No matter how you view it, the coronavirus pandemic is one of the most disruptive events experienced in generations. It has completely transformed the way we live and work. There are few sectors in which this transformation is more keenly felt than education.
Amidst lockdowns and quarantine orders, K-12 schools were forced to embrace digital learning. Unsurprisingly, this caused a surge of innovation, with the U.S. education technology (edtech) market generating $803 million in the first half of 2020 alone. Since then, the market has only continued to grow.
Even once the pandemic has ended, the technologies that defined it will remain. Even once things have returned to some semblance of normalcy, edtech will continue to reshape the classroom. To understand how — to accurately predict how the future of education might look — we must take a look back.
We must examine the specific challenges and opportunities created by the pandemic, and how institutions addressed them.
An Unprecedented Environmental Shift
With few exceptions, remote learning was something most schools had not even considered engaging with. Even those schools that had made inroads into digital transformation were caught unprepared. An online lesson is fundamentally different from a physical one, and in-classroom technology such as tablets and touchscreens have little to offer in that arena.
Some schools took a more traditional approach to online teaching, relying on teleconferencing software such as Zoom. It was here that the pandemic’s early stages revealed a significant skill gap in the education sector. Many teachers and educational assistants simply didn’t have the necessary expertise to work with existing tools and technologies.
Cloud-based education software helped bridge this gap, providing a seamless, streamlined learning environment for both teacher and student. On top of being designed specifically for online learning, these platforms introduced a multitude of new features to the classroom.
- Extensive software integration. This includes bringing Microsoft Office into the classroom as well as instant messaging, scheduling, and/or analytics tools.
- Self-registration and course management. For older students, online course catalogs and management portals provide greater autonomy while also improving their learning experience.
- Support for a hybrid classroom. By combining e-learning with in-classroom technology, teachers ensured they were prepared to offer greater flexibility when things returned to normal. Additionally, this would allow schools to be more accommodating to students with disabilities.
- Easily accessible cloud storage. This allowed teachers to quickly and easily provide students with access to everything from textbooks to assignments to recorded lessons.
Data and Remote Engagement
Once they moved past the initial growing pains, teachers quickly discovered that online learning can, in some cases, be more effective than in-person lessons. According to research on the topic, students retain 25-60% more material and learn 40-60% faster. Teachers tailored and personalize lessons on a student-by-student basis, at which point each student learned the material at whatever pace worked best for them.
Machine learning and artificial intelligence played an important role in this process. With the transition to distributed learning, many classrooms began generating large volumes of behavioral data. It did not take long for both teachers and vendors to recognize the potential of this data to optimize teaching.
Just as business analytics can help an organization make more informed market decisions, educational analytics provided their own insights:
- How students collaborate
- How students engage with educational materials
- Which teaching methods are most effective.
- What features or components of an educational platform see the most or least use.
Through automation, teachers were also able to streamline common classroom tasks such as scheduling, setup, and grading.
Time Saved, Lessons Learned
Teachers, education assistants, and substitute teachers have one thing in common. They’re all working themselves to the bone in order to support their classes and ensure that even in the face of budget cuts, the pandemic does not interrupt the learning experience. From virtual classrooms to collaboration tools, e-learning technology has offered at least some reprieve;.
And once the pandemic ends, its role will only grow.