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Re-imagining Education

Remember when teaching was limited to a classroom?

Well a new term has emerged, EdTech – the integration of education with technology tools. EdTech facilitates learning, making education delivery better, faster, cheaper and more effi cient – while also making it more engaging and personalized.

The big question in EdTech is how society views digital technology within the context of ‘schooling’ and how educators will use it to teach. It is catalyzing a massive wave of upheaval across the educational landscape, including learning management, school administration, curriculum production and next-gen schools. EdTech is also starting to disrupt early childhood education, online learning platforms, test preparation and next-gen study tools – as well as enterprise, tech and language learning.

With many U.S. post-secondary students needing remedial-level instruction when entering college, according to McKinsey, EdTech is viewed as democratizing education and closing the gap between the haves and have-nots. EdTech holds the promise to reshape the future that will demand diverse skill sets for new jobs.

At the end of the day, a better education is about leading a better life. Since there are fewer jobs with lifetime security, there is a need for lifelong career enhancement.

The “Rewired Brain”

The World Economic Forum released its New Vision for Education Report in 2015 that identified ‘basic’ foundational literacies: reading, writing, sciences, along with more practical skills like fi nancial literacy.

Collectively these competencies are referred to as the 4Cs – critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration – distinctly human proficiencies that computers lack. Developing character includes qualities such as curiosity, persistence, adaptability and leadership. It’s about helping students become active creators of their own lives, and enabling them to find what is meaningful to them.

EdTech holds the key to unlocking the future for 65 percent of grade school kids that will end up doing work that has yet to be invented, according to Cathy N. Davidson, co-director of the annual MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competitions and author of the book Now You See It.

A Better Future

EdTech uses technology including the internet, tablets, PCs, new platforms and apps to encourage schools to deliver a higher-quality education and to meet the demands of a changing labor market that requires better-skilled workers with proficiencies like critical thinking and creativity. It’s also about enabling students to be independent learners as well as facilitating greater transparency by schools about their performance.

While news headlines in the U.S. and elsewhere underscore high levels of unemployment – the World Economic Forum is projecting a stunning reversal, with 470 million new jobs needing to be filled by 2030. In fact, employers are reporting difficulties finding talent and many positions remain open, indicating a growing disparity between available and required skills.

Investment Spotlight

Today, U.S. education is a $1.5 trillion industry and is growing at five percent annually, according to McKinsey. A constellation of companies, universities, disruptors and educators are investing in the EdTech ecosystem as an economic engine of the future. EdTech is expected to see around 450 deals in 2016, according to CB Insights. While accelerators like LearnLaunch in Boston are seeding young dreamers – there is also an opportunity for nimble entrepreneurs to potentially make strategic deals with companies in EdTech such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft.

As virtual reality, artificial intelligence and gamification evolve, and new ways of learning and student engagement emerge, EdTech is essential to developing human capital – talent, knowledge, skill-sets and capabilities vital for the 21st Century. Unlike other industries solely ROI driven – many of the EdTech companies are inspired by a unique opportunity to make a real difference in the world.

The Big Names

The brands that are part of our daily vocabulary are also into EdTech.

Amazon: In July, Amazon Inspire launched as a free tool for educators to access valuable resources for the classroom, in one easily searchable place, similar to Amazon’s e-commerce site.

Apple: Apple pledged $100 million of teaching/learning solutions to 114 underserved U.S. schools and donated an iPad to every student, a Mac and iPad to every teacher, and an Apple TV to every classroom. In July, Apple introduced Swift Playgrounds – an intuitive and visual free iPad app that makes learning to code easy. Students write code to guide onscreen characters through an immersive graphical world, solving puzzles as they learn core coding concepts.

Facebook and Oculus: VR for Good connects students with professional VR filmmakers to create 360° films about their communities. The pilot is partnering with nine San Francisco Bay area schools with underrepresented STEM programs.

Google: Chromebooks account for more than half of all devices in U.S. classrooms, says FutureSource Consulting. Google’s app allows students and teachers to share content with individuals, the classroom, or the entire school with a single click.

Microsoft: Microsoft Edu, Microsoft’s education group includes devices, management tools and media apps to engage classrooms. Microsoft’s products like Surface tablets equipped with Office 365 are aimed at the K-20 market. Its acquisition of LinkedIn along with, part of LinkedIn’s “Learning Path,” will help adults learn new skills. In addition, Microsoft and edX will offer professional MOOC learning courses for teachers. ISTE is joining Microsoft in the development of Microsoft Showcase Schools, “a global community of more than 60 schools engaged in digital transformation to improve learning and teaching.”

Other EdTech Coding Startups:

  • Hopscotch’s mobile app allows users to peek under the hood once they’ve grasped coding basics that uses a visual approach.
  • Sphero combines basic coding lessons with its robotic units in the Lightening Lab.
  • Pluralsight and Codecademy are two online tools that teach programming and IT skills.

Susan Schreiner