Ed tech trends to watch out for in 2017

From artificial intelligence to virtual reality, here's what the future might hold for the further education sector

Rob May

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The new year has only just started and headlines are already awash with the latest news and rumours of how technology will change our lives in 2017.

One sector set to undergo vast change in the near future is education, with artificial intelligence and virtual reality coming closer to mass market breakthrough, and the continuing evolution of learning resources to online and ‘mobile first’ platforms.

But what does the immediate future hold for education technology, and what are we most likely to see make a breakthrough in the coming 12 months?

  1. Mobile learning comes into its own

    Almost half of students used a smartphone for their studies during the past 12 months, according to a recent YMCA Awards report. Coupled with the fact that smartphones overtook desktop computers for internet searches last year, this highlights how mobile learning methods will become more prominent in 2017.

    The way in which learners prefer to receive information also suggests a move to mobile first, with 60 per cent of students saying they value small, bite-sized learning content ahead of larger material – which is more conveniently accessed on smaller devices.

    Adapting online content originally created for larger screens, or traditional textbooks, to appear on a five-inch display, however, is not ideal. We should anticipate learning resources becoming more “mobile first”, with multimedia content designed specifically for smartphones and tablets.

  2. Self-marking exams

    The most stressful time in education is the exam period. For students, this is because of the pressure of studies and the anticipation of waiting for results. For teachers because the amount of paperwork.

    This year will see advancements which allow exams to be marked and results provided in real time, cutting out the pressures and paperwork, as well as increasing the ability to benchmark against national averages, enabling schools and colleges to quickly adjust learning programmes accordingly.

  3. Analytics

    Due to the enormous amount of online resources and learning tools now available, educators have access to large amounts of data about their students’ study habits. Using analytics, lecturers can track when students are more likely to engage with the course material, and what kind of material they use – like online textbooks or forums, to name a few.

    Imagine a learning tool which uses data to customise a personal learning plan. Or a teacher being able to identify students who are not engaging with their learning and being able to give them more of a push before it’s too late. Soon you may not have to imagine.

  4. Automated AI learning coaches

    Artificial intelligence (AI) is already taking the place of human interaction in the commercial sector as businesses increasingly see this as the answer to personalised online service. It’s a small jump to imagine AI being used in a similar role within an education environment, coaching students through the basic principles of a subject, freeing up tutors to devote more personal time to students struggling to get to grips with the work.

    Having AI and lecturers working in partnership like this would help ensure no-one gets left behind and make sure everyone is taught to the highest possible level.

  5. Open Knowledge unlocks learning content, and creates new challenges

    Thanks to the internet we are seeing more learning resources and content becoming available for free online, opening education up to a wider audience. Alongside this, Moocs (Massive Open Online Courses) have made courses previously only open to a few hundred campus-based students at Stanford accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world.

    But, while this has been beneficial to thousands of learners, it also creates a new challenge for educators to guide their students through the “noise” and into the path of verified, legitimate sources of information.

  6. E-proctoring takes off

    E-proctoring enables students to take assessments online, from anywhere, using their own device. The assessment is proctored by a remote invigilator, aided by cloud-based software, using facial recognition to constantly scan the learner’s face and environment for any tell-tale signs of foul play. This testing method removes the expense and inconvenience of organising and attending an assessment facility.

    As the technology becomes more affordable we can expect e-proctoring to feature more strongly in 2017, especially with further education colleges trying to cut costs.

  7. More learning content designed for AR and VR

    Virtual reality is already making in-roads in education, with Google cardboard now commonplace in many schools.

    This year expect to see more learning content adapted to work in virtual and augmented reality settings. From journeying light-years through the solar system, to experiencing historical events up close, these technologies will expose students to an entirely new level of immersive learning.

  8. Social learning

    The internet has long been able to facilitate access to experts and research to enrich learning, but social networks are evolving and fragmenting all the time enabling digital crowds to assemble around topics and problems. Peers can now work together on assignments on a global scale, creating borderless classrooms.

    I’m also starting to see more overlap between education and enterprise with some canny youngsters rolling their assignments into business start-ups through crowd funding, or enabling big industry to access niche groups. The upshot is an approaching end to ‘disposable assignments’ that never leave the classroom and a shifting focus on solving real-world problems through open networks.

​Barriers to uptake

Ultimately, we need to overhaul the traditional systems of teaching and assessment. The sector is stuck in a standardised structure where everyone is forced to move through the learning process at the same pace. This clashes with the mobile, adaptable and personalised experience offered by new education technology.

Educators need to be open-minded about bringing in new models of teaching that can empower students, and free teachers up to offer the more personalised learning experience they want to deliver.

We need to start thinking seriously about where technology could have the biggest impact on outcomes while blending seamlessly, and effectively, into the education experience for both tutors and learners.

Rob May is director at YMCA Awards

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