Vivi Friedgut, CEO and founder, Blackbullion

Since March this year, we’ve seen the edtech landscape transform as customers respond to shifting landscapes, finding new ways to support students at every level of the education system. We’ve also seen adoption levels surge; edtech uptake has moved forward five years in as many months.

For those of us working in higher and further education, we’re seeing real innovation come into play as core strategies and mindsets around edtech shift. And it’s creating real waves in edtech, a space attracting considerable investment; here are some of the exciting new trends coming through as we head into 2021:

A cultural edtech shift

Let’s start with the cultural impact of Covid-19 on university customers. Inevitably strategies have shifted in response to the pandemic. Universities found themselves delivering learning online only, managing staff remotely and administration processes running from staff kitchen tables rather than the campus.

A resistance - and not always misplaced sense of fear- has been a very present barrier to mass tech adoption in the past. But necessity has meant we’ve all had to take up more tech during this time. And action has rapidly overcome those pre-conceived reservations. This means tech’s place in education has been set. We see this as a permanent change and one that will in turn, drive new ways of learning and accessing higher education.

More edtech in the back office

Edtech has a reputation for solving problems for multiple stakeholders, often within the same organisation. Universities and colleges have transformed their operations with more administrative functions delivered remotely. This means tech needs to be used smartly to add capacity, support and generally make life easier. From streamlining funding through to managing application processes, we’ll be seeing edtech increasingly integrated into the back office and staff workflow processes, as well as in learning environments.

With multiple stakeholders in mind, expect to see edtech straddle other categories too. As a business, we’ve evolved into the financial wellbeing space as financial and mental health are so interconnected, so this natural extension feels inevitable. And, speaking personally, Blackbullion has been looking at the fintech space for a while now as we aim to really power the potential of financial education for our users and partners. It’s win win for customers too as they’ll be able to streamline partnerships via single contracts and suppliers.

Financial inclusion will be key

2020 saw student financial wellbeing placed at the centre of conversations. Every day, our university partners are seeing demand for student hardship funds rise, using our platform as a way to identify indicators of student hardship and support intervention requirements.

Some of the hottest edtechs around right now are those that are tackling financial inclusivity. Again this tackles two touchpoints – student needs as well as responding to university retention strategies. There’s exciting players like Perlego and Bibliu, positioning themselves as “Spotify for textbooks” as a starting point with plans to democratise other cost points of learning. Certainly COVID-19 exposed a canyon in terms of the digital divide, with final year students working from their phones, using their local McDonalds’ wifi - maintaining accessibility to learning will be key – and a space that’s ripe for innovation.

Hybrid learning as the new normal

Covid-19 accelerated a rapid shift to online learning and that sense of hybrid learning environments being permanent has come to settle. At Blackbullion, we’ve always delivered our learning via a blended approach of in person, digital and community led events.

We expect to see continuous innovation to support this over the longer-term and there’s already some brilliant examples at play - student engagement platform Aula brings students, staff, and faculty together in a digital environment to encourage interaction and collaboration.

Gamification is rapidly proving to boost effectiveness in terms of improving learning outcomes, too. It supports motivation, participation and overall learning experiences, so we expect to see more of this integrated into edtech solutions in 2021.

Enhance student experience with personalisation

Student experience is a key currency for universities. Covid-19 turned it on its head in how this can be delivered on-campus so we’re seeing partners look at creative ways to replicate this digitally. Edtech is of course, well-placed to respond to that desire to enhance student experience particularly when it comes to personalisation – across learning, social and wellbeing areas. Personalised pathways and learning plans can be wrapped around collaboration tools and in-app experiences to deliver engaging and meaningful experiences, and vitally, connection.

COVID-19 has changed the edtech landscape for good. With university eco-systems changing every day, the onus is on us to stay ahead of the game, to ensure we’re bringing the best possible experience to our students in meaningful and relevant ways.

Vivi Friedgut, CEO and founder, Blackbullion

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