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What is EdTech and why is it such a big opportunity?

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Photo credit:

Brad Flickinger

Education has remained broadly the same for hundreds of years. Technology is changing that. Quickly. So what exactly is education technology or edtech as it is commonly termed?

What is the definition of EdTech?

EdTech, or education technology encompasses everything from the simple use of computers to teach maths and reading to children in elementary schools by Stanford University professors in the Sixties, to the submission of homework online, entire online degree platforms, informal mobile learning applications, gamification or virtual reality techniques.

What started as an experiment in education delivery is now being transformed by a new breed of technology entrepreneurs.

Just as technology, and particularly the digital era, has disrupted and improved most major segments of our economy, education and training will in the same way undergo a tech revolution.

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 in market, leading to a raft of opportunities for innovators in EdTech.

However, EdTech is not just about reformatting books and training manuals, or even about the individual technologies themselves.

It is about applying digital technology to deliver a new form of learning architecture.

An architecture that harnesses the social reach of the internet, that delivers personalized learning and training that can automatically adjust to an individual’s learning competence and that uses big data analysis to understand the most effective ways for learners to progress.

In changing the traditional architecture of education, EdTech has the power to create efficiencies, cut costs and enable new levels of standardization and democratized access.

It is set to transform the future of how education is resourced, taught, consumed and, ultimately, the results that it can then yield – both for the individual and for society as a whole as we continue to build the knowledge economy.

Worldwide, the combined education and training industries account for spending of more than $4 trillion, representing a huge 84 percent increase since 2000.

The impact of EdTech on costs

Traditional education systems are inherently inefficient.

Worldwide, the combined education and training industries account for spending of more than $4 trillion, representing a huge 84 percent increase since 2000.

Despite this, reading and maths scores have remained stagnant in the US, while it is estimated that 85 percent of every dollar spent on education is spent delivering it – the costs of bricks and mortar and teaching staff, amongst other things.

The link between rising education expenditure and educational performance is therefore weak, and reducing the price tag associated with traditional education delivery is a clear opportunity for EdTech.

This is particularly true for e-learning methods, credited for the ability to deliver one-to-many on a completely new cost base.

However, cost efficiencies are not only the domain of the e-learning world. Reliable broadband services and adoption of other technologies like the Cloud have facilitated policies like Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in schools, allowing pupils to use their own equipment. As a result, less money is spent on hardware for schools – which currently makes up 60 percent of IT budgets.

Improved user engagement and learning impact

By saving on educational or training budgets in this way, more money can then be allocated to educational elements such as smart learning software which provides tailored lesson plans, or innovative digital content such as engaging video materials which will improve outcomes.

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.

Video learning formats for example have been shown to accelerate the learning process and are an attractive format for the user. With the advances in software and 3D animation engines, the link between video and immersive environments is close, as can be seen in the video games market.

EdTech is also creating a stronger link between what happens in the classroom and outside the classroom (at home, in transit, etc.), making teacher-endorsed digital educational resources available at all times, such as assignments and test prep material, and creating a continuum of touch points in the learning experience for pupils.

This is changing the way pupils are consuming education in the same way Cloud technology has changed the way we consume music and television.

The benefits of big data

The growth of EdTech has also provided teachers and assessors with far greater access to data on individual achievements and progress.

The arrival of data analytics techniques in education has driven adaptive learning, where data is fed back into the system to influence learning programmes and structures. Personalized learning programmes can be identified, and knowledge gaps that might exist filled.

Not only that but the ability to access and store data on pupils is driving the emergence of Learning Record Stores that can be carried with them from one learning establishment to another, equipping individuals with permanent documentation of what they’ve learnt and achieved.

Since learning is now a lifelong requirement, not something we can leave behind at schools and colleges; this is becoming increasingly important for the labor market that awaits school leavers and graduates.

The democratization of education

The importance of EdTech does not just lie with the power it has to bring down costs and engage learners in new and innovative ways.

It is also about the way in which it can equalize standards and enable access for all, resulting in the democratization of education.

Online platforms, mobile applications and new learning formats have massively improved access to education, as well as enhancing the learning process itself, while online and Cloud technologies bring with them exciting standardisation possibilities for content.

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.

Building the knowledge economy

The knowledge economy that we invest in for our children via the schools system and right through to higher education and on-going, professional development and training is a fundamental support to the rest of our economic lives.

Without it we lose our ability to develop skilled workers, build competitive advantages as nations and generate growth.

To keep developing the knowledge economy we need to ensure, as with other sectors, that we maintain a level of innovation to improve the efficacy and efficiency of our learning systems.

This is the importance of EdTech.