The Rise & Rise Of EdTech: 14 Trends To Watch Out For

Present-generation kids are ‘digital citizens‘. Educational technology (or ed-tech), in various forms, is playing a steadily increasing role in schools and colleges across the globe. In a recent survey, it was found that, on average, 9 out of every 10 students feel that online classes (‘virtual classes’) are more effective than traditional classrooms. In fact, by the end of 2019, it can be reasonably expected that half of all classes will be taken online – and digital learning for kids will take centerstage.

On a global scale, investments on smarter edtech tools and systems are increasing rapidly ($9.52 billion in 2017) – and newer, better learning aids, software, and assistants are being launched, by a large number of edtech companies. In India alone, this market is projected to jump from ~$250 million in mid-2017 to a whopping $1.96 billion by 2021. Over here, we will give an overview of some of the most interesting and important trends in e-learning for children at present:

Virtual learning is the way forward

In the fall of 2016, around 6.5 million students in the United States took up at least one online course. Among students of all age groups, the popularity of virtual learning – virtual classrooms OUTSIDE the traditional boundaries of an educational institution – is growing fast. Technologies like video conferencing and remote online audiovisual (AV) lessons are making it possible for students to pursue courses according to their convenience, from wherever they want to. Typically, these courses have a guide or an instructor – for monitoring the students and reviewing their performances. The 24×7 availability of online courses is proving to be a big advantage.

Growing familiarity with technology

The world will have 2.87 billion smartphone users by the end of this decade. Although laptop sales are flattening out, >160 million units are sold annually. The total number of internet users is fast approaching the 4 billion mark (3.6 billion in 2017). Kids these days see smart gadgets and gizmos on an everyday basis, in their homes, outdoors, at various situations of their personal lives. Not surprisingly, they are more receptive when similar technology is seamlessly made available in schools and classrooms. A child who regularly uses a tablet at home would be more than willing to check out educational apps. Can we say the same about good ol’ traditional exercise books? Not a chance!

The importance of gamification

Take a short survey of parents anywhere, and chances are that many of them would complain of their kids’ unhealthy ‘addiction’ to games (video, mobile game apps, etc.). There are also reports of children who play video games for too long having relatively poor academic performances. These findings present a great opportunity for making education more effective than ever before – through gamification of lessons. In essence, this involves the creation and use of digital learning tools – in the form of games on web and mobile platforms – which would help the young ones learn new stuff in a more enjoyable manner. Apart from their higher motivation and engagement levels, educational games also help students be more comfortable with failure. Instead of being rebuked by a teacher or being afraid of humiliation in front of peers for not giving a right answer, all that they have to do is play the learning games again. Schools across the world are gradually identifying the benefits of using online games and mobile apps for education, and using such resources to deliver greater value.

Interactive elements in education are rising

Gone are the days when classroom education used to be only about one-way communications (lectures) from the teacher to the students. With the proliferation of education and communication technologies, present-day children have more scopes to enhance their critical thinking capabilities, clarify their queries from their teachers/instructors, participate in hands-on activities, and do a lot more. The focus is also on encouraging teamwork among kids – with collective excellence being emphasized upon. Greater interactions and teamwork also bolster the social and problem-solving skills of the young learners. A healthy sense of competition is also encouraged.

Evolution of VR/AR for education

Picture this: a state-of-the-art classroom with 360° videos (powered by augmented reality) and virtual speakers, and a bunch of super-engaged kids. The recent surge in the global edtech market has ensured that such a scenario is no longer a pipe dream. Between 2018 and 2021, the AR for learning market is expected to grow by ~83%, while the CAGR of the educational VR industry will hover around the 54% mark. Right from history and life science lessons, to english and foreign language courses, AR and virtual ‘smart speakers’ are changing the concept of classroom education as we know it. If a kid is given the option of either reading about something from a textbook (say, Egyptian tombs) and watching them come alive in front of his/her eyes – it’s easy to guess which option (s)he would choose!

The security factor

For all the benefits of education technology in general, and online learning resources/mobile apps in particular, the fact remains that the internet is a potentially ‘risky’ place for kids. There can be security threats, instances of serious cyberbullying (in 2016, close to 35% of kids and teens had fallen prey to some form of cyberbullying or the other), inappropriate but readily accessible content, and other hazards. To avoid such problems, schools as well as modern-day parents are being proactive in familiarising kids with basic online security guidelines – right from not chatting with anonymous people, to not providing personal details or financial information. From the learning perspective, it is always advisable that children use online/digital resources under the supervision of adults – teachers in schools, and parents/guardians at home.

‘Flipped classrooms’ becoming mainstream

How about a scenario in which a child gets to learn new stuff at home, and is able to do all the revisions and the so-called ‘homework’ at school? That’s precisely what the concept of ‘flipped classrooms’ (or ‘flipped learning’) is making possible across the world. A ‘smart classroom’ no longer has to physically exist in a school – thanks to the easy availability of high-quality digital content for learning, educational videos, and similar resources. In such a ‘flipped’ or ‘reverse’ learning environment, kids can easily access new lessons at home, AND then do the revisions at school, under a guide’s supervision. An effective ‘alternative learning’ method – and one which saves time for both students and teachers.

Mobile learning to the fore

In 2015, the value of the worldwide mobile market was an already impressive $7.99 billion. Cut to 2020, and that value will soar to $37.6 billion – a more than 4X increase. On average, 2 out of every 3 mobile users access learning resources – and many of these people are parents or teachers, looking for (and regularly using) reliable, updated educational content. In the mobile space, the importance of videos (learning videos for kids) is also growing. By 2019, more than 80% of the global internet traffic will be contributed by videos – and 58% of such educational videos will be viewed on smartphones and tablets. The fact that nearly 88% of millennials state that they ALWAYS carry their mobile phones with them tells its own story.

Note: While digital learning tools and and teaching aids can be used for any course, the STEM courses (science, technology, engineering and maths) is getting higher precedence in edtech. The reason for this simple: job-opportunities in these fields are growing at much higher rates than that in other fields.

Inclusion of parents in the learning process

There used to be a time when all that moms and dads had to worry about was getting their wards admitted to a good school. With competition levels growing and learning methods becoming more sophisticated than ever – parents have a much more active role to play. Many institutes send direct messages to guardians, notifying the latter of the latest academic performances of their sons/daughters. Parents, on their part, can also send along opinions or feedback to the teachers. There are several learning tools too that double up as a convenient communication platform for parents and teachers – with both groups being able to communicate with each other. What’s more, school apps like Li’l Champs generate detailed student progress reports from the backend – making the task of proper monitoring and guidance that much easier.

Increase in BYOD practices

In a 2017 survey, it was found that over 70% teachers use technology in classrooms, to interact with students and help understand new topics. Across the world, more and more schools are joining the BYOD (‘Bring Your Own Device’) bandwagon – allowing the young ones to get their very own smartphones/tablets to class, connect to the secure common network, and start learning with the help of online resources. The effectiveness of this learning methodology is getting further enhanced with the 1-to-1 student-device ratio in the classrooms (in many schools). There is, however, a flipside to the BYOD regime – in the form of increased chances of gadget thefts and loss/misplacement/misuse of devices. The onus is on the teachers to ensure that students use gadgets in the ‘right’ way, at all times.

Paperless textbooks have arrived

Between 2010 and 2013, the percentage of kids in the 6-17 age group who read ebooks jumped from 25% to 46%. This figure has, since then, continued to rise – albeit at a slightly lower pace. A key component of modern education technology is the ‘paperless textbooks’ – textbooks published and made available (often exclusively) on the digital platform. The advantages of using these e-learning resources are two-fold: first, kids will be more interested to read on tablets and mobiles, and second, the required investments by schools will also be significantly lower. Updating a learning app for kids is much, much easier than having to overhaul a complete set of outdated printed textbooks.

Rising demand for scalable IT systems in schools

Students and teachers and administrators – everyone needs to use online edtech tools and resources, and they have unique requirements. To deliver optimal value to everyone, it is imperative for the school systems to be easily scalable and customisable. Since cloud storage of important data is increasing, the security aspect also needs to be factored in. The need for constantly higher bandwidth levels in schools also needs to be highlighted. Many educational institutions have already switched over to a ‘serverless technology’ regime – with educational services being made available to students and faculties directly from the internet.

Note: Management, maintenance and operations of school IT systems are gradually emerging as points of concern, due to the ever-increasing user-pressure. In the foreseeable future, schools might have to ‘outsource’ the systems handling to third-party agencies (say, software developer companies).

Blended learning and creative maker spaces

Learning is no longer limited to only RECEIVING information from teachers in classrooms. The focus on establishing collaborative, blended learning environments – with elements from art rooms and science laboratories and computer zones being made available in them – is growing stronger rapidly. Students are being encouraged to express their creativity and imagination levels, through active experimentation and teamwork in these active ‘maker spaces’. Since these learning spaces are generally cross-disciplinary, learners get the chance to put all their skills into practice. According to reports, the presence of cutting-edge education technology in classrooms (including things like smart speakers and 3D printers) make it easier for ~62% middle-schoolers to learn new things.

Social media has a role to play

If you are one of those parents who feel that channels like Facebook are, without exception, ‘bad’ for a child – it’s time to take a look around. Peer-based learning is becoming more popular than ever, and social media channels are being increasingly made use of to make student groups, study circles, discussion channels, and even host educational events and contests. On a shared social network, it becomes easier for kids to get peer-support and receive positive reinforcements in a way that is not quite possible in a traditional classroom. What’s more, starting to use social media from a young age for educational purposes (obviously, under teachers’/parents’ supervision) also builds a sense of responsibility in the li’l ones.

By February 2018, the total count of students using Gmail and Google Docs in school had breached the 30 million mark – clearly underlining the shift in the education industry towards online platforms. Apart from providing a more immersive learning environment for kids and delivering greater convenience levels, web-based resources are helping teachers to develop and update themselves as well. Education technology is changing the face of school learning as we know it – and it is helping students learn faster, learn better, and have fun at the same time!

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