How EdTech is Bringing Innovation to the Education Sector

After graduating from college in 2012, I decided to spend a year volunteering with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC). This experience brought me to St. Louis, where I lived with five other volunteers and worked at a middle school that provided a high-quality education to girls from low-income families. As a volunteer in a small school I wore many hats, including driving the school van and soliciting parents to chaperone field trips, but my primary responsibility was overseeing a credit recovery program within the school’s graduate support program. The credit recovery program was designed for girls who had graduated from the middle school but were having trouble succeeding in a traditional high school setting and were at risk of failing and/or dropping out. Recognizing that this was a serious problem, and wanting to keep the students on track towards earning a high school diploma, the middle school graduate support team developed an intervention program where the students could take online courses to make up credits they had failed and continue the required curriculum for their grade level. By providing each student with a laptop, an online curriculum portal, and individual attention and tutoring, the program offered an alternative approach to education that catered to the individual students’ needs in order for them to succeed. Not realizing it at the time, the technology that was allowing my students to access education at their own pace was actually an application of a growing industry known as “edtech.”

Education technology is certainly not a new concept, and has in fact been evolving for decades.   From the mainstream adoption of e-learning programs and introduction of SMART Boards in the 1990s, to the introduction of learning management systems (LMS) in the early 2000s, to the growing popularity of massive online open courses (MOOC) in 2012, I would venture to guess that everyone in this class has been affected by the evolution of edtech in one way or another.  So, if it’s not a novel concept and has been around for many years, why talk about it? Aside from the fact that education is a massive global industry that will undoubtedly continue to evolve, it was recently listed as one of the industries that believed to be on the cusp of technological disruption.

As seen in the chart below, U.S. education technology companies raised $1.45 billion in 2018, matching the previous high for annual funding set in 2015, and the amount of dollars invested in edtech has grown steadily since 2011 (with 2015 being an anomaly).  Of the $1.45 billion raised in 2018, $511 million went towards K-12 students and educators and $590 million went towards companies that primarily serve post-secondary education. Interestingly, the chart also shows that the number of deals has declined since 2013, meaning that while investors are spending more money in this sector, they are doing so across fewer companies.  

Source: EdSurge

Edtech isn’t just on the rise in the U.S.  It is trending globally, with a significant presence in Asian countries.  China and India have become big players in this space due to their large population of young people.  These countries also have governments that strongly support the growth of digitalization and education technology.  Because of these and other factors, it is projected that the entire Asia-Pacific region will represent 54% of the global edtech market by 2020.  Between these investment figures and predictions for the future edtech market, there is clearly a lot of excitement for and potential in this space.  

One of the main benefits of edtech is that is makes learning more accessible for students with different learning styles and ability levels, especially when they are able to work at their own pace.  Furthermore, the rise of artificial intelligence and augmented/virtual reality applications have taken edtech to a new level and are setting the stage for future innovation in this space.  Augmented and virtual reality have the ability to bring the outside world into the classroom, both enhancing a teacher’s instruction and creating engaging lessons that are fun for the student (for example, apps such as Unimersiv can transport students to ancient Rome or into the human brain, as seen in the video preview below).  AI applications have the capability of helping students get the individualized attention they might need.  As suggested by the head of product management at Google, AI applications will soon be able to personalize the learning experience of individual students, thereby breaking the traditional mold of “one-size-fits-all.”  

Source: Unimersiv

Of course, as with any technology, there are risks and downsides to consider.  A few concerns that teachers have expressed is that many commonly used products don’t have rigorous studies demonstrating efficacy, and some products might have the unintended effect of leaving some of their most vulnerable students further behind.  There is also the issue that online learning takes away from in-person social interactions if not balanced with enough personal attention. From an industry standpoint, there are also privacy concerns related to data collection.  In 2017, the FBI identified several data breaches of edtech providers that occurred in that year alone, and going forward, security will be an important issue for school administrators to consider.  

Keeping in mind the risks associated with some of the products and programs that are available, I do believe that edtech will continue to make a positive impact on our modern education system as long as its applications are implemented correctly and monitored carefully.  What do you think about the potential of edtech? Do you think we will see a drastic change in education as we know it within our lifetime? Or do you think the adoption of future technology will be slow-moving?

Epilogue

In case you are wondering what happened to the students I mentioned at the beginning of this post, out of the six students who rotated through the credit recovery program the year that I was there, four completed a full curriculum for their grade level that year.  Of those four, three went back to a traditional high school after spending one year in the intervention program and one continued to take online courses through her senior year. All four went on to graduate and received a high school diploma (and were the first in their families to do so!).


10 comments

  1. I have certainly been one of those affected by the evolution of edtech. From using SMART boards in middle school, to researching Kahn Academy videos on the internet for extra help with the math homework I just couldn’t seem to understand, I saw it all. Like many, nevertheless, I do have some concerns about the trends you are referring to. I am a strong believer that in-class group work is crucial to the learning of any young student. For me, in-person social interactions with my peers growing up essentially molded my entire experience within the public education system in which I grew up. Further, I think non traditional courses such as art class and physical education are extremely important for young students, and I just don’t see how these types of classes could be improved or even taught at all through technology.

  2. dilillomelissa · · Reply

    Great post! Last summer I actually had my MBA internship at McGraw-Hill Education, one of the top 3 publishing companies. You probably recognize the name from your many textbooks throughout your educational career. While I can’t reveal their plans for the future of tech, what I can say is that they are BIG! They’ve built up my excitement so much that I cannot wait to see how my future children will be learning with what’s in store. The methods behind creating algorithms to suit each individual student will definitely play a part. Today, cheating is one of the biggest factors in students not learning. There are too many sites to copy answers from or just passing them around a friend group. These platforms being created will be interactive and push critical thinking at all levels, even for students who are initially falling behind. While I can only speak for what I’ve seen at my company, there are hundreds of other companies out there trying to push the EdTech space to the limits. It’ll be interesting to see the trends that will emerge.

  3. I think part of education, especially as you get older, is learning to problem solve and do so with others. Yes, you need to learn the nuts and bolts, abc’s, 123’s etc., but you also need to know how to work with people and how to use other people as a resource in problem solving. I know for me, a lot of what I get out of classes is insights from classmates which might not be possible if I had completed my education in a more individual environment.
    I understand how edtech offers assistance to students (I, myself, have taken advantage of many of the aforementioned technologies). However I feel that this must be used as a complement to an in person education. There are still some aspects of personal experience in education that edtech has not matched yet, but maybe that’s where they have room to grow.

  4. This is such an interesting and relevant topic. I have a few friends who are elementary school teachers, and it seems that one of the biggest struggles in a classroom, especially a classroom of low-income students, is often the different learning styles of students. Edtech offers really unique opportunities to help students learn in the way that is most effective for them, hopefully fostering a love of learning, and a desire to stay in school.

    I also volunteered in a Headstart classroom while I was an undergrad. When looking for classroom donations,any type of tech was always at the top of the list. It’s easy to forget that not every child has access to computers or iPads at home, and being comfortable with technology is almost as important as learning traditional school curriculum.

    I’m excited to see where this goes, and love that you were able to share those successes from your time in the JVC!

  5. Your outline of the evolution of education technology makes me feel so nostalgic of the days back in middle school when we used the SMART board for class exercises and the AlphaSmart for typing up our essays. I believe that technology is playing an increasingly crucial and irreversible role in our education. I’ve been so reliant on online platforms to assist me in further learning about concepts I didn’t quite understand in class, whether it be in calculus or microeconomics. I’ve even utilized the Internet to explore topics I’ve never gotten a chance to learn in school. The learning opportunities are seemingly endless. I am particularly fascinated by the idea of integrating AI to enhance our learning experiences. The video of the brain through VR is a very interactive, engaging, and almost tangible way of mastering our understandings, and I look forward to the future of AI in other educational fields as well. I do agree, however, that education technology should not take away from the interpersonal aspect of education. There is something extremely powerful about collaborating with our peers, as nothing can precisely mimic the human mind. Education technology should therefore serve as a supplement to our learning experiences, rather than a replacement.

  6. I think edtech is a very promising development for our nation’s education system, and will likely be necessary as AI and VR become integrated into our daily lives. However, I wonder how this will impact underfunded public education systems and the education gap in our country. I would hope that these technologies can be subsidized and become widely available to all communities in order to prepare students for the future of industry, but there is always the risk that these emerging technologies will widen the gap and threaten some education systems.

  7. I love this topic (I’m thinking of incorporating it into my project)!! Like so many major technological advancements, edtech opens up a world of opportunities, but can also be a little scary. I read an article recently about Google is essentially taking hostage of the American public school system by forcing a major percentage of schoolwork on to Google platforms (kids get a Google ChromeBook, have a school Google email/Drive account, and have to use GoogleClassroom, GoogleDocs, GoogleSlides, GoogleSheets, etc for all of their classwork, so that Google basically has access to everything they are working on and has the ability to shut it all down at any second). Definitely requires a thoughtful balance to create incorporation without reliance…an exciting challenge for today’s educators!

  8. First off, it is amazing thing that you did for a year helping out that’s awesome! I think that we will see a lot of adoption and growth of edtech over the next few years. I remember when my high school first got SMART boards, and participating in a class called Virtual High School which let us take classes in a wide variety of subject that a small catholic school just didn’t offer. The year after I graduated the entire school switch from paper textbooks to iPads for all students. I think that with the growing needs of customized learning and tech innovation we are bound to see distruption.

  9. I think a great area of opportunity here is using edtech to support complex or unique learning challenges to facilitate accessibility in the classroom. BC’s Campus School highlight the use of two technologies “Eagle Eyes” and “Camera Mouse” which help students access a computer and communicate using their eyes. This could vastly increase the learning experience of many students with unique classroom needs and can help unlock their learning potential in a way that might now have been possible in the past. I would hope that as this tech gets developed it becomes more financially accessible for public school systems.

  10. Awesome post! EdTech is definitely an under-appreciated application of technology that warrants more discussion than it gets. Last summer, I interned for a company who worked closely with Instructure/Canvas, and those guys are absolutely crushing it. I first started using Canvas in high school, after my (Jesuit) high school rolled out a program called “The Ignatian iPad Program” in which every student had to get an iPad (privilege alert), have all eBooks, and use Canvas regularly for tests and quizzes. It was a bizarre program and I completely disagree with how my school went about it (forcing students to get iPads), but adoption of platforms like Canvas could be really beneficial to student learning and engagement. I’ve used Canvas as both a student and a TA, and it’s a fantastic interface (thought not without its pain points) on both sides. Before Canvas we used a super funky, dated software to manage school-related stuff online, and it was awful. Canvas was a breath of fresh air and is only one of the myriad ways in which EdTech can help students and teachers.

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