Technology in education: Then, now and the future

The use of technology in education is not exactly a new or recent phenomenon. It dates back to the 1960s when Stanford University professors experimented with using computers to teach maths and reading to young children in elementary schools in east Palo Alto. What started as an experiment in delivering education has since evolved into the specialist field we have today, with potential for an even brighter future – reports claim that the education technology market will be worth $107bn by 2015 and will experience a 15 fold growth over the next decade.

Education technology has moved on, especially in the last few years, from the stage of experimentation to a stage of adoption, with tried and tested products, measurable results and burgeoning commercial opportunities. But with the share of digital in the total education market still only at 2 per cent (compared with 30 to 40 per cent in other ‘content’ industries), there is still a massive growth opportunity, with many reasons for education technology companies and innovators to be excited.

Recent advancements in technology and innovation in education technology have not only improved access to education, they have also enhanced the learning process itself, as well as making it more affordable. For example, reliable broadband services and adoption of other technologies like the cloud have facilitated policies like BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) in schools, allowing pupils to use their own devices (smartphones and tablets). As a result, less money is spent on hardware equipment for schools – which currently takes up 60% of the IT budget.  More money can then be spent on smart learning software, providing tailored lesson plans and innovative digital content such as engaging video materials – all aiding and facilitating a better learning experience for the pupil.

The learning experience has also been key for higher education and vocational training. As a result of initial high fall-out rates and limited e-learning course completion (a 2013 Times Higher Education article based on a study of 29 MOOC courses, highlighted completion rates were below 7%),  emphasis on user engagement and interactive content has been fundamental for e-learning providers, together with and the introduction of incentives for completion.

Indeed, engagement is fast becoming the main differentiator among the ever-growing field of e-learning options. Providers are putting a lot of effort into ensuring their content is immersive enough to not only attract users but also keep them engaged – all the way to the end.

Commentators have predicted the emergence of tools, interactive content and rewards designed to improve completion rates. From MOOCs to bespoke vocational training, the emphasis will be on how to make more use of this digital learning environment.

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