What’s next?

The last year has seen schools and other educational establishments jump forward in their use of technology.  Note, I say Technology rather than EdTech as I think EdTech represents a narrower, and often slightly biased view on the technology actually in use in education.   The question I now find myself with, when thinking about technology strategy, is where next?

The last year saw 1:1 devices, whether school issued or bring your own, grow massively as schools sought to continue learning despite students being at home.    It also saw a massive jump towards cloud platforms including Office 365, Google Workspace for education (I think that’s what its now called!), Showbie and many more.  Additionally, video, either pre-recorded or live, became a key part of lessons.  Some of these things are now very much hear to stay or at the very least will be significantly more common than they were prior to the pandemic.

But what comes next?   What are the next jumps forward?

I decided to give this some thought and try to do a little future gazing.   I will acknowledge one thing the last year has taught me, and that is that we cant accurately predict very far into the future;  Who predicted 2020 would start with a pandemic?    But that said, I think it is important to look forward and at least try and imagine where we might be going.

Learning anywhere, anytime

The pandemic saw creation of massive amounts of learning content largely in the format of videos.   There is an increasing amount of learning content which students can access independently both available on the internet, but also within their own schools learning platforms.   The pandemic has shown us that learning can take place outside the classroom.     As a result I think we will start to see more of this learning anywhere and anytime although possibly it will start of with a growing number of students being directed to, or self-engaging in, such content rather than a momentous shift of learning in general.   Maybe we will see the revenge of the MOOC, but maybe not in the same format/shape as in 2012 when the fanfare of MOOCs never quite came to all that they promised.   Or maybe we will just see the continued creation of free to access learning content, by educators across the world followed by the curation of such content ready for teachers and students to access as needed.  Another possibility might be an increasing in the number of virtual schools.   There are certainly a number of options as to how learning anywhere, anytime might progress.

Micro Credentials

Linked to the above, we will likely see students potentially engaging in learning broader than the taught curriculum, but maybe only dipping in and out of subjects or topics of interest at a given moment in time.    I think there is the potential for this to reignite the need for micro digital credentials or badges;   A way for smaller units of study, much smaller than a traditional GCSE or A-Level, to be recognised with some sort of digital badge.   Now, I note that digital badges have been around for some time, however I think the current situation may see them become a subject of discussion, development and greater use.  I myself am already looking to make use of digital badges with at least one programmes run in my school.

AI (Artificial intelligence) and ML (Machine Learning)

AI and ML are already in use in schools, in the automatic transcripts created from Teams meetings, in our grammar and spellchecker and in a number of other almost transparent ways.   We have also seen the growth in educational products which allegedly use AI or ML, however often in my view this is just these terms being used as buzzwords as opposed to products actually using AI or ML.   This is something we need to challenge by asking vendors to explain how their product uses AI or ML.   Going forward though, I think we will see increasing applications of AI and ML to teaching and learning, to assessment and to drawing conclusions from the massive wealth of data which schools routinely produce.   I see the use of AI and ML in identifying patterns and correlations in school data which will allow teachers to be more responsive to our learners and their learning.   The potential is significant however I believe it needs to be led by schools/colleges rather than the tech vendors seeking to sell the next big thing.   I therefore think we need more projects like that at Bolton College and all the work the have done on Ada, their student assistant.

Conclusion

The three items above, learning anytime anywhere, micro credentials and AI/ML are the three areas I can see growing in the next five years.   There are other areas such as virtual or augmented reality which I also see scope for growth, however the three areas mentioned are the ones I see to be more likely to see significant progress.     It is always very difficult to predict the future, and even more so when it comes to technology, however I wonder if in five years’ time I will look back on this post and prove to be correct?   Or maybe I will be miles off the mark.

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Author: garyhenderson2014

Gary Henderson is currently the Director of IT in an Independent school in the UK. Prior to this he worked as the Head of Learning Technologies working with public and private schools across the Middle East. This includes leading the planning and development of IT within a number of new schools opening in the UAE. As a trained teacher with over 15 years working in education his experience includes UK state secondary schools, further education and higher education, as well as experience of various international schools teaching various curricula. This has led him to present at a number of educational conferences in the UK and Middle East.

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