EdTech 3.0: The Era of Pedagogy-Powered Technology is Here

Katelyn Donnelly, Investor, Avalanche VC

Katelyn Donnelly, Investor, Avalanche VC

EdTech 1.0 was the age of technology infrastructure for schools: student information systems, ubiquitous tablets/laptops. EdTech 2.0 was the wave of the getting the basics in place: video lessons, generic quiz and gamification infrastructure, barebones learning management systems. Each wave was necessary, important, and disruptive. But true transformation in which the promise of education technology to dramatically catalyze improvement in learning and life outcomes for students has not yet come to pass.  With EdTech 3.0 we have the chance to drive efficacious learning at scale.

If the last school year taught us anything it’s the technology-enabled teaching is here to stay. And when it’s done well it can be transformative for any classroom. And when it’s done poorly? Well, the results are devastating learning loss.

Today internet bandwidth is generally strong, devices are almost 1 to 1, and software infrastructure is in place to power the back administration of schools and learning. The big game-changer is that Covid restrictions opened our collective imagination to what could be done when the moment required and what is now possible. Some schools struggled; others thrived – the key is that we collectively improve for the new school year. The vision and possibility of EdTech 3.0 is insight, if only we can seize it.

I (and many others) have written about the vision for efficacious education technology for many years. Professor Michael Fullan and I published a paper in 2013 called Alive in the Swamp that contained an index for school administrators to evaluate EdTech solutions. The index included three main headings all in the context of impact on the student: technology, pedagogy, and system change. Technology quality must be high – it should be accessible 24/7, fully online, have strong UX/UI, and be steeped in real life problem solving. Pedagogy should include the need to have clear learning outcomes, strong relationship between teacher and learner where the teacher acts as ‘activator’ or change agent, and an embedded assessment platform for measurement. System change includes support for implementation within the school day, the ability for schools and classrooms to collaborate and rise together, and, critically, for the school to have strong value for money.

EdTech 3.0 will be different – it will break the traditional discipline mode and take a real-world approach to learning. It might blend the lines of school-day and homework, it might look more like a game, and it might include lessons that don’t so neatly tie to a standardized test outcome.

What are a couple examples of what EdTech 3.0 solutions look like?

The Social Institute, offers a gamified, online learning platform that empowers students to navigate their social world, with a particular focus on behavior on social media platforms. In this instance, the pedagogy is built into the tech platform and includes peer-to-peer content to ensure material is cutting-edge and immediately relevant to the student’s online experiences. The company has a strong focus on social emotional learning works with teachers and school administrators to fit the curriculum into the school day and gives them data and analysis on the emotional status of their school.

Brite, is a learn-to-code curriculum with an open ecosystem allowing educators to access the best content and meets students in the consumer games and programs where they already exist – Scratch, Roblox, Minecraft – and lay on top of that an educational lay that includes an active role for a tutor or teacher. A solo educator can spin up a class – in school or after school – in a matter of minutes and provide personalized feedback and learning on top of an already engaging content layer.

Prisms VR is an emerging company with the insight that math should be taught experientially and spatially. They built core Algebra and Geometry lessons using real-world problem-solvingpowered by virtual reality. Teachers and students receive real-time learning insights to track progress over time. Initial efficacy studies indicate strong positive results. Prisms is backed by a grant from the National Science Foundation and can be particularly transformative in underserved settings.

Now is the time to be bold. To seek solutions that produce outcomes. The world is filled with better and better choices for districts and school systems. Our industry has a golden opportunity to learn quickly what worked and what didn’t work with education technology particularly the past year. We can modify course appropriately and focus on implementing and embedding the best enabling technology to power learning and allow educators to focus on their students. EdTech 3.0 is out there, it’s now up to ambitious school leaders and teachers to choose the best products and drive implementation at scale.

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