Stewart Watts, Vice-President EMEA, D2L, evaluates how technology has the potential to modernise the education system with a specific focus on the governments 2020 edtech strategy
Over the past decade, there have been major steps in advancing education through technology. With teachers’ increasing workloads, the need for a modern infrastructure and push for digital skills, edtech offers the educational sector a chance to explore new opportunities and create new learning experiences.
Of course, it is still in its infancy. Some technology-enabled solutions are yet to be realised and need to be refined, however, educational bodies are starting to realise the support edtech can provide for teachers and students and are close to adopting it in their future policy.
With that in mind, it was encouraging that the Department for Education (DfE) published last year its edtech strategy, promoting a positive vision for how technology can and should transform education in England.
In his speech in April 2019, then-Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds, highlighted a number of initiatives that would be introduced to achieve this. He stressed the need for educators to have consistent institutional support in the adoption and application of education technology, so as to ensure their knowledge keeps pace with developments in the edtech space. He also proposed greater collaboration between Government, industry and educational institutions to ensure that educators are getting the most suitable technology for their specific needs, and the support and training they need to use it.
Now, 10 months down the line, in a new year, a new decade and with a new Secretary of State for Education at the helm, it’s time for the government to take further action on these promises. If this is to be achieved, there are certain areas that must be addressed. This article provides an overview of what the coming year should bring, if the government, academic institutions and the edtech sector are to achieve true and meaningful change.
Digital transformation done properly
Despite recent growth and investment, edtech adoption and overall digital transformation is still at a relatively early stage. A key failing of early digital transformation projects was the assumption that a successful technology implementation was just transposing existing processes onto digital systems. In reality, it is about using the capabilities of digital services to enable new processes and strategies. Technology should ultimately complement overall teaching and learning goals. Through careful testing, it should be applied where needed and best utilised, enabling far more engaging learning experiences.
Institutions that approach digital transformation as a change management initiative will set the stage for easier transitions and more successful uptake of technology-enabled learning.
If teams are to implement a digital strategy and be engaged and fully involved in the change, any investment in technology and systems must be balanced with an investment in skills, training and staff development. Although this was outlined in the edtech strategy, it’s not solely the responsibility of government to handle. There needs to be a joint effort between vendors and educational institutions, to make use of combined expertise and experiences to craft learning models that are proven to work. This will often lead to the seamless integration of technology-enabled solutions and everyday lessons that will benefit students.
A move towards new education models
We’re increasingly seeing a drive towards outcomes-based learning, with educational institutions implementing models to help them deliver more rewarding learning experiences and better results. Further promoting this progression needs to be a key area of focus.
Innovation, both from a technology and pedagogical standpoint will not only change course delivery methods, but also the very role of the teacher or tutor. The ‘what’ of learning can be supplemented and even supplanted by thinking more critically about ‘how’ students learn.
In this new way of teaching, knowledge acquisition is only the starting point – it no longer forms the bulk of classroom time. Instead, demonstration of mastery is front and centre, and emphasis is placed on active learning and on students shaping their learning experiences.
The role of technology here is primarily as an enabler of information sharing and collaboration between students. Modern learning platforms can present students with information in a range of formats and from multiple devices and can be used as a hub for students to collaborate virtually with tutors and fellow students alike.
In this new model, students will build familiarity with topics outside the classroom, perhaps by reviewing videos and other content shared digitally and working through interactive content online. Collaborative time, both virtual and face to face, will be spent applying learning through informed problem-solving, discussion and debate.
If all educational institutions can embrace the new learning models that digital can enable, increased engagement of students will be a prime marker of success.
Equipping students for the world of work
Much of the talk in enterprise learning and development (L&D) circles is of the changing skills needs within business. In this global Fourth Industrial Revolution, artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, and genetics research are accelerating the transformation of industries. As automation increasingly phases out the need for humans to complete routine, repetitive tasks, soft skills such as empathy, persuasion and leadership will be increasingly desirable and of high value over the next 10 years. As L&D professionals explore how best to reskill existing employees to meet these challenges, it’s up to the education sector to ensure that those students making their way through the system are equipped with the capacity to build on these desirable soft skills.
Work-integrated learning, which includes apprenticeships and internships, combine formal education with a work or practice opportunity to help achieve this and should be a keen focus for universities in particular. To achieve this, universities will need to build systems and processes that not only promote continuously, ‘on-the-go’ learning but also fully-support the development of soft skills.
Given the headway other sectors have made in their digital transformation journeys, the education sector has some ground to make up, but plenty of room for progress. Overall success will be measured by these three pillars – forward-thinking learning programmes that prepare students for the world of work, establishing new, proven learning models that provide a blended learning experience, and including digital transformation within their overall change management initiative or educational strategy. Whilst the government’s edtech strategy is now in motion, it will require input from educational institutions and edtech vendors for it to truly flourish. It’s early days, but if this collaboration can work from the offset, we should see some exciting changes in education in the years to come.
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