There is a lot of talk about the COVID-19 pandemic as a shift in socio-economic structures, but we at Learnlife see that the pandemic has also been a catalyst for change; accelerating the build of things that were already underway, and exposing the rusting structures of the things that were on their way out. But even still, the pace of change has been dizzying.
Edtech is booming, but it didn’t come out of nowhere. The H1N1 pandemic drove the growth of edtech in Mexico in 2009, as SARS did in China in 2003, setting the pattern for change.
The COVID-19 pandemic went much further, not only because it is global and enduring, but it also comes at a time when the archaic model of standardized education at all levels is more ripe for change and ready to be replaced by a new lifelong and personal learning paradigm. Edtech has finally managed to win the argument that its place in learning is not a fad, but a fait accompli. The perfect storm.
Increasing access to technology, borderless distribution models, personalized products that can flex to demand and iterate on an infinite scale; Edtech is in a good place. While it is no secret that growth of the edtech market is almost anti-newtonian in its momentum, its spread across K-12, higher education and further (professional) education is relatively evenly distributed; meaning huge opportunities for diversification.
That the global edtech market grew 22% in Q1 of 2020 is no surprise, but with a buoyant 19.9% CAGR forecast through 2027, that growth is here to stay. It is no wonder that investors across the board are turning increasingly to new learning innovation.
Until now, those of us who were focused on highly flexible learning platforms, home-based learning and personal learning supported by tech innovation were considered outliers. Now, the tide has turned and those of us with edtech know-how from the viewpoint of educators are suddenly more in demand than ever before.
There are 3 main reasons why learntech is booming right now, but these are all part of a wider context of change. There is no going back now, and here’s why.
Reason 1: Edtech is going mainstream, national and big-budget
The seismic shock of 2020 meant that even the most tech-averse educators in standardized schools had to accept that what they did in the classroom did not translate to remote learning. Japan pushed its 5-year tech programme forward into one single year, and demand for mobile learning devices outstripped supply as education providers strove to close the digital access divide.
Technology has stepped in, and stepped up. From Learning Management Systems to help learners connect and engage from home, to a whole range of learner support apps doing more of the heavy lifting in learning design, edtech finally went truly mainstream in 2020.
Costa Rica invested in a digital toolkit to help teachers engage with learners and track progress, while Uruguay developed a national digital platform for all learners, which plugs into any number of privately developed learning apps to offer flexibility and innovation.
New edtech companies are added to the listings in sub-saharan Africa every single week. Everywhere you look, public money and private firms are partnering; even legitimized by supranational bodies such as UNESCO. Triumvirate efforts in the name of improving quality and access to learning, and everyone benefits.
Reason 2: Educators are on board
No, not all of them. Some educators still dust the chalk from their elbow patches and see the devil in the digital. The rest, however, generally agree that edtech has a place in the learning space and the home, and that was happening even before the pandemic.
The pandemic showed edtech not as an add-on, but a central component in learning. Mainstream teachers became less worried about technology reducing their role to mere sideliners, and began to see that learning guides were actually what children needed if they were to find their true direction in life.
Instead of trying to control every inch of the learning experience, technology helped educators to transfer agency, and empower learners to self direct through technology pathways that gave them self responsibility and self determination in the whole process.
When you win the trust of educators, the hard yards are behind you. We are at the end of the Gartner Hype Cycle and the benefits of wholesale learntech adoption are clear to everyone except those stuck in the past.
Reason 3: Tech innovation and learning innovation are finding symbiosis
The future is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. The entrepreneurial readers of EU-Startups don’t need to be told that, but governments do. The pandemic finally showed politicians that education needs a complete revamp, to prepare learners to forge their own paths with adaptability, creativity and purpose. A traditional classroom does not naturally foster that.
It showed parents, too. That nagging sense that something ain’t right in the one-size-fits-all standardized model of education became a visceral understanding that things had to change. Parents began to look for alternatives, and the innovative and adaptive learning environments suddenly found themselves front and centre in the discussion, leading the way towards change.
At every step in this process, edtech proved itself. Providing opportunities to stay connected, learn, reflect, share, investigate, grow, direct… the list goes on. At the same time, it is important that we balance our digital learning with nature-based, real-life and analog learning experiences. We need to be cautious that we do not tip from a non-tech education system into a digital device addiction. Innovation always finds its outlet. Like the sapling that finds the crack in the concrete, there comes a point where suddenly, there is nothing but sunlight and open air.