Education has, without a doubt, been one of the industries that has changed the most in the last year. EdTech companies were already driving some of these changes, but the need for radical evolution was exacerbated by the restrictions that came with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The coronavirus forced students of all ages to attend classes online. Unfortunately, the world was not ready for this change, exposing the inadequacy of education systems globally. Schools and universities were not equipped to go online overnight, as their learning models are built around physical infrastructures as a mode of delivery, for the most part. Evidence is now emerging to show that this resulted in a learning loss worldwide, known as the ‘COVID slide’. How can the industry adapt to avoid further learning losses and maybe even improve the education system overall?
Ditch the campus to go online and make learning affordable
As we dive into 2021, schools and universities find themselves with empty classrooms and campuses. Spaces that were once buzzing with energy are now just racking up the expenses tab and these institutions are having to deal with unpredictable inflows of cash due to dropout and deferral requests from students who don’t believe their online version of learning is worth the same tuition price tag as the campus experience. This forces them to rethink their learning models and instead cater for what students believe is worth paying for, and they’d need to figure out how to do it profitably.
Unfortunately, even for those academic leaders who see the light, getting the school and university bodies to change is a gargantuan (and therefore slow) effort because there are simply too many moving parts to change. You’d be more likely to have completed the degree program you’ve already committed to by the time the changes roll out.
Enter swift, nimble EdTech companies that are built for digital-first learning. 2U (TWOU), Coursera, Udemy, Noon Academy, and the Khan Academy, to name a few, don’t have the physical infrastructure nor an army of faculty weighing them down. In fact, most of these platforms don’t even produce their own content; instead, they partner with academic institutions that share with them digitized adaptations of their existing courses under a collaboration model.
Students don’t have to pay for entire degree programs to learn on these platforms (though degree programs are also on the menu if you want it). That, combined with the digital delivery model, brings the cost of learning to students down to a minimum, much to the dismay of the student loan industry that is built around the fact that students need to cover the overheads that come with running a campus.
This is a good thing because as the price of education had been rising to an unaffordable level, many people had begun questioning if the education system was really preparing students for the job market or if it was simply a milestone in the game of life. By bringing the price back down to earth, learning is now accessible again.
Best of all, because these platforms collaborate with universities for content, if it’s important to students to have their learning accredited, then they can get that seal of approval too, legitimizing the entire system. Moreover, some other platforms such as Creative Live (internationally) and Coded Minds (regionally) are trying to diversity from academic to practical learning altogether. Anyone up for a food photography crash course?
As for localizing digital learning, Abwaab is taking this model one step further and providing content in Arabic on its platform as it targets the Middle East education market.
To top it all off, students can access education on these platforms on demand.
5G and IoT will make new possibilities real within education
No doubt if you live in a household with a student, you’ve had to increase your home internet bandwidth to make sure that their online learning streaming did not cause your simultaneous Zoom calls (or Netflix binges, depending on your work situation) to lag. Enter the need for a more capable infrastructure: 5G.
5G mobile communication technology provides large bandwidth, high reliability, and ultra-large device connectivity, making it an enabling technology for education modernization. According to a study by Polytechnic Mersing, 5G networks will lead an expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT), meaning that all your devices will be able to speak to one another in a digital sense, bringing a revolution that will enable the disruption of learning systems.
This may not be so far-fetched as many telecommunication providers around the world have already rolled out 5G-enabling infrastructures (including the Middle East) and consumers are now equipped with new mobile devices (such as the iPhone 12) that can connect to these networks.
Can you imagine a classroom run by a robot? The greater use of IoT technology in education could lead to a gradual inclusion of robotics in the classroom, indeed. The lucky kids of Finland, for example, have been given a chance to learn with a different companion – Elias, a robot that provides support in math classes and language learning. Elias allows students to engage in natural conversations while also offering a dimension of fun through dance and games. Does this mean that teachers would need to start to consider reskilling?
And so, there is the opportunity for EdTech companies to create new hardware and software that enhance learning through 5G and IoT technologies. Maybe this is an area the newly-formed-via-SPAC blank cheque company Class Acceleration Corp (CLAS.U) is working on.
A blended approach is required to ensure attentiveness
Coming back to planet earth and leaving aside robots for a second, an effective education system cannot rely exclusively on the availability of digital content and strong internet infrastructure to evolve. Even when access to education is widespread, the issue of how to deliver quality teaching is pressing when going digital.
According to the World Bank, education systems need to innovate beyond live video streaming to be effective. Instead, they should leverage multiple platforms – a combination of online and offline mediums – for effective learning. Recent studies confirm that this blended-platform approach works best to avoid the “Zoom fatigue” that many people started to experience a few months into lockdown. This presses the industry to evaluate how learning can be best delivered digitally, as simply putting faculty in front of a webcam does not translate to effective education.
This has led to the rise in popularity of services that offer a more tailored approach to education compared to basic video streaming. Canvas, for example, is a software that helps institutions manage digital learning by allowing educators to create and present materials on a collaborative platform. Students can exchange messages with peers in groups, go through course content in a modular manner, and even give feedback to faculty through the Canvas platform.
Outschool, another EdTech platform, enables live, online classes for home-schooled students aged 3 to 18, specifically. Outschool supports several subjects from math to languages and even “funner” topics such as ukulele and weather forecasting classes. It encourages multi-dimensional learning and interactivity as key enablers to effective education. Lamsa is another EdTech platform, out of the Middle East, that is built on the same principles – kinda wishing that these platforms were around when we were younger!
The education industry must innovate to provide enriching, offline learning experiences. Having to rely almost exclusively on technology to do so, the big drivers will be the digitization of infrastructure, leveraging 5G connectivity, and expanding beyond live streaming.