Aug 12, 2021 By Team YoungWonks *
What are the key edtech (education technology) trends of 2021? The edtech industry has only grown from strength to strength in recent years even as the edtech market has seen remarkable expansion. The year 2020 and the Covid19 pandemic may have made elearning and distance learning the norm but it is not the only educational technology trend to have emerged since then. In this blog, we shall take a look at the major edtech trends this year.
Let us take a look at them in the alphabetical order.
Without a doubt, making education accessible has been and continues to be a priority for the education sector. Interestingly, accessibility is no longer just about accommodating students with disabilities. Now with the rise of elearning and virtual classrooms, it is about reducing the gap between those who have easy access to technology and those who do not.
This can be achieved by making sure elearning is not taken by a select few and that it is within the reach of all students. It will in turn depend on the availability of internet and computers to kids, especially those in higher education. Mobile-first learning may actually be of greater use in rural areas where internet penetration and device availability is an issue. With remote learning becoming a necessity, free educational resources, as also Open Educational Resources (OER) and Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) can be very helpful here, letting students and educators access learning material.
Making online education safer while achieving the above objectives is also an important consideration.
Adaptive learning or AI powered learning
Adaptive learning, also known as adaptive teaching, is an educational method where computer algorithms and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are used to coordinate the interaction with the learner and come up with customized resources and learning activities designed to meet the unique needs of each learner. This AI powered learning is thus a high-tech form of personalized education.
Basically, AI is used by digital learning interfaces to figure out and adapt to students’ needs in real time and then offer them the lessons and exercises that they need. What makes it even more useful is it can and is done at the individual level.
Indeed, automated, intelligent tutoring systems have been around for some time now; the first teaching machine dates back to 1924. This was when Ohio State University professor Sidney Pressey invented the Automatic Teacher, the first device in electronic learning. It allowed students to drill and test themselves.
But deploying AI to achieve this purpose is a recent phenomenon, made possible by processing power - both in the cloud and on local devices - becoming powerful enough today.
For starters, AI is being used to grade essays today. AI-enabled chatbots are also becoming common now. Take for instance, the chatbot-like Duolingo teaches foreign languages using adaptive learning. Chatbots like Ivy.ai and AdmitHub may not be used for teaching but they are quite useful as higher-ed administrative assistants, helping with anything from the college admissions process to student housing and financial aid. Such automated tools are typically cost effective too and are expected to help educational institutions drastically reduce their expenses.
Thinkster, which teaches math to students, is also an example of AI-powered learning. It has now acquired SelectQ which uses AI to help students with their SAT test prep.
Another interesting example of adaptive learning would be the ROYBI Robot, which won a place on Time Magazine’s best inventions of 2019 list.
This robot uses Machine Learning to understand the educational needs of the child it is engaging with and customizes its content accordingly.
With online classes becoming the need of the hour due to the Coronavirus pandemic, elearning performed very well last year and it continues to be the biggest edtech trend this year.
There are many advantages that elearning offers. The Research Institute of America states that eLearning increases retention rates by 25 to 60 percent.
Plus, it is extremely scalable, allowing the best teachers to instruct many students at the same time (or even at different times, in the case of on-demand pre-recorded courses.) There are no geographical limitations involved as the student and teacher could be miles apart and connect easily with a click. Such classes also have an online curriculum / educational material that can be accessed any number of times.
Online classes are also well suited to quick lesson delivery and afford more convenience. They typically cost much less than a traditional onsite class - for both the company offering classes and often for students too. While the class provider can save on office space expenses, students can save on travel costs. It is also time efficient for both parties.
Moreover, elearning has a positive influence on an organization’s bottom line. It is easier to implement new processes in elearning and learning also becomes paperless which is beneficial both financially and in terms of environment-friendliness.
Not surprisingly, edtech companies are betting heavily on the online courses segment and it is is expected to only grow more and experts say it will amount to $375 billion in another five years.
The growth of elearning has also been a blessing for learning management systems (LMS). An LMS is is a software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, reporting, automation and delivery of educational courses, training programs, or learning and development programs. Today there are many companies integrating the above programs into single packages facilitating elearning in a manner more convenient than ever before.
Similarly, teleconferencing software aka online meeting apps such as Zoom too have received a boost in light of the Coronavirus pandemic needing everyone to stay home.
Also, with more people - including students - owning mobile devices, all of these elearning companies now have mobile apps, which means lessons are just a few clicks away on one's phone.
Gamification of learning
Introducing games in learning is not exactly a new trend; for years, both parents and teachers have offered students prizes for getting good grades, reading books, completing their assignments and such. In the digital era, this incentivization through the use of games has been reinterpreted in many more ways. Many games make for good educational tools. Minecraft is a popular example. This game has been used to create stage performances, write stories, and even teach students about DNA.
Gaming platform Roblox is another example that comes to mind. An online game platform and game creation system developed by Roblox Corporation, it lets users program games and play games created by other users. Socrative has teachers create simple quizzes that students can take quickly on laptops, making learning experiences fun.
Google in education
Google has been making inroads in education for quite some time now and they seem to be doing well already. To begin with, their Chromebooks have become the default computer for school kids in the US. Typically costing low and easy to use, these Chromebooks come with Google’s G Suite for Education. This refers to a suite of tools that includes Google Docs, Google Sheets, Gmail, Google Forms, Google Classroom and Google Assignments, with the latter two made specially for students. While Google Classroom offers a digital space for students and teachers to interact, assign and turn in homework, Google Assignments helps teachers create and grade coursework in a seamless fashion. In addition to the above, Google is also providing its Google Cloud Platform services to schools and universities.
An increasing number of US parents have been turning to homeschooling in recent years. And with the coronavirus pandemic shutting down schools, homeschooling seems to have found even more takers. Now most homeschooling still takes place with good ol’ pen and paper but this may change with the advent of edtech startups offering new, tech-enabled homeschooling solutions. Prisma is one such startup that’s offering as a substitute to school learning a mix of in-person and live online learning sessions. It has both instructors and facilitators / coaches. Outschool and Primer are other examples of homeschooling edtech startups.
Immersive Learning: Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR)
Immersive Learning refers to the process of learning with the help of a simulated or artificial environment. Such an environment lets the learners get completely immersed in the learning process and in a way that feels like they are experiencing an actual learning environment.
Today, immersive learning is achieved using Extended Reality (XR), an umbrella term for Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), or the combination of related technology with the real environment. Be it AR or VR, they both help enhance the visual learning process. With AR, students can see 3D depictions of dinosaurs, chemical elements, the human body and more. It also helps that products such as Adobe Aero are making it easy for anyone to build AR objects.
Similarly, VR can be used to save money on physical equipment. For instance, Danish startup Labster offers interactive VR laboratories that STEM students can run experiments with.
Indeed, XR is a big edtech trend mainly because of its low costs. Take for instance, the price of a VR headset. It’s already lower than ever, and according to stats revealed by ABI research, it’s expected to drop further to $200 by 2023 (and even lower for mobile-based VR units). Reduced costs will pave the way for their easy adoption on a mass scale by schools.
The bottom line is that even with physical schools, colleges and universities opening up, the above trends - especially elearning - is here to stay. Eventually, we shall see the evolution of a form of hybrid learning where students learn both in the classroom and online.
*Contributors: Written by Vidya Prabhu; Lead image by: Abhishek Aggarwal