There has been a multitude of bumps and hiccups along the way (distributing devices to students, communicating with worried parents, implementing new learning management systems and ed tech tools), but notwithstanding those obstacles, one thing remains clear: distance learning isn’t just a one-time-fix. It’s here to stay.
Let’s take a look at some of the exciting developments that will take place in ed tech over the next few years, as well as the challenges inherent in this growth and their potential solutions.
A Changing Environment
While there certainly remain issues yet to be worked out within a virtual or blended learning context, there are benefits to this instructional model that we’d be remiss to ignore.
Most of us have by now experienced the convenience of working and learning from home, where opportunities to adjust your schedule and personalize your learning space to suit individual needs abound. Also not to be undervalued are the increased opportunities school leaders have to expand course offerings to their students, who were previously constrained by teacher and classroom availability.
In addition, virtual learning offers non-traditional students (such as disabled or homebound students) with better opportunities to participate in their classroom communities and keep up with their peers.
We expect that more families will select this mode of education for their students post-COVID than those who did pre-COVID, and even those who don’t will desire greater flexibility and will be more accustomed to transitioning between in-person and online instruction as needed.
Given this new reality, it will be a necessity that students are able to access learning anytime, anywhere – whether in a school building, medical or care facility, or at home.
There are a few major check boxes to keep in mind as we introduce new ed tech solutions into our schools.
This tech will need to be safe – so that students are only accessing pre-approved educational resources online and student data is not compromised.
It will need to be scalable – so that a program may be easily expanded and resources shared beyond the boundaries of a single school.
It will need to be sustainable – so that school and district leaders are able to maintain and manage this level of service.
Lastly, it will need to be effective, ensuring that educators take the time to evaluate whether tools are working as intended and to give consistent feedback on what is contributing to student success.
These innovations, of course, will not happen overnight. We will all need to embrace this dynamic process and continually adjust as the evolving needs of students and districts dictate.
In addition, both private and public entities across the country will continue to develop standards and best practices for virtual learning to assist students and teachers.
A New Education Infrastructure
Education technology has seen steady and persistent growth over the past few decades, beginning with the introduction of computer labs and on-campus Internet and spanning to 1:1 programs and providing students with at-home Internet connectivity solutions. We predict that the next few years will see rapid growth in students’ need for tech tools as we head into a new education infrastructure.
Let’s break down the trends we are seeing, from the student level all the way up to cloud platforms.
Going forward, student devices will be ubiquitous. These will include both traditional mobile devices like laptops and cell phones as well as wearables. In order to succeed, students will need access to multiple devices on an ongoing basis throughout the school year.
Education as an industry is trending towards a hybrid networks environment, in which students will be able to connect to different networks depending on their needs. This will span the variety of wireline (cable, DSL, fiber) and wireless (both private and commercial) solutions, as well as the gamut of cellular networks (4G/5G, WiFi, private LTE, TV white space, LEO, etc). District technology leaders will need to be flexible and innovative as we explore how these networks will function and how they will work together to support all students.
The next layer consists of the applications and content that students are utilizing on their devices to engage with learning. Whether it’s an educational app, such as Quizlet or Duolingo, or an LMS like Google Classroom or Schoology, these tools will only be expanded and improved upon heading into the future.
As students utilize these new learning solutions, ensuring that administrators have access to powerful management and analytics tools will be more important than ever. These may exist locally on student devices at present, but will increasingly live within cloud platforms, as we’ll discuss next.
Schools and districts will increasingly lean on major cloud platforms in order to manage and track student device usage and access, conduct instruction, and protect student data – all across many devices and networks. The data and insights collected via these platforms will also be vital in helping education leaders track the effectiveness of tech tools and report on student success. Providers such as Amazon Web Services, Google, Microsoft, and others are leading the way, but there will be smaller providers (such as education consortiums, states, universities, etc) that step in as well to offer the cloud hosting that schools need.
Looking to 2021 and Beyond
While the spike in distance learning in 2020 was not exactly welcome, it has certainly served to accelerate the trend towards anytime, anywhere learning and expanded options available to students and their families. High-speed WiFi connectivity and access to devices will only become a greater need for students, and we hope that federal and state funds will be increasingly made available commensurate with that need.