The pace of digital transformation in the education sector has accelerated immeasurably over the past two years. Every stage of education, from primary to higher education as well as professional and workplace training, has undergone a shift towards online and cloud-based delivery platforms. Beyond that, the changing needs of industry and workforces have prompted a dramatic change in the relationship between adult learners and providers of further education, such as colleges and universities.
The value of the educational technology (EdTech) sector is forecast to grow to $680 million by 2027. Much of this will be due to mobile technology, cloud services and virtual reality creating new possibilities for accessible, immersive learning. From an optimistic point of view, we can celebrate the fact that the quality of education available in 2022 is less limited by where someone happens to live in the world and the time they have available to attend classes. On the other hand, we must remain aware that disparities in access to technology create another set of challenges when it comes to striving for equality of educational opportunities. With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the most important tech trends affecting education over the next 12 months:
The coronavirus pandemic forced many schools and colleges to switch to a remote learning model. However, as with many other changes, this was simply an acceleration of a trend that’s been going on for some time already. The market for online learning services and e-learning is forecast to grow by 15% annually between 2020 and 2025, reaching a value of $50 billion. E-learning offers school-age students the possibility of learning subjects and skills that are not taught locally, while for those in higher education, the benefits include allowing them to more easily fit learning around other commitments such as work or family responsibilities.
E-learning is an increasingly popular option for workplace training, too – a study by IBM into its own remote learning initiatives found that its learners had been able to absorb five times more content, at one-third of the cost to the company, resulting in a saving of $200 million.
As well as formal education and training, many more of us are now taking the opportunity to engage in recreational learning and learning driven by interests outside of our professional lives. Apps like Duolingo offer accessible language tuition, while others such as Flowkey and Simply Piano are aimed at those who want to learn to play instruments.
Lifelong learning (subscription services)
The education system in place today was developed for a different world when youngsters were expected to train for a “job for life.” Learning opportunities were restricted to those that could be delivered in venues that students could physically access, and our years of formal education would be “front-loaded” – crammed into our first 20 years. The employment landscape today is vastly different from the one our grandparents or even parents were accustomed to. The rapid pace of technological advancement means skills can quickly become outdated, and developing new competencies on an ongoing basis is a vital strategy for career and business success.
In the face of this wave of change, education providers and learners are moving towards an ongoing model of education – perhaps taking cues from the trend for subscription services in many other areas of life. Another driver is the emergence of online learning aggregators such as Coursera or Udemy, which, along with traditional degrees and multi-year courses, offer thousands of “micro-courses.” These aim to break learning down into bite-sized chunks that can be completed in a matter of weeks or months. New methods of learning like this are designed to fit in with the changing needs of businesses and employers in the 21st century and will become an increasingly popular option with learners looking for flexible ways of fitting education into their lives.
Immersive learning technology – AR and VR
Extended reality (XR) – which covers virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR), promises to create more immersive and engaging learning opportunities. This is essential in an age when it’s said that attention spans are dropping, and we’re becoming accustomed to absorbing information in ultra-fast, bite-sized, and attention-grabbing chunks. Many people reading this will probably remember learning about topics like the Roman Empire by reading history books – imagine how much more information you might have absorbed if you’d been able to wander around a digital reconstruction of ancient Rome.
XR technologies also have other advantages – for example, they can help us train in simulated environments that closely resemble reality but don’t create the risk of harm or damaging expensive equipment. This is why VR is used to train surgeons, as well as firefighters and search-and-rescue teams operating underground. Less dangerous but still potentially stressful or tricky skills can also be catered for – the VirtualSpeech app, for example, enables anyone to practice public speaking in front of a virtual audience. This means you can get a feel for delivering a speech in front of an audience and also receive real-time feedback on your tone and delivery. Similarly, Labster offers a simulated science laboratory and equipment, allowing students to get hands-on without the potential for costly mistakes. And the VR Expeditions app allows teachers to take students on virtual field trips to 360 different cities.
AI and automation in the classroom
Artificial intelligence (AI) will impact every area of human activity during 2022, and education is certainly no exception. The ongoing deployment of software powered by self-learning algorithms, capable of becoming better and better at whatever task it is assigned to, will have far-reaching consequences; as well as automating repetitive aspects of educators’ work such as grading papers, it will be used to provide more personalised forms of education or remote learning. One example is the Altitude Learning system founded by a Google engineer and part-funded by Facebook, which uses AI to suggest personalized learning pathways for school-age children. A similar concept is adaptive learning, in which the course adapts to meet learners’ needs as they progress through it. Schools in China have even implemented a system that uses facial recognition to check whether students are paying attention in class by scanning their faces with cameras equipped with computer vision algorithms.
AI-powered personal assistants similar to Amazon’s Alexa have also been deployed in schools – one device, called Merlyn, is designed to help teachers with classroom management and in presenting their lessons.
This trend links back once again to the fact that attention spans are shrinking, and there is always something competing for our time. Nano-learning describes a new EdTech concept where we can get ultra-bite-sized lessons exactly when and where we need them. Under this paradigm, it doesn’t matter if we don’t even remember what we’ve learned for more than 10 minutes because when we need to use the knowledge again, we can simply re-learn it! A good analogy is a cooking recipe – if we aren’t professional bakers, we might only bake one or two cakes a year, so there’s no need to hold the exact weights and measures of sugar and flour in our long-term memories. Applying the same principle to academic or professional subjects, brief lessons – such as those provided by the text message learning service Arist, can be absorbed over WhatsApp, Slack, or Teams. Other nano-learning platforms impart knowledge over social networks like Twitter or TikTok. Nano-learning will undoubtedly grow in popularity during 2022 as it fits with society’s need for ways of passing on knowledge and proficiency that are instantaneous, modular, and even addictive!