This op-ed is part of a series of reflections on the past decade in education technology. Marie Cini is the president of the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning. Her academic career spans more than 25 years, and she has extensive experience as a C-level academic administrator in universities that predominantly serve adults.
I define education technology as any tool that supports learning, digital or not. An abacus is an educational technology, as is the slide rule. So too is my personal “who ever thought this was a good idea?” favorite, the filmstrip.
But today, edtech is commonly understood to mean digital technology. Whether a platform, an app, a portal, or a device—it’s all bits and bytes at the core.
So with these guidelines in mind, I’ve chosen six areas where edtech has made an impact this decade:
- Learning Management Systems
- OER and open books
- Learning analytics
- Digital badges
- Adaptive learning systems
This impact may not necessarily be positive or large and lasting. In fact, I think some of the biggest edtech trends have been rather ... underwhelming.
The Filmstrips of Edtech
Like a filmstrip. This is a strip of negatives fed through a projector vertically and accompanied by a recording of a narrator describing the photo. Beeps at certain intervals told the instructor when to advance the filmstrip. So instead of your teacher projecting slides of English castles and droning on about them to your class, the filmstrip and record did it for her.
Three types of edtech joined the “filmstrip” category in this decade: Learning Management Systems, MOOCs, and digital badges.
OK, so Learning Management Systems weren’t developed in the 2010s, but they sure didn’t improve much during this decade. They are a perfect example of what you get when you simply transfer analog practice to digital form and don’t make use of the advantages of the new medium. The real power of digital technology to increase learning remains untapped.
As for MOOCs, in 2012, the elites in higher education discovered online learning, which many others felt they had already invented and improved over the previous 15 years. This created a firestorm of competition among brand-name schools and prompted predictions of MOOCs replacing traditional higher ed. Finally, sanity prevailed when the MOOC elite discovered that simply putting videos of lectures online didn’t really advance learning for anyone.
Digital badges are intended to signify authenticated knowledge and skills from informal learning environments. Sounds familiar—like a prior learning assessment. Employers don’t know what to do with digital badges. Individuals collect them for unknown reasons. If we only had a digital sash to sew them on so that a job applicant could wear it to an interview.
The Winners of Edtech
Unlike the filmstrips, the big winners of edtech apply digital technology in ways that benefit learners directly. Two that shine are OER/open books and learning analytics.
In the 2010s, faculty started to take back their intellectual power from the publishers by creating and sharing materials that could be freely used, adapted and re-mixed (with appropriate creative commons licensing). OER and open books also help keep course materials more affordable for students. This quiet revolution, made possible by the power of digital technology, is continuing to grow and will soon be standard practice.
Regarding learning analytics, like the use of data in baseball, the use of data to predict student success outcomes with greater accuracy has been a “game changer” (excuse the pun). Most recent advances in student success and completion have been possible because data helped shine the light on where barriers exist for students.
The Trojan Horse of Edtech
Then we have what I call the Trojan Horse category, for edtech solutions that sneak in and take over.
MOOCs appear first in the filmstrip category, because by 2014, higher ed pretty much thought that MOOCs were dead. However, they also belong among the Trojan Horses, because they have morphed into a reinvigorated solution for employers seeking affordable training and development resources. And they are growing stronger and stronger in that domain.
The Legacy and Future of Edtech
Looking backward, I like David Houle's prescient piece on the decade that is now coming to a close. As he predicted on January 1, 2010, communications technology is creating a pulsing global consciousness we have never before experienced. We can’t really fathom these changes and yet we sense them occurring, in education, the world of work and beyond. Sounds a bit like global warming.
Looking forward, we are inching toward a more personalized educational model, although we have not cracked that nut yet. We have seen many gains in adaptive learning platforms, particularly in well-defined disciplines. Adaptive learning platforms meet learners where they are and then put information in front of them that challenges then at the appropriate level. I believe we’ll see this continue in the next decade as the era of “mass customization” becomes truly possible with technology.
However, we have approached learning solutions in a piecemeal fashion. We have a surfeit of products and services from the edtech sector with more coming every day. Here’s my prediction for 2020 through 2030: In the new decade, edtech entrepreneurs will partner more closely with educators from the start to create learning solutions. College administrators will demand and entrepreneurs will be more successful because of it.