In recent years we’ve seen waves of really cool edtech – Coursera, MOOCs, Codecademy, etc. I’d even include privately run for-profit conferences and workshops sold through online ticketing platforms as a form of edtech disruption.
As an educator, I like seeing innovation happen. A lot of these disruptions exist because they are successfully capturing some previously unserved niche. Many of these disruptions are displacing other forms of educational materials, like textbooks.
What I’m not crazy about is the over inflated hype surrounding some of these technologies. In particular, the idea that they have the ability to make schools themselves obsolete or irrelevant. These hype cycles around new technologies are pretty normal. But if the printing press didn’t make schools obsolete – as much as I love them, these edtech solutions won’t either.
One of the fundamental problems with a lot of this tech is that education is an inherently social activity.
No matter how much material you make more technically accessible in terms of ease-of-access or economically accessible in terms of cost-of-access, the material can still be educationally inaccessible to the recipient (for lack of a better term). We haven’t invented the brain-to-computer interface yet – the recipient still has to be able to process and make sense of whatever material they experience.
Take Wikipedia for example. It’s free, open, contains much of the world’s important information, and it’s physically accessible to everyone. But the readability scores on wikipedia articles indicate they are too challenging for a majority of their readership. So even though the information is all there free online, that’s not truly enough to make it accessible.
Or as another example, how much is a good MOOC really disrupting education? If you can get 10,000 people to go through an Intro to Calculus class, great, but how many of them would have previously just opened a textbook instead? How many of them are already formally educated and are adding an additional skill in a quicker, cheaper, more fun way than they could have done so before? How many of them are somehow marginalized vs. in a good socioeconomic situation?
To me the potential with a lot of these new technologies is to integrate them alongside traditional instruction – much like how textbooks, TVs, and projectors/slides have been used to compliment traditional instruction.
The real long term dream of edtech – freely available high quality education that is accessible to everyone in the world – is going to require more than MOOCs, badge-level gamification, and open repositories of information.
I’d love to see more edtech that is focused on helping the marginalized, though I realize (through first-hand experience) that it’s hard to sell apps, or anything, to people with little money. Maybe that’s where governments will step up, I don’t know. I’d also love to see more edtech that’s built with a view towards complimenting traditional instruction rather than misguidedly trying to replace it. Initiatives like this ESL pilot project that integrate the inherently social nature of education get two thumbs up in my books.
Most of all though I’d love to see a new breed of edtech that can handle situations where the student doesn’t get it, perhaps because they can’t get it for some reason (e.g. lack of background knowledge, mental health issue), and correctively responds to the situation in an effective manner. That’s where there is a chance for truly massive disruption and ROI – and I don’t think it needs to be done via a silver bullet, more like a “next-generation approach” to edtech.
I realize it’s much easier said than done. So in the meantime, I’ll let the Vulcans give me hope…