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Technology and education – how digital products change our approach to learning

Technology and education - how digital products change our approach to learning

As far as the investment in education technology in Europe is concerned, 2020 was a record year. According to a report by Brighteye Ventures, the investments reached $41 billion.

This marks a tenfold increase compared to 2014. If you want to learn, you can do it without leaving your home. All you need is the will, time, and self-discipline.

And it just so happens that technology can help you in each of these areas. A digital product can be perfectly tailored to users’ needs and time constraints. Finally, it can maintain discipline and motivate learners by reminding them of the tasks they’ve committed to.

Moreover, business wise, it is unlikely that there will be a better time to start an adventure with the EduTech industry. The currently noted trends are unequivocally upward.

edutech - dane

If you want to monetize your knowledge, sit back and read this analysis of trends in education technology. Be warned, this is not an easy bedtime read.

My goal is for you to grasp the changes taking place in the marketplace, and understand their causes and potential effects. This is not a ready-made step-by-step guide as I don’t believe in shortcuts in business. This text is meant to help you succeed but, unfortunately, it will require some work.

Trends on the education market

The above is reflected by the trends we are observing in the education market, especially in the context of digital products. Let’s discuss the most significant ones:

1. Connectedness, collaboration and co-creation

“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” – is this a tip by some new e-learning expert? Of course not. This is a quote by Confucius who lived about 2,500 years ago.

Apparently, there are things mankind simply needs to mature for. We are finally beginning to understand that the painstaking task of cramming in the multiplication tables or declension endings is not likely to serve its purpose.

The concepts of “connectedness, collaboration and co-creation” have also evolved. Although the assumptions underpinning this trend were developed nearly 10 years ago, it is the modern technology that allowed for their complete application.

Antonio Navarro-Garcia, Value Co-creation, Collaborative Learning and Competences in Higher Education, Universidad de Sevilla, 2015.

The point is to make the knowledge transfer process more interactive, more practical, and more “real-life” so that it can be visualized and bring a lasting effect. It is not only about gaining general knowledge, but also about understanding the essence of the problems through collaboration and engagement.

This is how modern programming schools operate. When signing up for a programming course at Coders Lab, the students know they are going to create their own portfolio within the framework of the course. The portfolio is not just a record of acquired knowledge, it is also an asset that can be used when entering the job market with newly acquired skills.

The community of students offers the opportunity to test one’s work against the experience and impressions of others, which increases motivation and encourages further development.

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    Anywhere, anytime learning

    Let’s put the facts together: the fast pace of modern life, the desire to increase self-efficiency, and unlimited access to the Internet. What does it add up to? A situation like “I have two minutes on a bus/in an elevator/in a waiting room – it would be great to use that time to learn something!“.

    Developers of digital products are doing their best to make it possible for us. From the careful division of material into modules that allow for quick entry and exit from a lesson containing a properly designed portion of knowledge (e.g. bookmarks in a video, remembering where a student left off), to more advanced solutions such as real-time matching of a teacher and a student (as in the Tutlo language learning platform, where learners do not need fixed schedules – on the contrary, they learn when they have time).

    Customization

    As I am sure you know – we love lean. We aim to take an agile approach not only in our professional lives but also in private matters. Therefore, the customization of the knowledge acquisition process arouses our enthusiasm.

    The traditional model of education is based on the “waterfall” process, where we know in advance that (to use an example from elementary school) after learning the structure of Paramecium caudatum, you will move on to amphibians, reptiles, and mammals – even though this knowledge might never come in handy.

    It is of little importance that right on the first lesson a teacher might realize that in the case of some particular student a lesson on e.g. hamster breeding would be of much greater value. What is important is the approved curriculum. There is no room for an agile approach. There is no possibility of customization here.

    Fortunately, in digital products, we can tailor the scope of material (and many other details like the format and order of presented information) to the needs of a student. We just need to take advantage of this possibility! For instance, Duolingo, a popular language learning application, adapts the curriculum to the way the user interacts with the application. A similar thing happens in a semi-digital form, e.g. in the case of programming courses for children.

    Robert Freund, Maciej Piotrowski, Mass customization and personalization in adult education and training

    Video-based learning

    The trend of video-based education is part of a broader trend related to a more conscious choice of the content format. However, since we live in “visual” times and screens accompany us practically from birth, video is often an obvious choice due to its versatility, flexibility, and ability to combine stimuli received by almost all human senses (apart from the smell, at least for the time being).

    STEAM

    STEAM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics and is part of an increasingly popular trend of generalism (as opposed to the pursuit of narrow specializations). In the context of EduTech, STEAM can be reduced to a project-based approach rather than a subject-based approach. That is: you don’t learn chemistry, biology, or physics. You learn how the world works, discover connections between phenomena, and examine them from different perspectives.

    In the business context, it’s easy to notice that instead of ” teaching programming”, teachers or entire schools offer ” teaching how to create applications”. After all, in addition to programming, the course also covers graphic and user experience design, and forces the developer to make strategic business decisions. Everything is relevant and the focus on coding without understanding all additional aspects will always work against the project.

    As early as 2006, it was argued that narrow specializations kill creativity and deprive us of innovative thinking. Currently, such claims are gaining strength.

    Educational digital products – what should you pay attention to?

    Remote learning is no longer just a “curiosity” – it’s a necessity

    In 2018, no one in their right mind would have risked a contention that learning would move overnight from school buildings to the comfort of students’ homes with the Internet as a link. In the case of commercial courses, it was similar – as a rule, onsite trainings were several times more expensive than their digital cousins (even though, as practitioners note, online courses usually include far more knowledge, examples, and exercises).

    And then came the pandemic. Humanity has shown that nothing is impossible when it comes to adapting to new conditions. Especially when it involves the areas people care about.

    Apparently, education is something we do care about.

    At present, the vast majority of formal education is delivered remotely. Although it has its drawbacks, although it required people to change their habits, although it carries certain risks, it works and reveals its advantages.

    statista.com

    People associated with non-formal education have been aware of those advantages for a long time. They are the practitioners who sell their knowledge in the form of online courses, consultations, paid newsletters (and other forms of monetizing know-how). You can read more about it here). We have been observing the growing popularity of the so-called MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) for some time now – e.g. Khan Academy or Udemy. The pandemic, or the changes it has triggered, accelerated the process and proved that the creators of online courses were simply right.

    Education isn’t just for kids – education is an ongoing process

    The times when people practiced their “learned professions” until retirement and ceased to acquire new knowledge once they received their diplomas are gone forever.

    Source: Our World in Data

    Changing perception of knowledge (and its value)

    R. J. Kidd distinguishes three dimensions of learning:

    • vertical education (i.e. formal education)
    • horizontal education (i.e. development of interests through individual activities and learning about different areas of life, science, and culture regardless of vertical education)
    • deep education (i.e. self-education, intellectual interests, “smart” use of leisure time on education).

    Research by the Ministry of Labor (source) shows that the latter two are gaining importance in Poland.

    For example, in many jobs, employers expect a portfolio or a documented success record (source) instead of formal education. In the case of colleges and universities, curricula are often criticized for feeding outdated information or being impractical.

    Changing image of teachers

    As early as the mid-1970s, researchers noted that students mirror their teachers’ personalities and so do the results of his/her education and teaching” (J. Štefanovič, Psychológia pre učitel’ov).

    It has been a while since that statement was made. We now know that we are facing an unprecedented collapse of authority.

    Changing teaching process

    This point is a real “Pandora’s box” that contains some inspiring phenomena. However, before we discuss them, let us consider the reason why we are looking for new ways of acquiring knowledge? Why do we start rejecting techniques, such as “leaning by hard”, that has been practiced for centuries and mastered to perfection?

    Although extensive studies are being conducted at universities, from a business point of view, it is particularly important to consider:

    • The shift in the way we use knowledge

    In recent years, our brains have had to switch from the mode of “collecting” information to the mode of analyzing it. According to the most up-to-date estimates, the average 21st century human experiences more stimuli in less than a day than our predecessors 1000 years ago (and 1000 years in the evolutionary cycle is like the blink of an eye!).

    No wonder we don’t even try to remember everything anymore. Our brains defend themselves with, for example, “banner blindness” – we stop paying attention to advertisements. We are forced to filter the data we receive in real time. We are also accustomed to reaching for our smartphones and quickly look things up whenever we discover we don’t know something.

    1000 years ago people did not have such possibilities. Every piece of information or knowledge they obtained was precious.

    • The change in the “life cycle” of knowledge

    In his book “Sapiens”, Harari argues that if a peasant who lived in the 10th century had traveled in time 800 years forward, he probably would not have noticed much difference. At least, not in the rural areas.

    Now, let’s consider our grandparents or parents. How many of them have already lost track of the changes that took place during their lifetime? How many of them update their knowledge and have the urge for further education?

    “Knowledge Management in Consulting Activities” Brigitte Stroetmann


    This shows how quickly knowledge becomes obsolete. We have to keep up to date. The implication is that we have to learn quickly and just as quickly… forget things that are no longer relevant

    What does it mean to live in the information age and… how to cash in on it?

    Our most important currency is knowledge, skills, and experience. It is said that a contemporary individual needs to change industries about 8 times in their lifetime.

    The quality of life is also important. Let’s set the practical aspect aside and forget about the qualifications required to get a better-paid job. Let’s think about self-fulfillment and satisfaction with one’s achievements. Maslow argued that the need for self-actualization is one of the basic human needs. It is indeed the very tip of the pyramid, but in times of record-low crime and the moderate threat of famine, it is natural to want for more. Learning is a natural growth choice for many of us.

    A. Maslow “A theory of Human Motivation” in Psychological Review, 1943

    Finally, let’s reach for the so-called general argument. Platon wrote in “The Republic” about the land ruled by wise men who pursued knowledge relentlessly. I’m far from saying that his vision is likely to come true anytime soon, but current trends in education seem promising. Smart individuals make for a smart society. A society that can engage in a civilized debate and exchange opinions. A society that is not afraid to look at problems from different perspectives.

    Education and technology – the perfect business match

    Let me ask you a question – how are you reading this text? On your computer screen? On your smartphone? How long did it take you to enter the blog or find this article in a browser? How difficult would it be for you to copy a particularly interesting passage or forward the article to a friend of yours to discuss some controversial thesis (via a chat or during a quick video conference)?

    You know what I’m getting at. Technology and its benefits.

    As cliché as it sounds, I want you to understand its importance in your everyday life. Think about how it affects the way you live, work, spend your leisure time, and last but not least…how you learn.

    A brief history of education

    Matt Church has traced the history of education and how humanity has approached it over the past centuries. If you look at the figure below, you’ll discover that technology was the catalyst for each of the changes described here.

    Not only does it change our capabilities (e.g., the printing press allowed for faster copying of books, the Internet revolutionized the access to knowledge), but it also influences social issues and worldviews. Therefore, living in times dominated by Education 3.0, we learn primarily for ourselves and we are aware of the gains resulting from education. You don’t do it for the state (even if you are a patriot), you don’t do it for God or gods (even if you are a person of faith). This is particularly evident in the individualistic societies of the West, but can also be observed in the collective countries of the East. It is a global change with consequences also in the legal system.

    źródło: emergingedtech.com/

    The democratization of technology is one of the drivers behind this shift. At present, 3.6 billion people in the world have smartphones. About 5 billion people are connected to the Internet, and the Internet itself counts 1,197,982,359 web pages. (Source, source).

    Source: Matt Church

    Not surprisingly, the fruit of the science and technology “romance” is business.

    More specifically – the EduTech industry. It is growing at a phenomenal pace, fits in with all possible trends, and adapts to the ongoing consumer changes.

    Information is everywhere, knowledge is scarce – the principle of deficit and surplus in business

    Question: how does common access to knowledge relate to the possibility of monetizing it? Isn’t this an attempt to monetize something that is lying on the street anyway?

    The short answer is NO.

    The amount of available data is the Internet’s biggest advantage and disadvantage at the same time. True, information is everywhere. But real knowledge? The knowledge that is worth spending time to acquire? The knowledge you can rely on? That’s a whole other story.

    As researchers point out (source), an excess of information is as harmful and dangerous as a complete lack of information. Therefore, the adequate analysis of educational content and the right way to deliver it is a value that consumers are willing to pay for.

    Note that knowledge has become a commodity and is subject to standard market forces. This means that when creating educational processes and products – especially digital ones – you need to look for your market differentiators, build a competitive advantage and work on innovative business and marketing strategies, which will ultimately have a positive impact on the quality of the services you offer.

    The consequence of this state of affairs is the changes and trends that should be taken under consideration by anyone planning to monetize their knowledge in the form of, for instance, an online course, paid newsletter, or advanced educational platform.

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