What is the EdTech vaccine? 10 design principles


Pandemic education has clearly highlighted the need for learning platforms that reliably support rich in-person and distance learning experiences. It accelerated the shift from teacher as an individual practitioner to learning facilitator as a member of a school as a service team.

Adding video conferencing to the edtech stack was a big additional capability in 2020. But it has encouraged many schools to attempt a bad video version of the traditional distance schooling (often a well-intentioned effort to comply with policies. obsolete).

The pandemic has clarified the desirability of engaging new sequences of learning experiences supported by new learning platforms with interoperability agreements to allow learner records to move from place to place on the go. weaving individual, team, cohort and community experiences in a dynamic way that facilitates individual progress.

Getting this co-construction of tools and experiments is more complicated than designing an mRNA vaccine, but it could also improve the life trajectories of billions of people.

There are 10 design changes that represent an opportunity in the learner experience and supporting learning tools.

From registration to invitation. What if instead of a tedious registration process there was an invite to learn, as welcoming as an Apple Store or as intuitive as gradual registration on Amazon where recent views on a device are integrated into recommendations on another? What if expressed interests, strengths and guided values ​​surfaced as learning opportunities?

From topics to skill sprints. What if instead of enrolling in math and English classes, learners entered personalized workshop environments (physical and / or virtual) that facilitated skill sprints enabling focused practice supported by recommendations from experience and automated feedback systems punctuated by periodic demonstrations of mastery?

From course registration to dynamic projects. What if, instead of signing up for one-year content courses, learners engaged in a series of community-related projects (some individual, some in teams, many co-constructed) that developed and demonstrated leadership and problem-solving skills? What if these projects were informed by exposure to the needs of the community and #GlobalGoals?

From test to on-board measurement. What if, instead of stopping for periodic testing, an assessment was built into sprints and skill projects? What if the measurement occurs largely in the background and surfaces as useful feedback in real time and during periodic reflection?

From inclusion to portable hosting. What if, instead of just being included, learners had wearable adaptations that appeared in every instance of learning they experienced (e.g., learning preferences, reading aids, communication aids)?

From intervention to integrated support. What if, instead of responding to a crisis, platforms helped monitor well-being and equipped educational advisers with early warning systems and supported integrated school and community support?

From grades to diplomas. What if, instead of idiosyncratic notes (a combination of commentary, attendance, and extra credit sets), learners were periodically given portable digital learning credentials reflecting demonstrated mastery? What if portable credentials were unlocked for learning anywhere, anytime?

From course lists to portfolios. What if, instead of a transcript in the form of a list of successful courses, learners had credentials that certified learning and linked to organized portfolios that reflected their best work?

From owner to laptop. What if, instead of information trapped in a dozen edtech apps, entire records combined snippets of data into a synthesized view (for example, persistence measured over 10 tasks across four apps over a week)?

From common to staff and local. What if, instead of a standardized set of tips and experiences, platforms and counselors were equipped to recommend next steps and post-secondary plans based on personal and local opportunities (e.g., MLK day, internship local, a group of emerging high-paying jobs)?

Towards a complete technology stack for learners

We have a stack of tools designed for schools that we didn’t have the schools we need. Most tools support age cohorts in content-focused courses organized around small tasks and culminating in alphabetical grades. This 130-year-old obsolete model often results in low engagement and collaboration, low integration and application, low differentiation and depth of knowledge, and low option and portability. This leaves learners unprepared to deal with ambiguity and complexity and unable to describe what they know and can do.

Why are we stuck? In short, there is a low expressed demand for something different and better due to a tangle of federal, state and local policies intertwined with labor agreements and higher admission requirements. Edtech’s business models are based on closed systems and proprietary data. Add in some teaching traditions (and licensure and preparation) and idealized parenting memories and you have an unpleasant knot.

The problem is no longer the lack of access to venture capital funding, but much of the $ 12 billion in global venture capital funding for digital learning tools last year (up from $ 500 million). dollars in 2010) were used to test preparation and tutoring.

There are 10 examples of activities on the periphery that aggregate demand for new and better tools. We could use more:

Built-in tools that support personalized, project-based and skill-based learning with portable learning folders are more likely to grow with less:

  • Federal policies that require standardized testing rather than robust formative assessment;
  • state regimes that require lessons and grades rather than demonstrated skills;
  • College admission requirements which are based on coursework and cumulative grade point averages;
  • Edtech business models that rely on item level data ownership;

Like a vaccine against the pandemic, the opportunity to invent powerful new learning sequences supported by new tools will require smart public-private partnerships and substantial investment. It will take more than a year but, like a vaccine, it could change the life trajectories of over a billion people. Watch for our full rundown of 20 Invention Opportunities next month.


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