As we outlined in one of our earlier articles Emerging EdTech Trends, the sector is experiencing robust growth. The growth trends are due to the anticipation that future education will employ online education to an increasingly greater extent. Hopefully, it won’t replace the in-person tutoring, at least for the younger children. But even then, online learning will be a crucial element of all education and skill acquisition efforts across the board.
The Initial Avatar
In its initial period, online education democratized education. It enabled people to learn what they wanted; at a comfortable pace for them. It also slowly transcended geographical boundaries. This reach without any constraints proved to be beneficial for people in those areas where the availability of teachers was a problem. It also proved to be useful in the business environment, where the pace of evolution has necessitated continuous learning.
What it lacked?
While the benefits of the reach offered by online education were valuable, it still didn’t solve the most crucial grouse we have with the education system. The initial incarnation of the online training also took a one size fits all approach. The technology offered the reach, but it still was a one-way street. The students have to learn the content that the educators offered, in the format that they provided. The feedback was also uniform for everyone who adopted online learning. What it lacked was personalization.
What drives enthusiasm?
There already are attempts at personalization, like recommending related or next courses and learning material based on choices so far, or identification of weak areas because of the test performances. However, these were far less effective to make a difference. The technology didn’t support the kind of analysis needed to make significant personalization analysis decisions. Advents in Artificial Intelligence (AI) enables data analysis in newer and meaningful ways. These possibilities are driving the enthusiasm for EdTech right now. Covid19 fast-tracked the adoption to a certain extent, but the trends were already there.
But what is personalization?
When it comes to education, there are five variables-content, format, pace, time, and feedback, which are crucial. We will look at each of these aspects in details below.
While content will ultimately be uniform, how it is presented and explained becomes paramount. The same material can be presented differently. It can also be divided into multiple smaller segments or can be combined. Personalization on the content front entails that every learner should be able to find the content presented in a way they can engage with and understand better.
Some learners prefer text, but many would respond better to visual delivery. Some might even prefer audio as a medium of reinforcement of the learning. Identifying and making the content available in the preferred format is the next step of personalization.
The pace is perhaps the most apparent form of personalization. As such, even with current online learning material, students can control the speed of their learning. So, we don’t need to go into any more details.
Control over when we learn is also available to a great extent with current offerings. But it is controlled by the learner. The technology evolution allows the educators and service providers to adopt a proactive approach, where the system identifies the best times when the learning is most effective, and prompt the learner to adhere to those times.
Feedback is the most important and most challenging aspect of personalization to achieve. The feedback right now, in most cases, is limited only to the test score. In most online learning management systems, the score is the result of an objective test. MOOC platforms like Coursera provides options of peer evaluation for some courses. But that is subjective feedback.
The Real Differentiator
The feedback is going to be the real differentiator when it comes to the EdTech solutions of tomorrow. Because feedback is not just limited to the performance based on the lessons you have learned. This feedback is crucial for defining how learning should continue forward. This decision for future direction includes what content should be made available to the learners, what format is best and whether the pace should be adjusted (slower or faster). Such feedback may not be explicit but is used to improve future learning proactively.
Another Critical Capability
While personalization is the critical capability, Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are increasingly bringing advanced capabilities to online learning. The immersive nature of the content delivered through AR /VR tools is helping learners grasp difficult subjects quickly and effectively. AR/VR technologies are going to be an integral part of the learning moving forward.
The Role of ML & AI
The feedback system that we discussed above can be put in place by rightly implementing the technology to capture the right data continuously. While Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) do provide enormous capabilities, businesses can get started without them in small steps. They can then gradually introduce such advance capabilities in short, iterative steps. As the models learn more with increasing data points, the systems will be able to provide immensely greater engagement and value for the learners through personalization.
There are exciting innovations educators and technologists around the world are working on that will make online learning more effective, easy, and efficient. As we continue our close association with EdTech companies around the world as their technology partners, we will continue to bring you more insights. Do get in touch if you wish to discuss your specific EdTech use case in details.