By Cyndee Miller
When it comes to the all-important push for digital transformation, the education sector would no doubt have received a failing grade—until COVID forced some serious change.
Over 1 billion children across at least 185 countries were impacted by school closure mandates aimed to contain the spread of the virus last year, according to the World Economic Forum. Schools and government leaders around the world scrambled to implement remote education programs. Yet while some were able to quickly shift, many economically and technologically challenged groups were left with limited options. And project leaders were challenged to flash forward to the future of learning.
“We got thrown 30 years ahead in about a day,” said Mac Glovinsky, principal global program manager at UNICEF in New York. “When you get thrown 30 years into the future overnight, things are pretty messy. It can be unclear. But I do think that we’re already seeing success emerge and that we’ll have some incredible examples moving forward,” he said in a December episode of Projectified® podcast.
Glovinsky and his Learning Passport team were one of those “incredible examples.” Number 3 on PMI’s list of Most Influential Projects of 2020, the edtech tool delivers best-in-class digital learning experiences to individuals without internet connection. But even with the tech upgrade, Glovinksy still sees a need for human interaction and support.
“When you introduce things like simulation content, HTML5-based stuff— where the learner is moving the actual things around the screen and there’s more of a two-way interaction—it can be bewildering if there are not people involved,” he said. “And [when you look at] those kids in the Upper East Side in Manhattan versus a kid in very rural Sierra Leone, the difference there is all those people helping that kid on the Upper East Side utilize the technology and the content for its maximum benefit.”
As COVID restrictions have been shifted—and lifted—around the globe, so too has the approach of project leaders. Yet even with an increasing number of schools reopening, it’s become clear that the flurry of language apps, virtual tutoring, videoconferencing tools and online learning software will continue to transform education. The proof is in the payout: The edtech market is expected to more than double between 2019 and 2025, reaching US$404 billion, according to Holon IQ.
“There’s this wave of innovation happening in edtech that’s been accelerated by COVID-19,” said Jamie Beaumont, managing director at Lego Ventures in London. The venture investment arm of the Lego brand, it backs promising education startups, and Beaumont told PM Networkhe’s seeing a sharp uptick in the number of companies focusing on new ways to teach 21st century skills, including collaboration, communication and creative thinking.
Project teams are also reimagining how students access education and how teachers can introduce technology into the flow of learning. Case in point: the initiatives launched at British edtech startup Eedi. The organization developed a digital math assessment that uses AI tools to determine why a student gets a question wrong. If a student misunderstands the problem, it could lead to a lesson on terminology or language, but if they don’t know how to complete the equation, it would require a different response, explained Ben Caulfield, COO of Eedi.
“Understanding why a student gets the questions wrong leads to the right intervention,” he told PM Network. This solution makes better use of the teacher’s time and results in a more personalized learning environment—whether the student is at school or at home.
But the most brilliant and interactive edtech in the world won’t mean much if students can’t access the content, navigate the tools or understand the information presented. To get that right, teams need meaningful end-user feedback. And they should also be considering the full gamut of stakeholders: students, teachers, administrators and parents, said Sean D’Arcy, vice president of school and home for live game-based learning platform Kahoot in Oslo, Norway.
Project leaders must also navigate complicated ethical questions at the intersection of education and tech: The UK government, for example, was forced to ditch its AI grading system after it spurred nationwide protests. Roughly 40 percent of the grades awarded fell below teacher predictions—with the biggest victims being students with high grades from less-advantaged schools.
How much edtech will grow remains an open question. While the social good of helping students spurred project activity during the pandemic, the market will ultimately determine which edtech tools have a lasting influence, says Caulfield.
And as with most pandemic pivots, the future may lie in some sort of blended solution, with teachers and schools using lower-cost digital tools to make time spent with students more impactful.
“Teachers create interest and accountability in learning, and that won’t go away,” Caulfield said. “The companies with projects that combine virtual content with human engagement will be the ones that succeed.”
Of course, it’s wasn’t just kids that were tapping into edtech. Even PMI has had to pivot its educational offerings, joining forces with Pearson VUE to begin offering an online option for taking the Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification exam.
How did you and your teams take advantage virtual education and training?