Personalized learning has long been the dream of ed tech evangelists, and the pandemic has brought it closer than ever to becoming reality, according to Matt Cole, senior vice president of global ed tech giant Promethean. Measures to ease the transition to home learning saw more devices put into children’s hands and teachers creating an unprecedented amount of digital resources.
“Creating individual lesson plans and personalized learning has not been as easy or as possible as it is now there is so much more technology and access to digital content in the classroom,” says Cole.
“Teachers are able to see which students are keeping up, which students are falling behind and which students are maybe ahead. With that data comes the ability to take the next step, which is to move to personalized learning.”
More computer-based activities also provides teachers with more data about students’ progress, enabling teachers to see their students in higher definition, according to Dr Elise Ecoff, group education director for international schools group Nord Anglia Education.
“This means developing ‘in the moment’ insights so teachers have a deeper understanding of their students’ learning needs and what’s required to help them learn more,” she says.
“This shift will see technology move from the domain of teaching devices and software programmes into a far more sophisticated educational proposition. Data and analytics will provide a more personalised learning experience for students.”
Closing the gap
The pandemic brutally exposed differences that accentuated the gaps between students: in access to digital devices, parental support with home learning and even broadband speeds. Programs to equip more children with devices and the $65 billion set aside for improved broadband as part of the Biden Administration’s Infrastructure Bill are steps in the right direction, and over the next 12 months we can expect to see ed tech harnessed in an attempt to narrow the gap further.
“What we saw was a situation where students who were behind got further behind,” says Adam Chace, chief technology officer at ed tech company Curriculum Associates.
“The students who needed it the most often had the least access to devices and broadband.
“Most kids did not get a good learning experience over the pandemic, but that opens up doors for new products and tech.”
The focus will shift to tools that can quickly identify what level students are working at and give teachers the resources to tackle specific gaps, he says, with a parallel emphasis on making life easier for teachers.
“Teachers are working with probably the most challenging classrooms they have ever had, and we’re asking them to try to solve this problem,” Chace adds.
“More than ever we are motivated to find solutions that save teachers time by giving them the means to quickly assess the state of the classroom.”
Focusing on the teacher-student relationship
For many people, the lesson from the biggest experiment in remote learning ever conducted was the importance of the teacher-student relationship, and this will come to the fore in the next 12 months, according to Jack Lynch, CEO of ed tech company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
“The most powerful tools—and those that will last—will also center human interaction and relationships,” he says. “This looks much different than the virtual learning practices that were leveraged, out of necessity, to carry us through the earlier days of the pandemic.
“Remote learning was isolating and unengaging for many learners, and I predict educators will embrace software that can blend the best of technology with the best of the classroom experiences and tools that extend the capabilities of very busy teachers by helping them personalize the learning experience.”
Among the solutions he expects to see come to the fore in 2022 are greater integration between teaching and assessment, a closer connection between outcome analytics and classroom teaching, and using artificial intelligence as a teachers’s ‘personal assistant’, giving the teacher greater capacity to focus on their students.
“Access to well-designed, human-centered technology solutions has great potential to delivery lasting impact this coming year and beyond,” Lynch adds.
Blended/hybrid learning is not going away
If you thought that blended and hybrid learning was just for the pandemic, you may need to think again. School districts have spent an enormous amount of money on ed tech in the last two years, and they are going to want to get the most out of their investment in 2022, says Cole. On top of this, more resources are available digitally than ever before.
All this means that a blended learning model - a mixture of online and face-to-face teaching - becomes both more appealing and more feasible.
“School districts were forced to make quick buying decisions to support remote and at-home learning and we’re seeing more and more districts talking about how they can use those investments in a blended learning environment,” Cole says. “We will see more partnerships in ed tech as districts look to maximize their investment,” he adds. “They’re going to want to make sure that they’re standardizing the tools that they’re using and there needs to be synergy between those tools and how they interact.”
Hybrid learning may have been the result of an emergency, but there are students who do well with a mixture of in-person and online lessons. Even when face-to-face learning is fully restored, hybrid learning will continue to be a preferred option for a minority.
“There are most certainly students who thrive in that type of environment and I expect students and parents and districts to continue leveraging that, where it continues to make sense,” says Cole.
And if nothing else, schools will want to retain the option of switching to hybrid learning at short notice if and when the need arises again.
Greater use of technology in the classroom will lead to a wider use of games in teaching and learning, says Chace. “We will see a lot more gamification and students creating content for one another,” he says. “If you’re identifying where students have needs and giving them resources, those resources have to be effective, and to be effective they have to be engaging.
“We have a situation where, especially in middle school, those students are digital natives and they have high expectations of digital applications, so we need to make sure the games we’re giving them meet those expectations.” This will also include an element of students creating their own content and collaborating with each other, as well as teachers using resources created by game designers, giving students sufficient challenge to keep them interested.
Games are also an effective way of reaching students who have spent much of the last two years not just learning online, but socialising online too, Chace adds.
And so to 2022
But it is important not to get carried away with ed tech. Having spent so long out of the classroom, many students welcome the return of in-person learning, as well as the chance to get to grips with physical, and not just digital, content. School closures and remote learning have demonstrated of the importance of technology in education, but for many students they have also shown the importance of being in a classroom with a teacher. And while the last two years have seen perhaps a decade’s worth of progress in ed tech, the next 12 months are going to be not so much revolution as evolution.