The world’s first public schools date all the way back to ancient times. And while trends, philosophies, policies and institutions have come and gone since then, a surprising amount stayed the same through the millennia. However, technological advancements — and digital technology, in particular — have ushered in an entirely new era for educational delivery. For the entrepreneurially-minded, meanwhile, this ongoing shift represents a wide-open field of opportunities. Just how important is education technology (AKA “edtech”) and what does it mean for everyone from investors to students? Here’s a closer look.
EdTechReview defines edtech as “a study and ethical practice for facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using and managing appropriate technological processes and resources.” In more specific term, this means using technology-based products and tools to enhance how students learn and how teachers teach. It’s not about superseding current approaches, but instead out determining how technology can improve and enhance the delivery of education.
Given the meteoric ascent of everything from computer-aided classrooms to online learning over the past two decades you may be thinking to yourself, “But wait — that’s nothing new.” And you’re right, edtech has already transformed the educational sector. But insiders argue that we’ve only seen an inkling of what’s still to come. Reports one Hot Topics article on edtech, “As we witnessed the digitization of the media industry via the profusion of new content, audience fragmentation, data centricity and the convergence between content and platform players, so will they impact the education market, leading to a raft of opportunities for innovators in edtech.”
Indeed, much of the conversation about edtech surrounds its tremendous potential for innovators and investors in this red-hot industry, and with good reason: Between the massive education market — between $4.5 and $5 trillion USD annually and predicted to reach up to $7 trillion within the next couple of years, according to data from Worlds of Education — and the comparatively minuscule amount of funds funneled into the sector in recent years, and the result is a perfect storm of potential. Concludes TechCrunch, “But now the cat is out of the bag. The rise of a new education and learning world has begun with investment in edtech set to reach $252 billion globally by 2020. Just as digitalization has transformed the financial services industry, it too will soon have its progressive grip wrapped around education.”
The Impact of Edtech
Despite the buzz over edtech’s abundant entrepreneurial opportunities, something else remains at the heart of the equation: the students themselves. In what specific ways can we expect to see edtech play out in the lives of its direct beneficiaries? Here’s a closer look:
1. Engagement will improve.
Smart learning software will offer lesson plans customized to each student’s specific needs. More engaging materials, meanwhile, promise to further improve outcomes. Says Hot Topics, “Indeed, user experience and engagement is fast becoming the main differentiator among the ever-growing field of education technology options. The integration of multi-media, gamification, mobile casual and informal learning apps and peer-to-peer learning platforms are all making content increasingly immersive; designed to not only attract students but also keep them engaged – all the way to the end.”
2. Progress will be more measurable.
A large part of supporting the growth of smart learning software? Big data and analytics techniques, which give teachers access to more specific and extensive insights into the achievements and progress of individual students. Not only can this help bridge any knowledge gaps, but this information can continue to be called upon throughout an individual’s academic and professional life.
Edtech is also being heralded for its potential to standardize — and ultimately democratize — the field of education. Reveals Hot Topics, “Now, a rundown, inner-city school can receive the same standard and level of content as a well-funded one in a wealthy area. And this is true not just on a school by school or country by country basis, but globally; offering developing nations access to developed educational institutions, both in an academic and professional learning setting.”
3. “Lifelong learning” will take on all new meaning.
One education market particularly ripe for edtech disruption? Adult learning. According to the Educause Review, “Despite its ‘basic’ image, adult education possesses the right set of circumstances to realize the promise of modern education and to illustrate the classic theory of disruptive innovation, where some are willing and able to use alternative pathways to forge more efficient and effective solutions to education. These approaches include both curricular and technology innovations.”
From more free and flexible online programs to career-tailored educational paths, “The adult education sector is uniquely positioned to lead the charge in the alternative education space, while continuing to leverage innovation as a means of maximizing students’ education experience,” says Educause.
Predicts TechCrunch, “Edtech is poised to be the biggest and possibly most profitable digitalized sector yet.” However, making the most of these learning technologies will rely on a few key factors, according to higher education higher-ups, as reported by the New York Times: keeping how students learn at the center of the process; addressing the challenges to adoption; and ongoing assessments of what’s working, what’s not, and for whom. The overall takeaway? In order to leverage edtech to its fullest potential, “We need to balance our sense of urgency with patience and deliberation, recognizing that fundamental change takes time.”