2020 saw record investment in the EdTech sector, with around $2.2bn invested in US EdTech, venture capital investment in Indian EdTech growing to a similar level (with huge player Byju now investing in bricks-and-mortar education), and both being outstripped five-fold by investment into China. The sector is still tipped for growth despite fresh records being set – many still see the potential for education to be revolutionised by technology.
Another tech ‘revolution’?
The idea of a ‘technology revolution’ raises a few eyebrows among those of us who have been in the education industry a while. After all, buzz about machine learning, artificial intelligence or augmented reality doesn’t sound markedly different from previous ‘revolutions’ in technology. Previous innovations (for example, interactive whiteboards, VLE) have tended either to transform individual aspects (rather than the whole system) of education, or have struggled to have a measurable long-term impact in terms of learning outcomes or productivity gains.
There are many theories about how technology could or should be part of a generational shift in our approach to education, but for many, the pandemic is proving that technology is no replacement for the social aspects of education that are so well delivered face to face.
Evidence around the impact of technology in education will no doubt increase dramatically over the next few years as previously unfeasible studies will be carried out into large-scale use. For the moment, most studies either find overall positive outcomes without providing analysis of how best to use it (for example the EEF toolkit), or restrict its use to certain subject areas or specific purposes (NBER evidence review). Either way, there is often the disclaimer that technology is unlikely to be an effective substitute for face to face teaching, and is only effective in a hybrid learning situation.
If EdTech is effective, and if that effectiveness is maximised in a hybrid learning situation, then we should be developing an education system based on hybrid delivery, rather than try to add tech to a system designed for in-person teaching and learning.
Navigating EdTech investment
So, how can someone looking to invest time and money – whether they’re an educationalist, an investor or an entrepreneur – navigate this territory? Working with partners across investment and education has allowed us insight into both these domains.
My tips and reading recommendations:
- Impact evidence from the classroom is building fast, so continually review and refine your understanding.
- Read NBER’s deep dive into computer-assisted learning.
- Keep up-to-date with Educate Ventures, for whom we produced Shock to the System: Lessons from Covid-19.
- Context is everything when thinking about what ‘effective use of technology’ means.
- Look at this case study from Rwanda, where radio was a key medium for delivering remote teaching.
- Read about online learning provision in some of the least accessible regions of the world.
- Access resources via the World Bank Lessons for Education.
- Follow the money. The investment world can give a good idea of where developing technology shows potential for impact or mass take-up.
- Understand teachers and learners’ needs, and map any emerging or exciting technology against them.