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Top trends in educational technology

Martin McKay, Chief Technology Officer of Texthelp Ltd, highlights 7 worldwide trends in educational technology coming soon to a school, college or university near you…

7 worldwide trends in educational technology coming soon to a school
7 worldwide trends in educational technology coming soon to a school

1. The freemium business model is here to stay

The dynamics of purchasing in the education sector are set to change with the mass adoption of Freemium, a business model in which suppliers of digital content give learners something that is genuinely useful that they can use every day for free. Sales are secured at a later date when that supplier approaches users, who psychologically have already started to think as customers, with premium ‘value add’ offerings that can be purchased for a fee.

A well known example is 29-yearold Brian De

Chesare, former investment banker and founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street (educational websites aimed at students and entry-level professionals keen to pursue careers in banking and money management). DeChesare built a profitable, seven-figure revenue business with 20,000 customers in less than four years by offering free content, including newsletters, expert interviews and case studies, along with paid, interactive video courses on everything from financial modelling to job interviewing.

This model has worked for Texthelp, too. Over a seven month period from Sept 2013 to May 2014, we grew our worldwide customer base for literacy support software Read&Write for Google to 450,000 users – loyal clientele who are now actively purchasing our premium value add-ons. Read&Write for Google provides support when working with documents (Google Docs, PDFs and ePubs) within Google Drive in Chrome on PCs, Macs and Chromebooks.

Users benefit from access to powerful support features, such as word prediction and fact finder.The freemium sales model is here to stay and set to feature more and more in the education sector.

2. BYOAD – Bring Your Own ‘Approved’ Device

BYOD, the practice of allowing learners to use their own computers, smartphones or other devices for educational purposes, is here to stay as schools and colleges nationwide try to make the most of their small educational budgets by capitalising on consumer investment in technology.

But BYOD as a concept presents IT departments with some significant challenges in terms of security, network management and controlling exactly what a user does when in class. At Texthelp, we have seen many schools and colleges nationwide adopt a slightly revised policy – BYOAD, bring your own ‘approved’ device – such as a Chromebook, Nexus Android tablet or iPad. Often, the purchase price of the device is subsidised by the school.

3. Plummeting hardware costs – and why UK schools will be slow to benefit

Hardware costs are set to plummet.

According to the analyst Gartner, Chromebook sales will reach 14.4 million units by 2017, nearly tripling the current market size. Part of the reason for that growth is the slowing of the PC market.

The Gartner report, Quantifying the economic value of Chromebooks for K-12 Education, reveals that US schools that purchased Chromebooks reduced the perdevice cost of ownership by $590 over three years compared with alternative devices. This benefit was seen before new Chromebook pricing was introduced in May 2012, which dropped monthly per-device costs for hardware/software from $20.75 to $13.30 and boosted the three-year cost of ownership savings to $935.

So why are schools in the UK so slow to benefit from similar economies of scale?

Because major nationwide investment in WiFi is required to utilise devices such as Chromebooks, which are designed to be used primarily while connected to the Internet, with most applications and data residing in the cloud.

Now is the time to equip our students with cheap devices and let them break free and learn.

4. Educational analytics and payment by results

Learning analytics is already a big trend impacting schools, colleges and universities. One interesting opportunity that detailed learning analytics creates is payment by results.

Imagine an educational publisher who has the confidence in their product to say “If your students spend 1 hour per week using our courseware and we cannot demonstrate a learning improvement, you will not have to pay for the software”. The Online Courseware can track a student’s time on task and their demonstrated learning improvement. It is good for publishers, teachers and students.

The learning improvement could be showing mastery of a skill, a demonstration of gained knowledge, an improvement in grammar or sentence length, comprehension etc. Analytics also allows large scale studies of the effectiveness of learning interventions. e.g. do students who use a writing intervention improve their writing faster than students who do not?

What does this mean for schools?

Schools can have confidence in investing in the courseware because the publisher can demonstrate the learning improvement, and is prepared to guarantee it if the school commits to using it properly.

5. The flipped classroom

The flipped classroom – a pedagogical model in which the typical lecture and homework elements of a course are reversed and short video lectures are viewed by students at home before the class session, while in-class time is devoted to exercises, projects or discussions – will continue to grow in education in the next 3-5 years.

One of the greatest benefits of ‘flipping’ is that levels of interaction between teacher and student and student and student increase dramatically. The teacher is no longer the ‘sage on the stage’ presenting content to students; instead, they spend their time talking with students, answering questions, working with small groups and guiding the learning of each learner individually.

More than one in five children in the US (22%) don’t speak English at home, so their parents are unable to support them educationally. Send a child home with a computer and get them to consume content in video and they can return to school and solve problems by doing homework in the classroom.

6. Invest in educational technology or plummet down the PISA rankings Why is the UK plummeting down the PISA rankings?

Because we are living in the dark ages – as a country we lack the ‘big picture’ thinking about technology formerly provided by government agencies, such as BECTA, so that our next generation of learners are entering the knowledge economy ill equipped to compete with students from emerging countries such as South Korea.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the recent PISA rankings where emerging countries, such as South Korea and Singapore, are rocketing up the league tables as a result of major investment in new technology and infrastructure that has enabled school children nationwide to access cloud-based educational resources from low cost hardware devices such as Chromebooks.

What do we need to do in the UK? To maintain and improve our position in the PISA rankings it’s imperative that major investment be made in WiFi and connectivity in schools, similar to JANET in the higher education sector. This will enable all learners to access the wealth of first class educational content that exists on the cloud, anytime, anywhere.

Lack of investment in technology is inhibiting our progress as a nation. In the Victorian era, Britain led the world in science and engineering – in technology we are lagging behind. We need to get our next generation of workers curious about IT, programming and robotics and instil unstoppable passion to get them firmly hooked at an early age.

7. Universal Design for Learning

The US is embracing Universal Design for Learning (UDL), an educational framework based on research in the learning sciences, including cognitive neuroscience, that guides the development of flexible learning environments that can accommodate individual learning differences.

In the UK, architects are not allowed to design a public building without wheelchair access or braille on the lift buttons, so why are we as a nation so slow to embrace Universal Design in educational software development?

I believe it is a question of economies of scale. In the US, state-wide purchasing of content is making it cost-effective for major publishers, such as Pearson, to incorporate important features that provide access for all students – e.g. those who have English as a second language and literacy difficulties.

What do we need to do in the UK? Introduce purchasing frameworks that demand that all developers embrace Universal Design for Learning.

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