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Edtech: What can we expect?

For the last 5 years there has been a lot going on in the education sector and more largely in the learning field. We are talking about MOOC, flip classroom, peer-to-peer… and others; it is also about adaptive learning, cognitive science, blended-learning and mobile learning; and let’s not forget all the marketplaces of content and services. Investments of $2,4 billion in 2014 and $6.5 billion in 2015 confirm these trends, that includes acquisitions like Lynda by Linkedin for example.

Improve the learning outcomes

Everytime I hear, read or know about a new startup I classify them into 3 categories: evolution, innovation and revolution. And when I look into the Edtech ecosystem this categorization makes even more sense as we are not seeking just to make more money, but looking for a better way to learn. Pearson goes in that sense with its “Efficacy Framework – A Practical Approach To Improving Learner Outcomes”.

What is the evolution in the Edtech market?

We can put in this category a lot of what we think are innovations while they are just an evolution of procedures and habits. Is Wikipedia an evolution? Yes it is. Is it an innovation? Well, not particularly, it’s a change from paper encyclopedias controlled by some to a common on-line encyclopedia where everyone can participate; and the impacts on the learning outcomes don’t change significantly. I put in this category all the business models and habits disruption solutions that have no real learning disruption like on-line mentoring websites, some of the serious games, free websites financed with advertising or even MOOC. They just change the habits or business models, not the learning outcomes.

Edtech and innovation or Edtech vs. innovation

The definition of innovation by Wikipedia is “a new idea, more effective device or process. Innovation can be viewed as the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs, or existing market needs”. And in opposition to the “evolution”, they have positive learning outcomes. As pointed by the OECD in the publication “Measuring Innovation in Education: A New Perspective” (Educational Research and Innovation, OECD 2014):

“why innovation in education matters? … educational innovation can improve learning outcomes and the quality of education provision. For example, changes in the educational system or in pedagogies can help customize the educational process”.

So from here, the innovation in Edtech is not only innovation in the technology used but also the pedagogical innovation on which it is based. In this category we can include, among others: adaptive and personalized learning, interactive video, augmented reality, animated/interactive avatars… All of them are based on the power of new technologies combined with cognitive science, pedagogy, etc.

So, when is the revolution arriving?

The real revolution in Edtech will still have to wait, even if there is already research going on. Why? The Edtech revolution will be a reality the day when we will learn something new by taking a pill, storing all the memories in an implanted hard drive or improving intellect with gene doping. These imply big technological challenges and, not less important, open ethical dilemmas. Will this technology let someone take control of what we learn? While waiting for this technological revolution, the ethical debate has to start.

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