The Future of Education

Exploring the impact of Covid-19 & EdTech trends

Overview

A significant catalyst to innovation in education is technology. Technological advances such as the Gutenberg Printing Press in 1440 and digitalization in the second half of the 20th century have drastically changed how people consume information. While these advances have brought long-term positive impacts, the introduction of these innovative solutions precedes a period of “social pain and inequality,” as David Middelbeck emphasizes during his TEDx talk on Re-inventing Education for the Digital Age (TED, 2019).

Although the introduction of mass-produced books in the 15th century accelerated the spread of religious texts, literature, and news, it would be a few centuries before literacy rates would go up (Roos, 2019; Roser & Ortiz-Ospina, 2016).

Today, we see how digitalization has empowered many in their educational journeys, but there is a long way to go before access is equitable. Lin Goodwin supports this by sharing that “education has always been much better at reacting rather than predicting what lies ahead” (Nobel Prize, 2020).

In this paper, we will explore the impact of Covid-19 and trends in Educational Technology (EdTech) in a desire to emphasize the importance of reducing the period before impactful reactions trigger with the education industry.

Covid-19 Impact

Enrollment

Madeline St. Amour writes that college enrollment has declined by 2.5% (400,000 students) in the fall, double the decline in fall 2019. The reduction in enrollment rates results from variables not limited to financial aid changes, affordability, and worry about the personal health or the health of loves ones.

Because of these factors and others, more than a third of prospective students have reconsidered higher education, and 43% of prospective students at one- and two-year programs have considered delaying their state dates (Jaschik, 2020). Surprisingly, “[community colleges endured a more severe drop in enrollment than four-year institutions in fall 2020 [even though] … community college students nationwide are more likely than their peers at four-year institutions to say they believe their institution does an excellent or very good job connecting education to a meaningful career” (Strada Education, 2021).

Technological Impact and the Digital Divide

Based on my research and understanding, the value of education online is greatly influenced by how equipped a student is with the technological capabilities needed to succeed. The digital divide, having little to no access to technology, demonstrates the importance of having the necessary resources as students affected by the digital divide struggle to keep up with the educational system.

According to the Pew Research Center, 12% of teens do not have access to a home computer(Auxier & Anderson, 2020). Furthermore, 20% of the U.S. college student in a 2018 study had difficulty maintaining access to technology, including having to cope with “broken, borrowed or dependably unstable technology, cycling through routine disconnection” (Calarco et al., 2018).

Undoubtedly, the extensive impact of the Digital Divide has been exacerbated by the pandemic as students are required to transition to an online setting. While companies are developing a range of educational software to enrich the virtual experience, the inability to access these tools or a “digital backpack” hinders many students’ online experiences. In fact, a McKinsey article forecasts that the effect of coronavirus on education includes achievement disparities across income levels and races, loss of learning, loss of lifetime earnings (~USD61,000 – USD82,000), and mental health deterioration (Dorn et al., 2020).

Top Coping Methods %
Communicating with family & friends 34%
Physical exercise 30%
Enjoying streaming services & social media 21%
Meditation & breathing exercises 17%
Planning activities as a distraction 14%

From the table below, you can see the most common types of concerns university students have and popular coping methods practiced for Covid-19-related concerns.

Top Concerns %
Increased fear & worry about personal and loved one’s health 91%
Difficulty concentrating on academic work due to various distractions 89%
Disruptions to sleep patterns 86%
Increase social isolation 86%
Increased stress & anxiety due to outbreak 71%

Note: The data above is taken from Effects of COVID-19 on College Students’ Mental Health in the United States: Interview Survey Study by Son et al., 2020.

Acknowledging the Efforts

While the adverse effects are undeniable, there also have been successes in resource allotment and technology that have supported students through this period. The topics I will highlight include learning management systems (LMS), expansion of 1:1 computing environments, and mental health apps.

The usage of LMS platforms, like Infrastructure Canvas, Moodle, and Blackboard Learn, has allowed for scalability and flexibility in education, supported students in becoming self-sufficient learners, and adapted their learning to meet their needs. The 47% of LMS tools that AI capabilities will enable by 2024 will support the said LMS platforms for “adaptive learning features, improved learning experience, and… more personalized learning content” (Bouchrika, 2020). While these benefits and learner engagement and performance analytics features are great for improving student success, much work is necessary to support those affected by the digital divide.

In order to minimize the digital divide, school districts and states have launched initiatives to deliver WiFi hotspots and devices during the pandemic. For example, the Boston public schools purchased 20,000 Chromebooks for their 55,000 students (Bushweller, 2020). In California, state education leaders have partnered with Apple and T-Mobile, agreeing to provide discounted iPads with built-in LTE for up to 1 million California students. The downside to this move is that school administrators will have to cover around USD580 per student (Johnson, 2020). Although both initiatives have attempted to address the issue, problems that will need dealing with include the difficulty of reaching populations such as homeless students, inconsistent hotspot coverage, and backorders on devices that can set back students for weeks, if not months (Johnson, 2020; Lake & Makori, 2020).

As for supporting students in their mental health, data from April 2020 shows that the number of mental wellness app downloads was 24.2% higher than pre-pandemic levels (Delisle, 2020). While the app market-leaders are Calm and Headspace, the Organisation for the Review of Health and Care Apps (ORCHA) reports that Wysa is the highest performing app across all health conditions evaluated based on clinical assessments and NHS recommendations (Mental Health Apps, 2020; Mental Health Apps Rating, 2019). Alternatively, Headspace has high ratings for its effectiveness with sleep but scores lower than Wysa due to data privacy. An app that is particularly targeted to young people to improve upon emotional intelligence through an adventure game is eQuoo, launched in 2018 (Mental Health Apps, 2020). eQuoo’s design supports the shorter attention spans of younger generations and leverages an increasingly popular tactic to gamify the educational processes.

Overall, these initiatives and enhancements in technology have been able to support a number of students in their transition to a virtual setting.

A Shift in Education

In recent years, a shift in the primary delivery methods of education can be spotted, which has been altered by what I call learning enhancement resources (LERs). These include e-learning tools such as Minecraft: Education Edition, virtual work experience on Forage, student communities such Wonsulting, MaxUp, and Ladder, as well as educational content creators like Jerry Won, Jeff Su, and Eesen Sivapalan. These are all free resources that have built supportive online communities for those who wish to learn and have the technology to do so. The impact has been profound, but resource equity still needs to be resolved.

In the gaps that LERs and 4-year universities don’t fill, short-term, online credentials come into play. Increasingly, during this pandemic, it has “accelerated and added urgency to the development of alternative pathways to career and life success … among employers, students, workers and policymakers in online certificates, industry certifications, apprenticeships, micro-credentials, boot camps, and even lower-cost online master’s degrees” (Fain, 2020). Open online course providers such as Coursera and Udemy and technology companies like Salesforce, Microsoft, IBM, and Facebook propel the shift greatly. For example, Microsoft Learn and Salesforce Trailheads offer free gamified certification courses for anyone to take. IBM also offers Badges and Certifications, whereas Facebook has community colleges as a part of “its Facebook Community Boost program to help small businesses and job seekers with their digital skills” (Smith, 2018). Overall, we can see companies working on setting a precedence for future generations by contributing to a technological education world with their offerings.

Conclusion

In the journal E-Learning and the Digital Divide, the authors share the following:

“Education is often seen as a route to full participation in society and widening participation in education and lifelong learning as a way of including those that are currently excluded from the benefits of society.”

The statement is true to this day as more and more jobs are requiring higher levels of education. In the past years, the push for an EdTech integrated education has exponentially grown, largely because of the pandemic. In the early days of COVID-19, the question was, “how will coursework be delivered to students online?”. Today, it is “how do we provide all students access to the online coursework and resources?”. It is clear that the disparities in education need a more painstaking address. I believe that Gen Z and Gen Alpha, especially those heavily impacted, will step up to promote an equitable education for all. Personally, I have started a startup, Flourish, to address some of the concerns I have mentioned here, and I hope that you join me in forging a path for education to evolve at a similar rate to technology.

Key Takeaways

  1. The Digital Divide needs immediate attention, especially those that have been catapulted into this digitally-driven world by the pandemic.
  1. Many innovative solutions have supported students during this pandemic, although there is much room to tackle the issues and concerns better.
  1. Learning enhancement resources and short-term, online credentials will pave the way for another evolution in the education delivery methods.

To view Youth Summit- America’s Chapter click here

References

Auxier, B., & Anderson, M. (2020, July 27). As schools close due to The coronavirus, some U.S. students face a Digital ‘HOMEWORK GAP’. Retrieved February 04, 2021, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/03/16/as-schools-close-due-to-the-coronavirus-some-u-s-students-face-a-digital-homework-gap/

Bouchrika, I. (2020, September 7). 40 LMS & ELEARNING Statistics: 2019/2020 Data, trends & predictions. Retrieved February 05, 2021, from https://www.guide2research.com/research/lms-elearning-statistics#TOC6

Bushweller, K. (2020, December 03). How COVID-19 is SHAPING Tech Use. what that means when SCHOOLS REOPEN. Retrieved February 05, 2021, from https://www.edweek.org/technology/how-covid-19-is-shaping-tech-use-what-that-means-when-schools-reopen/2020/06

Calarco, J. M., Gonzales, A. L., & Lynch, T. (2018, August 31). Technology problems and student ACHIEVEMENT Gaps: A validation and extension of the Technology Maintenance construct – AMY L. Gonzales, JESSICA McCrory Calarco, Teresa Lynch, 2020. Retrieved February 03, 2021, from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0093650218796366?journalCode=crxa&referringSource=articleShare

Delisle, M. (2020, September 11). COVID-19: Surge in mental health wellness app downloads. Retrieved February 05, 2021, from https://www.digitalturbine.com/blog/covid-19-surge-in-mental-health-wellness-app-downloads/

Dorn, E., Hancock, B., Sarakatsannis, J., & Viruleg, E. (2020, June). COVID-19 and student learning in the United States: The hurt could last a lifetime. Retrieved February 03, 2021, from https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Industries/Public%20and%20Social%20Sector/Our%20Insights/COVID-19%20and%20student%20learning%20in%20the%20United%20States%20The%20hurt%20could%20last%20a%20lifetime/COVID-19-and-student-learning-in-the-United-States-FINAL.pdf

Fain, P. (2020, August 27). Interest spikes in short-term, online credentials. will it be sustained? Retrieved February 14, 2021, from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2020/08/27/interest-spikes-short-term-online-credentials-will-it-be-sustained

Jaschik, S. (2020, December 7). Doubts About Going to College. Retrieved January 15, 2021, from https://www.insidehighered.com/admissions/article/2020/12/07/more-third-prospective-college-students-are-reconsidering-higher

Johnson, S. (2020, August 06). California makes INTERNET-ENABLED tablets available to nearly 1 million students. Retrieved February 05, 2021, from https://edsource.org/2020/california-makes-internet-enabled-tablets-available-to-nearly-1-million-students/637773

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Mental health apps are seeing a surge of downloads – but choosing the right one matters ~ echalliance. (2020, October 20). Retrieved February 05, 2021, from https://echalliance.com/mental-health-apps-are-seeing-a-surge-of-downloads-but-choosing-the-right-one-matters/

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Nobel Prize. (2020, December 9). The Challenge of Learning: The Future of Education – Nobel Week Dialogue 2020 [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gwK10jkI2K0

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