What are the challenges for EdTech at a time of disruptive innovation?
Innovation & technology 15 March 2023
Esade's Davide Rovera, manager of eWorks, hosted a conversation with education entrepreneurs during 4YFN to explore current trends in technology and education
These are good times for EdTech. The latest advances in artificial intelligence, metaverse, big data, cloud computing, and others, are rapidly filtering into education. This is especially true in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, where startups can better adapt and explore new applications for training.
In a panel moderated by Esade professor Davide Rovera (co-founder and manager of eWorks, Esade’s venture creation program), four education entrepreneurs discussed trends in EdTech and the future of education. These panel guests were Arol Viñolas, software engineer and entrepreneur; Pina de Paz, CEO and co-founder of Kimple Education; Suzanne Jenkins, manager of the Esade Center for Social Impact; and Kevin Giorgis, CEO and co-founder of Wyblo.
Tech has to be applied with a purpose
One of the main conclusions was that, while these technologies are a great enabler, the use we make of them is crucial. "How to apply tech is the important question," said de Paz, "and it has to be with a purpose." This translates into an old debate: should school curricula include coding as a compulsory course? For Viñolas, the focus should be on "the logical and critical thinking and problem-solving skills" that make you a good coder, and not so much on the practical ability to code.
In Jenkins' view, the coding debate exemplifies the opportunities for self-directed knowledge. "People need to be able to direct and manage their own learning process — and change from linear-thinking to systems-thinking." According to Giorgis, this is the path many EdTech startups are taking: providing quality content and enabling people to learn by themselves.
The future of universities
Universities may be the institutions most affected by these changes. Doubts are being raised about their role at a time when formative alternatives are flourishing. Viñolas explains how some young people avoid university and go straight to work. He says there is a type of youngster who wants to work immediately after compulsory education. In this way, they find out sooner if their chosen career suits them — and so avoid waiting the four years of a bachelor's to find out. Later on, they may decide to embark on further training.
Giorgis claims there is a gap between what universities teach and what companies need — and this can result in frustration for recent graduates entering the labor market. To compensate, 'social learning' is becoming a common practice in businesses to transfer skills and knowledge through the company and between the different positions in there.
Universities struggle to keep pace with the transformations needed
Alternatives to university may work out for many people. Some examples are professional training programs or formative offers where students pay when hired rather than upfront. "A better interaction between students and lecturers is needed to discover where the gaps are, as well as between the state and business," Giorgis says.
For Pina de Paz, most universities are forced to solve ‘urgent’ matters while relegating ‘important’ matters to the background. "Creating innovative learning processes becomes more pressing now in a moment that we are surrounded by continuous changes," she explains. Unfortunately, universities struggle to keep pace with the transformations needed, and that is where different EdTech enterprises are filling the gap as a feasible alternative.
Tech with a purpose
"Technology is not the solution but a mere enabler," Giorgis insists. The basic scheme of starting with the problem and seeing how technology can help (and not the other way around) remains vital. Generative AIs like ChatGPT are a good example. Engineers like Viñolas were pioneers in using these tools as programming assistants; now students can do so too, and this encourages them to follow their own path in learning. "However, it is challenging, but important, to educate kids on how to use these tools," he says.
Completing this view, Pina de Paz remembers her skepticism. “When hardware became urgent in schools and we started to see computers, digital books, and so on. But what were we using them for? Just for replicating traditional learning into new tools" Jenkins completes this vision by reminding us that technology offers many opportunities, though she thinks that "we must ask ourselves whose needs are being listened to and if these solutions are appropriate".
The biggest challenge will be preventing the emergence of a huge social and economic gap in learning
Precisely, the opportunities to access content are broader than ever. But does this mean that everyone will have access to quality education? The general feeling is no. "Only a few will have access to a personalized education that trains them for a complex ecosystem," Davide Rovera explains.
"Content is cheap, but we need competency-based learning and that requires investment in infrastructure, innovative pedagogies, teacher training, and so on," de Paz agrees. Unfortunately, the resources for this are not equally available, "and so the biggest challenge will be preventing the emergence of a huge social and economic gap in learning."
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