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Retrofit or Refresh: The Next Steps for Global Edtech

Earlier this year we hit the road travelling to the US and attending some huge events in the field – South by Southwest EDU in Austin, the California Charter Schools Conference in Long Beach, and Spring CUE in Palm Springs. 

Hansa Wijayasundara and I chatted to all sorts of global leaders in the education sector, from CTOs and Technology Directors, to educators, to thought leaders. 

We heard some interesting speeches, and had plenty of interesting conversations – and there were a few pain points that were consistent among all of them. They weren’t new to me. In fact, they are the same struggles that I hear educators in Australia talking about frequently. 

This is comforting in some respects, but concerning at the same time. 

The Rate of Change in the Global EdTech Market

Following a period of intensive, pandemic-driven EdTech adoption, there has been a seismic eruption of innovation in the field – new thinking, tools and technology.  

Every business, in every sector, had to accelerate their digital transformation. For the education sector, the first critical step was moving to online and blended learning – it was primarily about getting content online, so learning could continue. 

With the benefit of hindsight, what we’re seeing now is a mixed bag of implementation levels across the board. Many schools were on their digital transformation already, but those schools that were starting from scratch had to move hastily to Google Classroom or Canvas. 

But with the need to meet minimum viability requirements at speed, they weren’t able to manage the change in the way that they would have done if it was intentional, strategic or planned for. 

That means we’ve been left with huge gaps under the hoods of the world’s schools and education facilities, and a mixed bag of technology implementation, ranging from sophisticated and seamless, to scrappy and haphazard. 

How fast is too fast in EdTech development?

A recent report on the Education Technology Market Growth valued the global market size of the industry at US$106.5B in 2021, dominated by North America which accounted for over 35% share of the global revenue. This high share can be attributed to the plenty of investments from venture capitalists and private-equity investors in the EdTech sector in the U.S. 

Increased investment is good news. It’s all about bridging the digital divide and ensuring no student is being left behind. The dollars translate into a combination of hardware, software services, content that can be accessed from anywhere, and consultancies that aim to help facilities leverage all of it.

Naturally, there is a very robust market of new tech tools and high growth businesses that have cropped up. They are entering the market almost daily, and many of them for free. Whether they are helping educators and education facilities shift to the new paradigm, or simply seeking to take advantage of this emerging opportunity – I can’t be sure. 

From the user perspective, however, think of the teacher who is desperately trying to stay on top of their admin once the students have gone home. These hybridised tools are blurring the lines between what’s an instructional design tool, what’s a SIS and what’s a learning management system. They don’t talk to each other. There’s very little training. More tools are being added to their workload all the time. 

All of which just adds to the confusion when trying to drive a holistic and sustainable ecosystem transformation. How can schools embed new tools, at least on the data side, that can connect to, integrate with and extract from each other? Rather than just adding more silos and more complexity?

We already knew this was a challenge in the Australian education technology industry. As I said before, it’s both comforting and worrying to know that it’s a challenge institutions and their teachers are facing globally. We’re all in this together – but we need to all get active in solving it.

Where to next in Education Technology?

Many of the CTOs and CIOs we spoke to in the U.S spoke of a tipping point or crossroads. When considering where they were on their own digital transformation journeys, it sounded like the  next stages could take one of two forms: 

  1. Retrofit their desired technological infrastructure on top of what was partially adopted at the start of the pandemic. 
  2. Go for a total systems refresh, scrap everything and start anew. 

Neither prospect is easy. The first will add further complexity and layers of infrastructure, parts of which are likely to fail or become redundant in the long term, cause more silos and probably create more blind spots. The second comes with huge downtime, a subsequent dip in productivity and potentially causing risks to arise which may not be spotted until it’s too late. 

But what if there was a third option? One that could advance the digital transformation journey for education facilities, placing the learner at the centre, while avoiding both these complex and daunting routes? 

Bringing all of those existing tools and platforms together into one master business analytics suite allows users – from teachers, to IT leaders, to parents and even students themselves – to streamline, distil and transform data into actionable insights. 

Triangulating data using an overarching tool like Octopus BI allows educators and educational facilities a more complete understanding of their business and  learner profiles.  

If the world’s most sophisticated and well-funded market for Education is struggling with siloed or piecemeal information gathered using multiple separate tools at a time – there’s a good chance the rest of us are too. It’s a dangerous position to be in because we may be missing parts of the picture. There may be an observer bias in play, if only certain people are able to use a certain tool or source, and there may be limitations inherent within that tool that will skew the resulting insights.  

If you can visualise the data from multiple sources or investigators lined up and aggregated into one single dashboard or view – all users can be more certain of the data’s credibility, and fully confident that the findings reflect reality. 

Surely that’s the only logical next step.

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