Edtech, Part 1: How Online Learning Succeeds
Edtech, or educational technology, had always been a quirky add-on to most educational or training providers in the West in the decades between the rise of ubiquitous computer access and the global pandemic of 2020. There was a running assumption that the way training and education had always been done in Western experience, on a face-to-face, one-to-many basis, in a single location, was if not the only way to do it, then “obviously” the best way. Online learning was very much a secondary option, an emergency option with no frills to its educational offering.
Then a global pandemic hit and locked people down in their homes, away from traditional teaching environments. The “obviously best” way became rapidly unavailable as viral transmission vectors indicated that cramming people into a single location for teaching and training was a highly effective way of prolonging the pandemic at its height.
What followed was nothing short of a whirlwind revolution in edtech. From the simple capacity to replicate a classroom one-to-many environments through meeting software like Zoom or Teams, edtech took off in countless directions.
How Does Edtech Succeed?
Online learning brings with it a handful of positives that in-the-room teaching can’t deliver.
Reduced Pressure To Conform
One of the jokes of the pandemic was that it was refreshing to be able to attend meetings, training, or classes from the comfort of a home environment – in pajamas, if that was how you rolled. It may have been a point comically made, but there’s little doubt that online learning allows for a more relaxed attitude, and as such, frees learners to absorb more, ask questions without a fear of in-the-room peer pressure or appearing “dumb,” and generally come away from the session with a greater understanding of a subject than might be possible in a single-location setting.
Often in a single-location “Real-World” educational setting, if you mis-hear something, or for instance, if you’re neurodivergent and don’t capture all the vital information from a session when it’s said, you’ve lost it forever, and you can fall back compared to the rest of those being trained – whether you’re in a high school class or a high-tech engineering training course.
Education for Digital Transformation
With online teaching though, there’s often the option both to record the session, so you have it to refer to after the class is finished, and to get the materials used in some handy electronic form, meaning you have backup to your experience, and shouldn’t fall behind.
Even if you book on to a lesson or course, and then something gets in the way of your attending, while you lose the spontaneity and the interactivity of the event, you still have significant backup from the event, so, for instance, you’re not forced to tap someone else who was there to check their notes – which might be sketchy, and will be subject to their level of understanding.
While in a standard one-to-many, single-location teaching or training set-up, asking lots of questions can be disruptive to the flow for everyone. But with online learning, the relatively relaxed setup encourages questions, and a freer flow of information down understandable pathways. What’s more though, is that through the use of message windows, there’s room for additional “silent” dialogue, which can either be dealt with at the time, or collated for any Q and A session – so you’re encouraged to get your points across, and they don’t get missed, while the main thrust of the lesson or the training goes on.
The relative freedom that online teaching brings also helps equalize the playing field when there are projects that need collaborative working. The distance brought by the disparate locations allows people to relate as they would in social media – more able to speak up, to contribute ideas, and to stand up for them when necessary – removing some of the alpha dynamics of real-world collaborative projects.
The Marketplace of Edtech Tools
We mentioned that during the pandemic, the market for edtech tools had exploded – and so it has. There is now a thriving marketplace of apps, programs, add-ons and the like that can drive online learning in particular directions. Everything from mindfulness and meditation apps for children to engagement tools that get students at any level thinking laterally and collaborating on projects. The edtech tool market is also a two-way street – there are straightforward but feature-rich lesson planning tools available for teachers or trainers, to structure their sessions and make sure everyone gets the most out of them, and there are add-ons available that let students give constructive feedback in an easily collatable form. Whatever your particular lesson or training needs, there will be additional apps or programs to help you achieve your goals for the session – through a marketplace that was practically moribund pre-pandemic.
It’s worth noting that online teaching is one of the most economical ways of getting the same information to a large number of people at one time. Transport infrastructure sighs in relief, there’s no need to find a room big enough to take the class, and training resources are supplied and distributed electronically. As long as there’s a sufficient Wi-Fi and power infrastructure, the cost of providing training is diffused to all the different homes or locations of the students, meaning you reduce the costs largely to staff wages and a minimal power and web connection expenditure. That was never thought necessarily to be “good enough” in the pre-pandemic world. Post-Covid, it has become so much the norm that nobody bats an eye when informed they will be taking an online class – saving training providers money in the process.
Online learning was always the stuff of science fiction, never regarded as “good enough” for the Western world in the pre-pandemic decades.
Since it proved its worth during the Covid pandemic, it has established itself as a new normal, bringing lots of benefits to both those who are being taught or trained and those who are providing the training. It also provides lots of start-up opportunities for the tech community, building into both the overall training platforms, and the specific apps and programs that are creating the new, post-pandemic world of online learning.
That said, the picture on edtech is complicated by additional factors that lead some observers to see it not as a success, but as a failure. We take a look at the flipside of the coin in Part 2 of this examination.