The Digitization of Education

The other week while at the Google office in Cambridge, a student asked a senior manager what industry he thought technology would disrupt next. His response was education. He explained how the cost of higher education can not continue to rise as it has and he thought technology would totally redefine it in the coming decades. I was intrigued by his answer and wondered how data will drive education to be more efficient? What innovations will break the status quo in education at large? Then, I began to think about experience with technology in the classroom.

The biggest infusion of technology was in math class. While in high school, the math department at my public school began “flipped classrooms” where students would watch the lesson at home, start the corresponding homework, and then come to class with any questions. The entire class period was spent on extra examples and practice. Not only did this make it easy for students to make up work, it also helps students go at their own pace allowing them to pause or re-watch an example. Further, it made it easier for the teachers to miss class and manage more students. Instead of having a substitute try to teach a lesson, students could just spend classroom time working together. Could this model be applied to higher education, too? I don’t know – but here are some ways the digitization of education is already changing education worldwide – making it easier to access as well as more affordable, while constantly evolving and innovating.

Accessibility & Affordability:

Screen Shot 2016-10-31 at 10.45.30 PM.pngSimilar to my flipped classroom, many companies offer high quality online courses for free. Given that a person has access to internet, he/she can access hundreds of educational options. Khan Academy is a not for profit education platform that offers exercises, videos, and personalized learning dashboards to allow students to learn about new subjects at their own pace. edX is an another online learning platform created by Harvard University and MIT in 2012 that offers high quality courses from some of the best universities in the world to students everywhere. Open edX is the open-source and free platform that powers edX courses. With Open edX, educators and technologists can build learning tools and contribute new features to the platform, creating innovative solutions to benefit students everywhere. This allows users all around the world to create Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) as well as training models. Although these education options aren’t for degrees, edX offers certificates to showcase coursework completion.

Beyond the free online platforms, physical schools have adopted tech innovations to cut costs. The cost of primary education is a big factor for many people, especially in developing economies where “free” public education isn’t really free because of fees, nor does it offer quality education. In some developing countries Bridge International Academies is offering an alternative approach to education by leveraging technology. Instead of having teachers each plan their own lessons, Bridge has standardized all its learning objectives and lessons. Each morning teachers meet with the school master to download the day’s lesson onto their tablets. The standardization allows for easier way to compare school’s performance and it holds the school managers accountable. Although this is a controversial way to run a school, it has enabled hundreds of children to get an education because of its low cost and accountability.

Innovations and the Future: 

Data in many ways is driving innovation in the education field. edX is collecting huge amounts of data on its users and analyzing it to improve their operations. By carefully assessing course data, from mouse clicks to time spent on tasks, to evaluating how students respond to various assessments, researchers hope to figure out how learners access information and master materials, in order to improve outcomes of the course. edX isn’t not only expanding access to knowledge, but developing best practices to enhance the student experience and improve teaching and learning onlscreen-shot-2016-10-31-at-10-06-20-pmine.

Additionally, collaboration continues to grow as a leading trend of education. Jhansi Mary, an analyst from Technavio, who specializes in research on the education sector, said “the rising use of smartphones and tablets has proven to be effective in the digitization of education through cloud technology. The collaborative feature of the m-learning (mobile learning) system enables educators and students to share data and work together on different projects through a single platform.” Furthermore, the emergence of gamification in the education sector shows another trend. Gamification includes game mechanics and game design techniques in a non-gaming context. It is considered a powerful tool to help students in character building, developing cognitive and motor skills, and driving innovative thinking through the incorporation of points, levels, and awards into the learning experience. According to the Education Arcade at MIT, “game players regularly exhibit persistence, risk-taking, attention to detail, and problem solving, all behaviors that ideally would be regularly demonstrated in school.” The development of more programs and apps that incorporate learning into games will likely increase over the coming years.

These are just some ways education has digitized. Although these innovations scale from kindergarten classrooms to college courses, it appears primary education has been more disrupted at this point. Higher education will surely develop more in the coming years and I am interested to see what role technology plays.


  1. Aditya Murali · ·

    Awesome post Catty! Education is definitely a sector that is in desperate need of disruption. College tuition is ridiculously high and I have no idea what prices will look like in a decade if things continue along the same trajectory. It is great to know that platforms like edX are using analytics to better their services and make what they offer more and more legitimate. If they can create better classes and a better online learning environment, hopefully it will prove to be a real competitor to the traditional college education, and offer a drastically cheaper option. I also really love the gamification idea and the psychology behind it. On one hand, it feels like there is this need to distract ourselves into studying, but on the other hand, if it is proven, then there is no real reason to be against it. If we can make learning fun, dare I say addicting, who knows what we can accomplish as a society!

  2. Very interesting post! I can definitely see education being a sector up next for technology to disrupt. With so many online resources out there that can be used for teaching students and for students to easily learn from, there is a real his possibility that education can become more affordable. College is already so expensive and prices are not decreasing so I believe is a huge potential for these platforms to make their mark. Also with the analytics and data they can provide, teachers and students can track their progress much easier versus a traditional school system where at times it can be hazy.

  3. Great post! I definitely knew about things like Khan Academy and the increased use of smartphones and tablets (the high school I attended started a pilot program through Apple where each student was given an iPad for school purposes). However, I definitely did not think that so many other softwares were coming out with technology to help enable students to perform better. I wonder what the dynamic between parent and child will be when it comes to education – previously, when kids came home to do homework they did not understand, they would ask their parents for help. I guess we can now expect kids to look to Khan Academy and others for help on even basic classwork. More free time for parents! Thanks so much for sharing.

  4. I really enjoyed reading this post. Very interesting topic. I agree the education will be next to be disrupted through technology. There are many different types of ways that people learn- some are visual, some are hands on, etc. I believe that technology will be a way to accommodate different learning styles more easily without disrupting an entire classroom. Your example of a flipped classroom was particularly interesting. This is the first time I learned of a class doing this- but think that it is a great way to ensure that you learn. The only downside I would think for this type of learning is that some people may take it as a pass to do the assignment and just wait for the class to review the assignments, and in turn, may not get the most out of the learning style. Additionally, I was also reading about how virtual reality can impact the learning environment. With augmented and virtual reality, topics that are better learned in a 3D manner, now come to life. This would be particularly useful when learning about the human body or scientific topics. Great post and am interested to see if this becomes the norm at some point!

  5. polmankevin · ·

    Higher education is an industry that I thought has been ready for disruption for a long time. It always amazed me how such prominent universities struggled to incorporate technology into their ecosystems. Technology has done an amazing job of helping people educate themselves, but it hasn’t made as big of an impact on universities trying to educate their students. I wonder if higher education will be totally disrupted by technological innovation, or if they will be able to incorporate the technology in a way that will help them to continue create value for their students. I think this is why many universities are trending toward the idea of an ‘education of the whole person’ stressing the importance of being on campus in a reflective environment. Whatever the future holds, I am excited to see technology continue to help the spread of information. Great post, thanks for sharing!

  6. holdthemayo4653 · ·

    Great to topic! I think that government run sectors such as education can often be a late adopter of technology and lean practices. For me digitalization is an excellent tool for engagement, cost savings, and expanded reach. This past summer I took an MBA class online through the University of Scranton. It cost less and provided flexibility in my schedule but to be honest I definitely got less out of the class. With the digitization of education we need to be careful not to swing too far and completely eliminate some of the benefits of in person and hands on teaching. Another great point you brought up was gamification. I travel internationally for work (writing this post from a Portugese hotel room…) and I love using the app Duolingo to start to learn a language. It’s not perfect but it keeps me motivated and engaged. I hope more educational gamification continues.

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