From Primary to Further and Higher Education - COVID-19 is driving the #EdTech revolution 

Coronavirus has accelerated demand to improve the global education system’s resilience to future shocks. To meet this demand, industry must now embark on a journey of technological transformation, says Paul Cuatrecasas, CEO of Aquaa Partners and author of Go Tech or Go Extinct.

As policymakers around the world contend with COVID-19, its ongoing disruption to the global education system has been unprecedented. Across the planet, countries have been confronted with the near-total closure of schools, further education colleges and universities. UNESCO estimate that over 1.2 billion students are currently impacted representing almost three-quarters (73.5 per cent) of the world’s student population.

The implications are profound. Beyond the immediate productivity disruption, the longer-term implications are even greater. School pupils, apprentices, university students, all dependent on certified assessment to progress to higher levels of education or employment, are left unable to sit their exams or undergo assessment.

All of this has fuelled a pre-existing demand for improved technology in across every level of the education sector, both to improve the effectiveness of educational provision and also to strengthen resilience to maintain functionality when confronted with future disruption.

Immediate Response

The deployment of new technology to enhance learning, streamline automation and improve resilience is clear to see in the rapid uptake in tutoring platforms and learning apps following school closures.

New AI-powered platforms can enhance a student’s capacity to self-study by delivering personalised and adapted study sessions for each user, helping students to focus on what they need to learn, improving outcomes. 

A pioneer in the space is global learning platform, Quizlet. The company boasts 50 million active users a month, including two-thirds of high school students and half of all college-aged students in the United States on the platform. It offers students and teachers access to over 400 million user-generated study sets, the option to create their own, and to study across activities ranging from flashcards and practice questions to interactive diagrams and games.

The company’s most popular study activity, Quizlet Learn, uses AI to create an adaptive study plan that adjusts to the users' learning needs and can be scheduled to help them reach a target level by a specific date, such as a test or final.

Meanwhile, the company’s Smarter Grading & Feedback system can understand a student’s answer beyond a word-for-word match, to determine what is correct and what needs further understanding, and then guide the student’s studying.

Educational apps have also become a mainstay for both teachers and students during lockdown. Popular platforms used by both teachers to deliver learning and students to self-study include language apps, such as Rosetta Stone, Duolingo and Babbel, as well as the learning games site Kahoot!, and BrainPOP, a website with short video clips, quizzes, and other supplemental activities. Other innovations include Brainly, a Polish homework site, which allows students to check their homework.

To illustrate the rise in demand, Rosetta Stone estimates it has added between 10,000 to 20,000 new users each day since it dropped subscription fees at the beginning of the crisis. 

Post-COVID-19

Technological innovation in education pre-dates coronavirus. Coronavirus has just hastened an existing appetite for change.

5G

The imminent arrival of 5G telecommunications will signal a major milestone in enabling the deployment of new technologies that will transform not just the education sector, but a host of industries. The technology offers users multi-gigabyte connection speeds eliminating lag-time, delivering greater reliability and enabling users to take advantage of data-heavy applications many of which offer opportunities to transform student learning for all age groups.

Virtual Reality Education

With the speed offered by 5G, having lessons in virtual reality will become commonplace, capturing students’ imagination and improving learning. Rather than relying on their imagination alone, primary school students learning about the dinosaurs can immerse themselves in a virtual forest and gaze up at a T-Rex as a Pterodactyl soars overhead. Politics students can take their place alongside Roman senators while Cicero delivers an address. And engineering apprentices will be able to visualise the internal operations of a jet engine. The technology is also showing promise, both for the education of children and adults with special educational needs and mental health issues.

As well as enhancing the learning experience VR can improve resilience. In a future crisis that resulted in schools or other learning institutions to close, students and learners will be able to login to a virtual classroom led by their teacher or instructor all of whom will access the classroom remotely from their respective homes.

Augmented Reality (AR)

AR glasses (or even contact lenses), will layer data on top of what we naturally see, to allow for a real-world learning experience. For example, a student wearing AR glasses could sit at their desk and have a conversation with George Stephenson about invention and engineering.

Holograms and Haptic Technology

Advancements in hologram technology will open the door to holographic telepresence. The ability for teachers or ‘notable speakers’ from around the world being present in either the classroom or a students’ home. Students will be able to learn directly from the world's most exciting and inspiring people, such as historical figures, Olympic athletes or eminent scientists.

Haptic technology is another of the big promises in EdTech. It helps to complete the user experience by making it even closer to reality by offering virtual and holographic experiences a sense of feeling. Users can wear a suit or clothing that will trigger human senses as they interact with either a hologram or virtual experience.

COVID-19 and its implications for the education sector

As with other sectors, COVID-19 highlights the vulnerabilities of the education system as a whole to disruption. But the challenges are not insurmountable. We need only look to the role existing technology, such as tablets, apps and online learning platforms are already playing in enabling effective home-schooling. Further progress and greater resilience – and even a transformation in how effectively students and apprentices learn – can be overcome through the embrace of technological innovation and the potpourri of solutions that will emerge from EdTech very soon.

Paul Cuatrecasas, CEO of Aquaa Partners and author of Go Tech or Go Extinct

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