What EdTech Has to Get Right to Make a Difference

By Ulrik Juul Christensen, M.D., Executive Chairman, Area9 Group, Former Senior Fellow, Digital Learning, The executive leadership team for McGraw-Hill Education

Ulrik Juul Christensen, M.D., Executive Chairman, Area9 Group, Former Senior Fellow, Digital Learning, The executive leadership team for McGraw-Hill Education

To play a role in retraining and upskilling workers for the workplace of the future, EdTech companies should avoid a widespread, faulty assumption: that aggregating and providing access to massive amounts of content will automatically improve outcomes for learners.

While content is king, the idea that “more is better” is a fallacy that EdTech can easily become trapped in. The danger is that learners can get lost in the quicksand of too much content. Instead, EdTech must embrace the seemingly simple, but often counterintuitive, concept that “less is more” when it comes to content—as long as it is the most relevant and impactful content.

Content must still be developed by subject-matter experts to meet the specific needs of learners. This is particularly crucial in corporate learning and development (L&D) in which scarce resources must be deployed to effectively and efficiently train people.

The stakes are high for corporate L&D, as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics increasingly make in roads into business as part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Every industry and sector face an urgent need for workers who possess the necessary capabilities. The problem is global; for example, the World Economic Forum has launched initiatives to help ensure that the 7 billion people on the planet are allowed to reach their potential.

High Stakes for EdTech

Similarly, the stakes are high for EdTech, which for years has made sweeping promises and bold claims, such as closing the achievement gaps among K-12 students or providing broad access to advanced learning through massive open online courses (MOOCs). These promises, however, have been largely broken as MOOCs failed in their mission to democratize education, and many EdTech solutions have largely fallen short because of product failure or by focusing on a perceived “problem” that’s not really connected to moving the needle on learner achievement.

Corporate training is one of the most intense and demanding learning environments.

Time for learning is extremely limited, and there are massive differences among learners’ backgrounds, preparation, and how they learn. For example, in K-12 and higher education, it’s understood that few learners are already familiar with the subject being taught. In corporate education, however, it’s widely assumed that learners have a foundational understanding of the material—an assumption that can leave many learners behind.

Why Personalization is Key

Today, soft skills and “learning how to learn” are more important than ever for success in the workplace. In addition, in corporate L&D, “unconscious incompetence”— meaning, when people believe they know something, but, in fact, do not—is a significant barrier to improvement. If unaddressed, unconscious incompetence can cause errors in the workplace that create quality issues in products and services, customer dissatisfaction, and even safety hazards.

Without a way to identify what workers know and don’t know, “smart” technology such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) won’t make a difference. To be sure, VR, and AR can be tools, but their mere presence will not transform corporate learning. In the same way, AI in learning is not a panacea.

What’s needed is personalization to meet learners where they are and selectively provide the content that they need to close knowledge and skills gaps and increase competence. While research has shown the effectiveness of the tutor-and-pupil approach, that’s hardly scalable. Technology, though, can be leveraged for greater personalization to train workers.

AI: NoMagic Solution

In my field of computer-based adaptive learning, AI is deployed in several ways, including curriculum adaptation. AI can also support educators with an early warning system to help identify learners who need additional support.

Even more important, AI is valuable in advanced content development and curation at scale to deliver advanced and personalized instruction. When used correctly, AI can help further the goals of education technology designers, but AI is not one magic solution for all educational challenges.

Knowledge of the Future

While technology and tools will be important in the delivery of instruction, the primary focus must be on the quality of the learning that happens. The challenge here is that the knowledge needed to perform jobs even five years in the future may not exist today. There will be changes in processes, products, and compliance that will render current knowledge insufficient or obsolete.

In addition, learning must also involve soft skills such as collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking. Imparting these skills and giving people a chance to practice them requires a new approach, including activity-based learning. All these changes in what workers need to know point to the importance of developing and curating the right content and curricula.

There are no quick or easy fixes for education in general and corporate L&D in particular. Problems must be viewed holistically and systemically, and not simply as untapped demand for the next “cutting edge” product.

Weekly Brief

Top 10 EdTech Startups - 2019

Read Also

Connecting users electronically - efficiently and conveniently - at a distance

Connecting users electronically - efficiently and conveniently - at a distance

Howard C. Marks, Director, Learning Resource Center, Midland College
Post COVID Future Of K12 Education

Post COVID Future Of K12 Education

James Butler, Senior Director Instructional Technology and Online Education, Tucson Unified School District
How Technology in the Classroom Is Shaping the Outlook of Education

How Technology in the Classroom Is Shaping the Outlook of Education

Tom Ingram, Director of Information Technology, Escambia County Schools
Cloud Infrastructure: Supporting Organizations Adopting Cloud Technologies

Cloud Infrastructure: Supporting Organizations Adopting Cloud Technologies

John R. Wetsch, Ph.D., Program Director for Cloud Computing, Wake Technical Community College
Instructors are Key to Online Course Quality

Instructors are Key to Online Course Quality

Kriss Ferluga, Director of University Academic Services, Davenport University
UC Santa Cruz's Instructional Response to COVID-19

UC Santa Cruz's Instructional Response to COVID-19

Jim Phillips, Director, Campus Engagement (UC Santa Cruz) Jim Williamson, Director of Campus Educational Technology Systems and Administration (UCLA)