What’s Next in edTech: 4 Trends You Need to Know

Sean Oakes bio picture Sean Oakes

At Backpack, we believe the best classroom technology amplifies a teacher’s ability to help their students learn. Sometimes that means leveraging powerful machine learning capabilities. More often, it means developing an even deeper understanding of what teachers do and what kinds of tools will help them teach even more effectively.

The shift to remote learning last spring made the need for powerful remote learning tools even more apparent. In order to design better tools for the new demands facing teachers, edTech can springboard off the cutting-edge thinking happening in virtual classrooms all across the country.

Even though the education landscape keeps changing dramatically, edTech products that master these four pedagogically-driven trends will stay ahead of the curve.

1. Prioritizing decentralized learning

For many years, the emphasis on decentralized learning using edTech products was designed to support students living in rural areas. Students who experienced challenges getting to school needed new ways to connect with their teachers and classmates, and edTech tools provided one such solution.

Now, we know powerful at-home learning tools are a common need for all students. As we saw at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, edTech products can be used outside of the traditional classroom as an extension of teacher instruction.

Learning products have the potential to make decentralized learning easier and more powerful for users who want to work at their own pace. Even project-based learning can be accomplished through shared comments as users have time to complete tasks. This gives learners an edge as they complete tasks on their own time or during their most productive times of day.

2. Assessing social-emotional learning in any subject area

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is a twenty-first century skill integral to how teachers approach learning today. It’s an even more important skill for students to develop during social distancing. Removed from their teachers and peers, students will need new ways to develop SEL skills. edTech can help.

Teachers and administrators alike are considering how to assess process skills and qualities like collaboration, tolerance, and empathy from a distance. How do you encourage students to be more accepting of others and celebrate differences? How do you encourage them to recognize their own emotional states and communicate with others effectively about them through a Zoom call?

As teachers and administrators embrace process skills and SEL components across the curriculum, edTech needs to anticipate these needs. All learning products can address SEL using strategic features.  Even if students are using your product to improve their math or reading skills, for example, they should also be asked to think about process skills and how to best communicate concepts to others.

How will students use your product to express a new concept? How will it help them explain their thinking to a teacher or another student? How can you encourage communication through visual design in your next edTech product? After all, this type of process communication doesn’t just help build subject mastery. It requires empathy, which is at the heart of SEL.

Products that incorporate SEL design features give teachers more powerful tools, too. When teachers evaluate SEL skills along with subject-area content, their feedback becomes even more detailed and meaningful for students. With a window into process skills, teachers are better able to understand how students think. They follow a student’s process to the “right” or “wrong” answer. Verbal assessment then becomes all about soft skills, including how a student communicates, rather than evaluating test scores.

Attentiveness to SEL also makes edTech feel more human and produces more nuanced responses from software. Even when incorporating machine learning or AI, you’ll open up opportunities to create activities that feel responsive to students in a more human way. This is especially important now that students and teachers are often physically distanced from one another. Students need that all-important human connection and one-on-one relationship with their teachers to succeed in school.

3. Centering learner agency through design

The more students understand their role in the learning process, the more engaged, inquisitive, and curious they become. We want students to internalize that learning is not just something that happens with a textbook in a classroom—it happens all the time, and it depends on their personal goals.

You can encourage learner agency in edTech product design through student data dashboards, feedback systems, and personal goal-setting systems. By encouraging students to set goals or choose projects that are meaningful to their development, you have the opportunity to give students even more agency over their education. Even young students have the ability to set learning goals when prompted.

This type of learner agency makes students feel more invested in their education, more delighted by the learning process, and more engaged with the helpful tools you’ve designed. The more engaged students are during at-home learning, the more positive their learning outcomes will be.

4. Re-imagining workforce training and adult learning

It’s easy to think of edTech as an industry that only provides solutions for K-12 learners, but edTech serves teachers and learners in higher education, corporate training, and adult education, too.

Adults approach learning very differently from K-12 students, and the edTech industry is still developing a deeper understanding of what motivates adult learners. For instance, adults are more likely to be independent learners. They might not even need a traditional “teacher” to learn new information or skills.

Especially in professional settings, adult learners make conscious choices to study a specific subject or skill. Unlike K-12 learners, they’re already motivated to study or complete a course module. They want to be sure that the product will help them achieve their intended goal.

From a product design standpoint, this mindset often shifts adults into more of a consumer role than K-12 learners. Depending on your product research, you might consider building value explanation into tasks or product features, so adult learners understand exactly what they’ll get out of engaging with your product.

These forward-thinking edTech design trends help teachers augment what’s already going on in live classrooms and make at-home learning even more effective. Whether your next edTech product helps students choose their own learning goals or targets young professionals in their career development, integrate these principles to provide even more value to your customers.

Let’s build the future of digital products together.