Five 2021 predictions from an edtech CEO

As we begin 2021, education experts, parents, and students, are questioning what will this year bring in terms of educating K-12 students. Here are my predictions.
Martin McKay is the founder and CEO of Texthelp.
Martin McKay is the founder and CEO of Texthelp.

In 2020, education systems throughout the world were flipped upside down due to the COVID-19 pandemic causing a massive shift in how students are learning and how educators are teaching. Now, millions of students are learning remotely and teachers are suddenly adapting their teaching plans and techniques. As we begin 2021, education experts, parents, and students, are questioning what will this year bring in terms of educating K-12 students. Here are my predictions.

The growing importance of learning analytics

The COVID-19 disruption to education has really highlighted the importance of learning analytics. As we know, the majority of students around the world lost a huge part of their 2019-2020 school year. This likely resulted in significant learning loss. By measuring the impact of learning loss through analytics, we can help educators and administrators track how far off grade-level kids are and point them in the right direction of what they can do to get them back on track. As such, I believe we’ll see more and more learning analytics applied to teaching in the coming year and beyond.

An increased focus on student engagement

COVID-19 caused students to learn from home pretty much overnight. We then began to notice a significant shift in student engagement. In the U.S., before the lockdown, approximately 29% of students reported that they were “not engaged.” Then, at the beginning of May, over 80% of teachers said that student motivation was lower than it had been pre-lockdown.

This lack of motivation is likely to continue over the next year. Especially as we continue to experience remote and hybrid learning environments. This is an opportunity for educators to seek alternative ways to create more engaging experiences. They can look at tactical approaches such as gamification. For example, let’s look at the subject of writing. We can turn a student’s piece of writing into a number. Then look at how many words they’ve written in a day. Or what their best writing burst is over the course of a week. They can keep track of that, reach milestones, receive rewards, and improve their writing. This way, it feels like a game and not like a chore.

The continued use of digital tools beyond COVID-19

There’s no question that COVID-19 has fast-tracked the use of technology in education. It has caused many teachers to adopt some kind of digital application or tool for instruction and assignments. We’re seeing this trend at Texthelp too. We’ve experienced an increase in demand of our product portfolio by 62% over the last 12 months.

Through the adoption of digital tools, educators have realized the convenience and efficiency benefits of digital learning. Students handing in digital homework and having access to learning analytics for example. Plus there’s less work for the teacher because they don’t have to do the work on paper and then transcribe it into their student information system. And this will continue to be a trend beyond the current remote and hybrid learning environments when teachers and students are able to safely return to the classroom. From a collaboration perspective, I believe we’ll continue to see tools like Zoom, Google Meet, or Microsoft Teams being used in classrooms. They allow students who are unable to make it into the physical classroom to take part. They also open up new opportunities for students and teachers to interact with their peers around the world.

A transformation in how math is taught and practiced: 

Historically, the teaching and practice of mathematics has been a paper-based exercise. But, now, it’s being done digitally due to COVID-19. This has helped us realize the real benefits of doing math digitally. Benefits such as accessibility for those who may not be able to use traditional instructional materials for the subject or who need certain accommodations. Digital math tools — developed with the Universal Design for Learning guidelines in mind — now make learning accessible for students of all abilities.

Digital tools can give students choice. For example, they can help students listen to their math lessons, respond either by typing, hand-writing, or dictating their responses. I believe that as the current school year goes — and in years to come — we will continue to see the teaching and practice of math be transformed through the use of digital tools in order to help make it accessible for all students regardless of their abilities or learning environment.

The two new areas of technology to enter the classroom:

There are discussions every year about what technologies will make their way into classrooms. And, this year, those conversations have been increased dramatically due to the rapid shift to remote and hybrid learning as a result of COVID-19. We’ve already seen the massive adoption of technology tools for collaboration, assignments, assessment, and even teaching, and there is no doubt that will continue in the coming year. However, what is needed most now are technologies that help educators better understand student well-being as well as the specific ways in which students learn. First, I believe we’ll see more interest and discussion around the incorporation of technologies that provide educators with passive analytics. These analytics are gathered without teachers having to do anything and give insight into student learning behaviors. I also think we’ll see an uptick in social and emotional technology that helps provide support to students. This is extremely important now given what students have gone through in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, it will only increase in importance over the coming years.

Martin McKay is the founder and CEO of Texthelp, a leading education technology company focused on helping learners of all ages and abilities improve their reading, writing, and math skills. Martin has spent his work life developing education technology. His current areas of R&D include learning analytics and the automated assessment of writing and oral reading fluency through products such as WriQ and Fluency Tutor. 

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