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Innovation in edtech and the changing face of education

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Innovation in edtech is going to change the way we learn, forever. Here to guide us through is Alan Greenberg. The former Head of Education for Apple.

The pace and scale of digital innovation has confirmed the suggestion that technology does not determine society, but rather that it is society.

And soon enough, everyone on earth will be online.

With 5 billion more people set to join the virtual world, what’s to come will surpass your wildest sci-fi imaginations.

Expect an ever-improving quality of life. Better than anyone in the history of this planet has seen.

Ready yourself to beckon a paradigm shift that will vastly alter day-to-day life.

Remember picking your jaw up off the floor after seeing Tom Cruise in Minority Report for the first time?

I certainly do. I also remember wondering, fixated on that gestural interface he used so ably to pre-empt crime, when exactly we’d arrive there.

Put simply, we’re there. And the benefit of an increasingly virtual population, with ubiquitous global access is a segway to increased economic productivity, better healthcare and improvements in countless other areas.

Increased connectivity is also set to have a profound effect on innovation in edtech.

Guiding us through the change is Alan Greenberg. Apple’s former head of Higher Education in Europe and Asia.

He explains how digital will advance the classroom and the way we learn.

Greenberg and his team helped turn Apple’s educational products into the household names we know so well.

The resurgence in podcasting, and the creation of iTunesU can be credited to Greenberg and those he worked with. Downloads on iTunesU recently surpassed the one billion mark and are only the topline measures of his success.

The infrastructure he helped shape has touched and inspired countless lives.

An expert in the educational domain, Greenberg now works on managing and advising a number of education and healthcare start-ups, the likes of which are based in London, Berlin and Paolo Alto.

Greenberg believes that innovation in edtech is set to be an integral component of the new digital age.

Out with the old and in with the new

It is thought that digital will usher in an era of:

“Delivering one-to-one learning, to many. With each student learning on his or her own basis”.

It appears that innovation in edtech is leading us far astray from the factory model of education.

The beliefs and values of which were rooted in an archaic, Victorian-era mind set which sought to churn out the maximum number of students, regardless of their grasp of the curriculum.

As the old saying went, the back door of the school leads to the front of the factory.

In a 1915 book titled Schools of Tomorrow, the educator John Dewey criticized this approach, complaining that the conventional public schools were “arranged to make things easy for the teacher who wishes quick and tangible results, rather than fostering personal growth”.

Dewey’s argument remains valid today and suggests that education should be organised in a way that emphasises freedom and individuality, whilst simultaneously responding to changing employment requirements.

Such changes mean that innovation in edtech has never been more important.

A 2013 study carried out at Oxford University concluded that 47% of all jobs today would be automated in two decades time.

It’s rather an odd thought for so many jobs to be carried out by robots in the future.

Don’t you just hate it when a human knocks on the door of your suite?

Curpertino’s Aloft Hotel officially introduced robotic butlers in the summer of 2014.

‘Botlers’ as they are known, deliver amenities to your room and can even work the elevators. Slightly too well for comfort.

Would sir like me to play your favourite song to help you sleep? Let me just access your Spotify and bring up your favourite playlist.

But Robotic Butlers aside, what will automation mean for the workforce of the future?

Creativity will become more important than ever. Employability will increasingly depend on one’s ability to develop new skills.

In the age of Wikipedia, this will be less about staying up all night cramming for an exam, and more about creative problem solving.

The three key drivers of change

Greenberg believes that this change will come about by introducing technology to the current learning environment, rather than dramatically altering it.

He says a combination of “traditional classroom engagement and digital engagement, will lead to an ecosystem that will begin to grow and evolve”.

What it comes down to are three key drivers of change.

The likes of which will ultimately change the digital education space: The curation of content, reshaped methods of accreditation, and using data to provide feedback.

Alan is certain that the teacher will be central to satisfying the first key driver, viewing them as more of a curator or mentor.

“They’ll certainly have a slightly different role because of the huge amounts of open source educational content. Khan Academy, iTunesU, YouTube education, MitEd and the Open University for example”.

The important question is whether teachers will merely be content providers, or if they’ll have a much larger role to play in the future of education.

One would imagine that the teacher’s role will increasingly be to help students navigate the vast sea of open source knowledge, ensuring it is both understandable and relevant.

They’ll simultaneously have to create an approach that puts this new world into context. Inspiration is key.

“I think we all have examples of great teachers who have inspired us to do what we do in life. Digital enhances that opportunity and makes teaching even more exciting and inspiring”.

Undeniably, for innovation in edtech, the curation of content is incredibly important. Especially given how much is freely available. We’re seeing a shift away from MOOC’s or massive open online courses, which famously don’t curate content well enough.

Described as the most important experiment in the history of education, they allow anyone to gain a new set of skills, at little or no cost

Courses span as wide as transcendental meditation to taxidermy. All that’s required is access to an Internet connection.

But if you were serious about gaining a career in stuffing dead animals, MOOC’s almost definitely wouldn’t be the best way to go about it.

This essentially comes down to the lack of feedback, and their incredibly impersonal nature.

There’s a shockingly low completion rate too. Udacity, one of the biggest players in the MOOC industry, have said that no more than 10 per cent of their students make it to an end of the class, and only about a half of those would actually receive a passing grade.

Quite often, thousands of students will have one curator of content, which is an incredibly inefficient means of learning.

As Greenberg says:

“They’re a flawed fashion item, they frustrate me. Yes they are leveraging open source content on a massive basis, but innovation in edtech and my way of thinking is heading towards a more intimate look at the relationship between students and learning. The opportunity to grow individually and collectively is what should be strived toward, something that is simply not satisfied by MOOC’s”.

The second key innovation in edtech is assessment. Typically, the traditional route is completing a formal course within an academic institution. You study, damned hard, stress a lot and in my opinion there’s a severe lack of flexibility.

Innovation in edtech welcomes digital accreditation, which on the other hand, shepherds in an epoch of immense flexibility.

It hands the tools required for the next generation of writers, filmmakers and stay-at-home parents to expand their own digital CV.

It allows anyone to scale the often exclusive walls of academic institutions.

“People these days are incredibly busy and wish to dip in and out of learning as and when they can. They want to engage with what interests them, in their own time without the official constraints of an institution, and I believe that is an incredibly democratic process…It’s not about the constraints of an academic community, but moreover about ones own personal journey”.

This sends a strong message about the reasons why we partake in education.

Greenberg says that:

“The university provides you with the degree, which teaches you how to learn. It also readies you for the world of employment. I would argue that assessment is more about continued learning and life long professional development. Innovation in edtech shows it’s what you learn and continue to learn that is of immense importance. It’s how you extend your experience and it’s how you are accredited for that. The life long learning piece is actually the most critical”.

In line with this idea is a San Francisco based start up called Degreed.

It has rethought what it means to earn credit and have provided a platform to quantify life experience and educational exploits in one place.

Its aim of jail breaking the degree has backed up the importance of the life long learning narrative.

Its CEO David Blake sees it as a huge opportunity, more so when you consider that $500 billion is spent annually by students who never get any form of accreditation.

Degreed’s sound understanding of what the next generation model looks like, alongside a defiant resistance to be influenced by big institutions is certainly a step in the right direction and shows what the future could look like.

The final driver and arguably most important in the educational space is data.

According to Greenberg, we only need to look at the teacher’s current problems to realise the immense value that it can bring.

“The teacher stands in front of a class and delivers resources to 20 of the 30 students in their class. Five of those in the class will be below average and in need of extra help . Conversely, there are five more at the top who aren’t being stretched by the material because they already understand it.”

Through utilizing data, teachers are able to extend themselves beyond current capabilities and add value.

Personalizing the content provided based on ability and interest.

Zzish, a London based start-up are at the forefront of innovation in edtech and the data revolution. Their key component is providing the foundation, as well as the basic tools for anyone to build educational apps.

When combined with a data analytics suite and an adaptive algorithm, teachers have the ability to transcend space and keep track of all of their student’s progress in real time.

Stopping student’s passing notes just got hi-tech.

Its CEO Charles Wiles said that the market is on course to be worth $38 billion by 2020, of which 40% of that will be via mobile.

Education is far too important to remain as is.

It’s the key to unlocking opportunity, fulfilment and improving the economy, yet too little has been done so far.

Entrepreneurs, investors, and consumers are starting to recognize this.

Expect innovation in the edtech world to lead to huge amounts of change very soon. Watch this space.