As education and schooling move online from face-to-face amid the Covid crisis, both the possibilities and limitations of educational technology are becoming evident. Most of the lessons learnt from these times of forced adaptation are encouraging, and spell good news for the cause of education. Here are five immediately apparent takeaways:
The emergency has taught teachers to teach and learners to learn online. Online has always been lying around in the corner as a novelty that everyone was half-serious about, an idea we always planned to try tomorrow. Everyone, it turns out, was waiting to be persuaded, and for that compelling and decisive cue. Sudden and massive adoption of edtech forced on the users by the crisis is significant for the lasting behavioural changes, if not so much for the immediate learning outcomes. Necessity has won against timidity and resistance, and that’s a major milestone in the evolution of our learning models.
Edtech companies have long struggled to stay in favour of schools, or their institutional customers. Their products and subscriptions are sold more easily by appealing to parental ambitions and anxieties about education, or the individual customers. As the current reality makes remote teaching and learning de rigueur even in the most traditional of schools, there is a glimmer of hope and indeed a realistic possibility of a more receptive institutional market for edtech businesses.
Everyone recognizes that edtech is a means to an end and not an end in itself. The marketing pitch of edtech companies has been firmly founded on digital fads and this-is-the-future kind of hype. This approach did help them acquire a market base, but was too slow in creating a pressing need for online education. The flaw here was the focus on the container (edtech) rather than the content (education), or selling more ritual than results. (More on this here.) The tables have now turned, online is mainstream, and the need is created – for edtech which is more ‘ed’ than just ‘tech’.
Free is as good, and sometimes better, than paid. This might dismay companies that sell education because they too know that there are free, and sometimes better, equivalents of their best products elsewhere on the web. However, barring major LMS platforms like Google Classrooms and content sources like Khan Academy, Ted-Ed, and of course YouTube, the rest are known or available only to the keen seekers among learners. Local and specific curricular requirements still present plenty of opportunities for packaging and selling education as a commodity. Besides, freemium is almost the way of life for anyone selling anything digital.
We are reminded that the teacher is still king (or queen, as is more often the case) and is missed sorely. The human bonding, which is a firmly coded bio-algorithm in the brain of the entire species, so far faces no challenge from any technology available for purchase. Teachers in fact have become better armed, mastered new ways to connect and manage, and discovered methods to get better at teaching. Redemptive!