The past year has greatly accelerated the development of technologies to enable people to work-at-home, entertain themselves, and buy goods and services online.
According to a McKinsey Global Survey of executives, companies worldwide have accelerated many of their processes, including customer interaction, by at least three to four years.
The survey results confirm the rapid shift toward interacting with customers through digital channels.
In Europe, according to a MIT Technology Review Insights survey of organisations that fully implemented at least one digital transformation project in 2020, all of them reported that their recovery plans were effective.
Resilience, let alone growth, has of course varied between sectors, with those companies and organisations which already had a significant online presence and established customer base doing best.
For them, the past year has been about adopting digital transformation to refine their online sales and marketing strategies and integrating effective CX support to deliver great service.
But what about those organisations or sectors that are fundamental to society, but which have not hitherto had any great need for digital support?
The education sector falls firmly into that category, with the EU saying that “the right to education for children and young people contributes to their overall development and consequently lays the foundations for success later in life in terms of employability, social integration, health and well-being.”
Some 4.6% of GDP is spent on education across Europe, with 36 million pupils in secondary education in the EU, and over 17 million in tertiary education.
The past year has seen that right to education greatly affected, with face-to-face learning places either closed or pupil numbers severely curtailed, and online platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams being adopted to – at least partially – fill the educational gap.
While there is no substitute for face-to-face learning, particularly for younger pupils, education has always been about more than the classroom. Education also involves students learning to learn away from the classroom whether, for example, through reading books or blogs, viewing podcasts or old-fashioned homework.
In other words, education has always to some extent involved remote learning. What the past year has done, as in other sectors, is to greatly accelerate the development and adoption of remote learning platforms, termed education technology, to enable online learning to better sit alongside traditional learning.
Education Technology (or EdTech) isn’t something that was invented last year, but a process of evolution that is, for many pupils and students, transforming their education experience. It’s about providing the same education but taking the bricks-and-mortar out of the school.
EdTech is defined as the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using and managing appropriate technological processes and resources. It’s not just about eLearning but about enhancing the whole learning experience.
As in other sectors, the development and adoption of EdTech has been hugely speeded up.
After all, if our young people have a right to education, we have an obligation to make sure they receive it.
As a result, one research report confirms that EdTech has seen unprecedented levels of global government investment with, for example, the Global and Innovation Gateway for All (GIGA) project in Japan fast-tracking five years of planned investment into just one year.
According to another recent report, the global EdTech market is anticipated to reach US$ 404 billion by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 16.3% from 2020 to 2025. Nor is it confined to schools and colleges – the corporate sector is increasingly adopting EdTech technologies for its training requirements.
In schools, EdTech is already proving to be a game-changer, from streamlining time-consuming processes such as planning lessons and record-keeping to monitoring student progress and budget performance.
Crucially, it’s also about the delivery of learning remotely, and that’s an aspect of EdTech that isn’t going to go away. For example, it allows educators to teach a great many students at the same time – or at different times, using on-demand, recorded courses.
That makes remote learning of global importance, not just in the context of the past year, because, as of 2018, there were 258 million children worldwide not receiving an education. While that number is down from 378 million in 2000, the UN has a target to ensure universal education by 2030 – and EdTech will play a big role in bringing education to places that don’t have schools.
Of course, meeting that lofty objective involves practical difficulties in making EdTech available to every pupil, not least the digital divide – including unreliable internet connectivity and the affordability of digital devices for poorer families. While that’s a major issue in developing countries, it’s also true in Europe.
Here and now, schools will have to determine which aspects of learning have been improved by EdTech and which they think are best delivered face-to-face in a classroom. This will drive growth in the sector, the development of new hybrid models and the technology and training to support them.
That last aspect is a vital piece in the EdTech jigsaw because teacher support and preparedness is fundamental. They have, after all, been trained for classroom interaction and the interpersonal skills to deal with individual students face-to-face.
Replacing those soft skills with clever technology has not necessarily been an intuitive journey. An educator’s vocation is to educate, and few want to retrain as IT specialists.
That’s where a Customer Experience Management (CXM ) partner, comes in, acting as the interface between an EdTech platform and users – from identifying user touch and pain points, to providing a responsive and knowledgeable service that solves their problems – and measuring every aspect of service, from tracking performance against SLAs to follow-up satisfaction surveys.
In most respects, CX in EdTech isn’t much different to CX elsewhere, except in one critical aspect. On top of commercial objectives, EdTech has an important social dimension to increase learner engagement and reduce educational inequalities. Outsourcers should bear that responsibility in mind.
In fulfilling commercial and social obligations, it’s also important to recognise that teachers are often called upon to work evenings or weekends, with a consequent requirement for out-of-hours support options, including automation.
That’s certainly our experience at SYKES. For one of our clients in the education sector, we deflected support calls to a self-service portal, where each question was successfully dealt with, and we improved the problem resolution score from 15% to 70%. That adds up a lot of happy customers, and a significant cost saving to the client.
It’s too early to chart a precise course for the future of EdTech because new technologies such as 5G and Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality will increasingly play a part in its development for schools, tertiary education and the corporate sector.
But, with students able to learn at any time, from anywhere, and at their own pace, EdTech is already part of the future of learning.