I once read a story in primary school that told of students learning from home using a virtual teacher. It was all very Sci-Fi and seemed otherworldly. Now, 35 years later I realise it was a true story!
All of us recognise that education is an absolute priority, even in the middle of a crisis.
Like every other part of society, the education sector has had to find innovative ways to facilitate remote learning. One of those has been educational technology (or EdTech) that makes use of software and devices to deliver learning to pupils who are studying from home.
EdTech is not new. In recent years, for example, these technologies have helped universities streamline submissions, enabled people to learn from a distance, and levelled the educational playing field. It is a joined-up approach that combines everything from artificial intelligence to psychology, to continue to give students the learning they need.
The Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) defines educational technology as “the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using and managing appropriate technological processes and resources.”
EdTech is about the theory and practice of educational approaches to learning, and positively integrating technology into education in a way that students can easily relate to. It’s a lot more complex than simply online teaching. For example, it also manages the curriculum and education information systems, as well as maintaining budgets and data storage for each student.
But if EdTech is nothing new, 2020 saw it move up several gears in terms of urgency and adoption to provide an optimal foundation for both learning and teaching, bringing together educationalists and technologists to deliver virtual classrooms to work for everyone.
In other words, rather than just being an aid to learning, EdTech has become more of a complete teaching and learning platform, with the aim of taking the best of the classroom and delivering it into pupils’ homes.
But its long term success will be measured in how engaging, inclusive, and individualised the experience can be delivered.
Not every student is the same, and EdTech must be both scalable and inclusive for every pupil. It must recognise that the way pupils learn, the pace at which they learn, and how students interact with classmates, remotely or in a classroom, is down to each person individually. Recognising that individuality, and avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach, allows teachers to create individual study plans that are relevant for each student, no matter their age or ability.
Of course, tools for teaching and learning, parent-teacher communication apps, lesson planning software, home-tutoring websites, revision blogs, and much more have been moving slowly into schools and colleges for years. Educationalists have long recognised that technology has its uses to make the teacher-pupil-parent relationship more rewarding. But what has changed in the past year is how much technology has had to replace face-to-face teaching.
So, while the aims and objectives of EdTech are straightforward, delivering a viable and inclusive system that covers hundreds, if not thousands, of pupils, across ages, abilities and subjects is anything but simple.
There are many different EdTech providers and some examples of their services include; cloud computing training, critical thinking skills, making online course materials accessible and searchable for students of all backgrounds, to language exchange apps which identify the language the student would like to learn, and whether they prefer to learn by text, audio, or video chat. The list goes on and on.
It isn’t therefore a homogenous sector because the companies involved are all specialists in particular areas. This, therefore, adds to complexity when schools and colleges are using different platforms.
That, in turn, is where a Customer Experience Management (CXM) partner can be invaluable, becoming the bridge between platform(s) teachers, students and other stakeholders, that may occasionally want help and support to make best use of a particular EdTech solution, or determine whether it can be optimised for different pupil groups. For example: Automated responses to common questions, or more detailed guidance from a service colleague specially knowledgeable in that curriculum. EdTech companies are experts in their specialisms but are not always geared up to offer the highest levels of customer support.
Technology won’t, of course, replace teachers or the classroom completely, but EdTech is here to stay and will increasingly play a larger role in education.