Sector
In many ways we are seeing an acceleration of the nascent changes that already existed. Online learning, for instance, previously a key point within a university’s five-year roadmap, has now become an integral delivery mechanism for courses underway right now.
As the catalyst of great change, Covid-19 has forced the transformation of the education sector and the benefits of edtech are becoming increasingly well-known.
In fact, during the peak of the virus, technology enabled medical students to take their exams online for the very time.
Likewise, consider the UK’s Government’s Oak National Academy online learning platform and wider support package – the supply of laptops and 4G routers to learners to ensure all students can connect and learn remotely.
As this follows its earlier 2019 Edtech Strategy, it is likely this has been considered for some time, and the current environment has merely accelerated government policy through necessity.
All parties – institutions, schools, faculty, and even government – will be keen to ensure their investment in digital transformation is for the long term, especially given their experiences over the past few months.
HigherEd institutions in particular may have learnt from their shortcomings and identified specific areas for improvement.
Learning from their experiences, they will continue to build online environments as a means of futureproofing their students’ education.
Perhaps, as online and blended learning continues into next year, it will offer the educational sector a chance to explore new opportunities and create new learning experiences through these recently forged online communities.
With social distancing likely to be in place for the foreseeable future, institutions will have to reassess face-to-face teaching and look towards blended learning models.
In fact, a number of UK universities are already planning to move at least their first semester online, whilst Cambridge University have said they will conduct all lectures online throughout their entire academic year.
In any case, institutions will require far more complex and sophisticated edtech solutions to make this work.
Of course, these are complex learning strategies implemented over a long period of time.
These strategic initiatives simply cannot be rushed. It is crucial remote learning initiatives are carefully planned and thought out with students in mind – not only to guarantee their safety and continue with their higher education, but also to ensure the best, most engaging and personal educational experience possible.
There will be a notable shift towards student-centred learning, courses will become more flexible and adaptable – tailored to specific learning needs and teaching requirements.
Blended learning is ultimately a delivery and design model, with programmes carefully devised with various activities to be completed online.
These can range from online tests, discussions, interactive learning materials, and even video content.
Some elements, naturally, will have to be completed face-to-face and there is no replacing those vital touchpoints the classroom offers.
With blended learning high on the agenda, many educators will strive to create a ‘seamless’ learning experience – the careful blend of online and offline.
It is likely faculty will explore course delivery methods and think more critically about ‘how’ students learn. Emphasis will be placed on active learning with students shaping their learning experiences.
With this new model, students will build familiarity with topics or subjects outside the classroom, perhaps by reviewing videos and other interactive content online.
Collaborative time, both virtual and face to face, will be spent applying learning through informed problem-solving, discussion and debate.
This is tricky, and will involve the careful partnering of technology within university courses.
Successful courses will allow students to use engaging online resources in a variety of formats, whether audio, film, or interactive quizzes, and all their learning materials should be pooled together online and regularly updated.
Academics may be considering how online and hybrid learning models can help meet their education and skills needs. They will continue to create feature-rich, scalable courses tailored to deliver learning outcomes.
Learning will become more data-driven
As mentioned, with social distancing in place and likely to continue for the foreseeable future, the way we measure learning will need to be far more granular.
With these mix of online and offline experiences, and many students completing their work and studying remotely, teachers and lecturers will need far more visibility into their performance – from the stage they are at, to specific areas for development.
Moving beyond simply counting how many students have completed their assignments, online learning will need to become far more data driven – with blended learning likely to continue into next year, lecturers will need continuous insight into an individual’s learning pathway to connect those online and offline experiences.
Student progress will need to be measured in more advanced ways. In order to provide a seamless blended learning experience where every student is accounted for, teachers and lecturers will need greater insight into specific learner needs.
With classes online and in person, and activities completed on campus or remotely, they will need to keep track where students are in their programme, and how they are getting on with their chosen course.
In this instance, the ‘one size fits all’ approach is simply no longer viable, staff will need to know how every learner is progressing in comparison to the rest of the class. It is here we will see more investment in learning analytics.
With live learner data, lecturers have complete visibility into the student lifecycle – from which tasks have been completed, where they excelled or where they might need to improve.
AI diagnostics will provide deeper insight into how individuals are coping, enabling teachers to step in and identify where a student may be struggling or behind in their work.
Training teachers to use edtech in the Covid-19 world
If anything, recent experiences have shown HigherEd needs a far more modern and digital infrastructure.
Likewise, educational bodies are beginning to realise the support edtech can provide for teachers and students and the strategic importance of having a learning environment that enables the flexibility for blended learning models. However, the uptake is still rather slow.
Teachers and lecturers need to be given the opportunity to familiarise themselves with edtech and explore how best it can be applied, or even tailored, to their courses.
For too long new technology has been implemented in education without the institutional support required to equip teachers and lecturers with the necessary skills to use them to their utmost – in the past, technology has been seen as a burden rather than a benefit for teachers.
Faculty and senior leadership must aid in teachers’ Continuing Professional Development (CPD).
It is important that educators are onboard from the beginning, that they understand the benefits of edtech, but, most importantly, how to use it. Technology can then begin to make their working lives easier.
As they are supported, they will begin to explore new ways of learning, suited for these challenging times.
Both edtech and online learning should complement all current learning and teaching objectives.
Ensuring staff can use and apply these technologies effectively throughout their programmes helps ensure they deliver the best learning experience possible, and should be included in any initial teacher or lecturer training.
Moving beyond online pedagogy, an understanding of online tools and workflows is key. Without knowing what tools you have available to you and how they can be used, it’s difficult to translate live activities into fully immersive online experiences.
Edtech beyond the Covid-19 pandemic
What is shaping and driving these trends more than anything is uncertainty. Will schools reopen as planned or will there be a second wave that reignites a lockdown?
It’s wise then that educational institutions are relying on technology to enable purely online or blended learning as needed, and striving to upskill their staff in utilising these solutions effectively.
Whatever the future holds for schools and universities, these lessons won’t be quickly forgotten, and as we emerge from the other side of this health crisis we’ll see edtech used less as a means of ensuring education’s continuity, but enriching the learning experience for all students.
Pic: Samantha Borges