London Tech Week: How edtech will shape our future

By James Clive-Matthews

The last couple of decades have seen much talk of technology’s power to radically disrupt the future. Yet without ensuring that we have the skills to use and devise new technologies, this power will never reach its true potential.

Little wonder that the use of technology in education is attracting increasing attention as the fostering of skills needed to adapt to our changing world becomes more important. This year’s EdTech Europe conference, part of London Technology Week 2015, was focused on how this potential is being explored and expanded.

The opening session, from EdTech Europe founder Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet, highlighted five key insights to give any newcomers an understanding of the rapidly developing field of education technology.

5 edtech insights for 2015

1. Unlike other areas of technological change, edtech won’t have a rapid transformation, but with only 3 percent of education budgets being spent on digital, huge growth potential exists as governments and schools begin to make progress in this area.

2. As in many other digital industries, edtech lacks established business models. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) may be leading the way through “freemium” models, providing educational content for free but charging to turn these newly acquired skills into recognized qualifications.

3. LinkedIn’s recent purchase of online learning provider is a potential landmark moment where education begins to be seen as valuable, not just a social good. At $1.5 billion, the deal was the fourth-largest acquisition in social media history, and potential investors are sure to take note.

4. Education is no longer just for the young. Almost every industry is seeing jobs threatened by advances in technology, and as this continues, current skills and knowledge will depreciate in value much more quickly. To stay employable, we’ll all need to adapt and retrain throughout our careers. Little wonder LinkedIn is investing.

5. Digital education has the potential to be the global economy’s reset button. With each additional 25 points in Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores leading to an increase of $100,000 in gross domestic product per capita, investing in education is a must for future prosperity, ensuring that future generations have the skills to adapt.

How education technology can change the world

Vedrenne-Cloquet suggested it can be far more cost-effective and easier for emerging markets to opt for tech-based education solutions than in developed countries, where existing infrastructures and institutions can make it difficult to pivot. Edtech could change the world.

This idea was developed further in a later panel that looked at a variety of global initiatives, notably in Sub-Saharan Africa. Panel chair Paul Cable ofEnSo set the scene: Children will be the ones to build the future, and technology can help empower them to start having a positive impact today, opening their eyes to new perspectives and potential.

By connecting schools around the world and getting them to collaborate around key ideas, such as Global Action Plan’s Water Explorer project, students can develop new approaches with valuable skills. Infrastructure may be needed, like the iMlango project to deliver satellite Internet to schools in Kenya, or One Billion’s provision of literacy apps and hardware in Malawi.

But most important is to highlight the personal relevance of education. By providing a local focus and placing it within a global context via the connectivity of technology, not only is educational engagement being boosted, but new ways of meeting challenges are also being discovered.

How engagement in education leads to innovation

Engagement was also a focus of the keynote presentation from Liz Sproat, head of education for Google EMEA. Providing access to information alone isn’t enough, according to Sproat.

“If students are asking the kinds of questions that Google can answer, they aren’t asking the right questions,” she said.

Technology can be a powerful tool for increasing access to information, but it’s how we use that information that matters. The true aim of education should be to make children fall in love with problem solving, and inspire a lifelong love of learning. Without this, they won’t have the attitude needed to survive in a rapidly changing world.

When thinking about how technology can change the world, the focus needs to be not so much on the technology, but on inspiring the user to take what they’ve learned to the next level.

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