A version of this post was originally published in Education Technology, on April 14, 2021.
Covid-19 has given a boost to edtech and digital learning, and I believe this will last well beyond the pandemic. Maybe some educators will go back to business as usual, but many more will embrace edtech and a hybrid education model as part of a long-term strategy.
The shift to virtual learning environments has only brought to light what I’ve known for years as an edtech company founder: schools must adapt to digital learning to meet student needs. There’s no going back to “normal,” as the new normal requires at least a hybrid teaching style in which online lessons and courses are held to the same standards as traditional ones.
Besides the actual learning experience of students, there are aspects that affect more educational community stakeholders. In this article, I’ll explore a few trends that currently shape the digital learning landscape.
1. Hybrid learning
Hybrid learning (or blended learning) is a mixture of face-to-face and online instruction, in which students have a higher degree of ownership over the learning process. It goes hand-in-hand with edtech, as it’s easy to access learning resources, share them, and collaborate with peers, even at a distance.
Blended learning has been a staple for many years in schools and universities worldwide, so it’s nothing new, but many more educational institutions might follow suit, especially those that cater to more mature, self-directed students. If lessons can be taught virtually and students can go through them at their own pace, the face-to-face interaction will focus more on clarifying issues, exploring new ideas and will generally be of higher quality. And that is something that should be a part of the new “normal.”
Read more: How to get started with hybrid teaching
2. Asynchronous lessons
I believe everyone will be more comfortable with asynchronous teaching and learning after the pandemic will be over. The movement restrictions imposed by governments worldwide to contain the virus have made it clear for many people that learning doesn't have to be place-based; learning can happen outside of the classroom walls, free of time constraints.
Asynchronous learning puts the student in the driver's seat because it's self-paced and empowers student agency during the learning process. Once teachers get used to designing and delivering asynchronous instruction — once they master this shift — they'll find that it's an incredibly enlightening experience, saving them time and helping them to become better educators, long after the global health threat will have disappeared.
Read more: Adopting the asynchronous mindset for better online learning
Automation can be used to help educators save time, as it replaces quite a lot of manual work. Using automation, teachers can create online learning experiences that are more personalized and more dynamic. Automation can be as complex as you make it, but it all boils down to a simple if-then statement: if a specific condition is met, then an action is triggered.
Automation allows teachers to hide or show lessons based on each student’s progress and monitor their engagement with any online learning activity. This will help pinpoint exactly where a student struggles or if a learning module is not clear enough. However, automated recommendations that students receive based on the rules set by instructors are probably the most powerful. They take personalization to the next level.
Learning platforms have been developing automation features for some time now, but the shift to remote and hybrid learning has increased the demand.
NEO Guide: The beginner’s guide to online teaching automation: How automation saves time and reduces teacher workload
4. A focus on parents
Another thing that has gained momentum during this pandemic, and will continue to be visible after it, is the focus on parents. With school lockdowns, parents had to take on the role of home school teachers, and many of them were even less prepared than educators to keep their children on track from an academic perspective.
Systems that facilitate communication between teachers, students, and parents were needed before, but I think they will become even more crucial moving forward. What's more, these systems will have to be more inclusive, especially in terms of the languages they support. If parents become an important pillar of online education, systems have to be accessed in their native language, whether English or not.
Luckily, there are school learning management systems that already have parent accounts and that also support multiple languages.
Read more: Best practices for supporting parents with remote learning
5. Increased investment in edtech
Although I’m mentioning this last, edtech investment is by no means less important. Money makes the world go round, after all, and the education world makes no exception. Investment in edtech was relatively low pre-pandemic, as it hadn't caught the imagination like health tech or fintech yet. However, I think we’re just at the beginning of a boom in this area.
Compared to finance, for example, the education sector has always been a step behind and is still rooted in the same paradigms. Schools need more funding to close the digital gap, which has only widened lately, especially for the most vulnerable. Both private and government entities seem to turn their attention to this issue.
As a former senior lecturer, I know the importance of creating edtech that is not only accessible but effective, enhancing the teaching and learning process. Any edtech that proves it can solve a real problem in the virtual learning environment is bound to attract more investors. That is simply because many investors are themselves parents, and the pandemic has inevitably made them more attuned to online learning solutions.
The pandemic will not last forever, but the changes it has caused might be here to stay. The online learning environment will probably never replace the traditional classroom, but it can complement it to benefit everyone. I believe the integration of edtech in education will be further accelerated, even after the crisis will be over, and digital learning will eventually be perceived as an integral component of education.