Design Thinking: Applying to Business, Employee Experience, and Sales

Recently, my colleague Mark Barnett wrote What is Design Thinking and Why Is It So Popular.

Today, I explore what are the origins of Design Thinking (DT) and its application in the world of business. The idea of design thinking in product design, development, and innovation isn’t new but it’s now applicable in other business areas like communication and sales.  

This concept originally emerged as a way of educating engineers on how to creatively solve problems, as designers do. John E. Arnold, a professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University was one of the first people to write about DT. In 1959, he wrote “Creative Engineering,” which established the four areas of design thinking. Design thinking evolved as a “way of thinking” in the fields of science, engineering, product development, and innovation. 

Emily Stevens describes Design Thinking “as both an ideology and a process that seeks to solve complex problems in a user-centric way.”

As companies grow, they get more complex and new problems develop. One of the challenges of a large company is employee retention. Recently, Design Thinking has shifted from being an innovative solution for customers to solving problems for the company’s employees. Companies have begun thinking about their employees as users too, which makes sense as employees are crucial internal stakeholders. This has given rise to a new term – Employee User Experience! 

An example of a company using Design Thinking to transform the employee experience is the Jewellery company, Pandora. The company recently put out a job advert for a UX Designer – Employee Experience. The description of the role states – “Applying UX design to support Pandora’s strategic ambition to employ the happiest, most empowered and digitally-enabled employees.”

For increasingly remote companies, empathizing with employees, understanding their challenges, and crafting work experiences that enable them is a priority. 

This ensures that the company understands its employees and their needs. It also leads to higher trust and performance, the positive by-product of which can be higher employee retention. 

Like in employee experience, another field within businesses that hasn’t received as much focused internal innovation is sales. Falon Fatemi at Forbes believes that Design Thinking is the Future of Sales and I agree with her. In the last year, my role at BSD Education has evolved from Learner Experience to Partnerships.

A major part of my job now is understanding and empathizing with educators, school leaders, business partners, and government officials. Deeply understanding their needs, concerns, challenges and then curating solutions for them. Sales and marketing are two fields that are perceived to have the lowest trust according to Hubspot.

Design Thinking alleviates this challenge and builds more trust. 

With sales, marketing teams have also begun embracing Design Thinking strategies and transforming their practice. This not only elevates the marketing output but also enables the sales teams in a company. Marketing teams no longer rely on gut instinct but spend time understanding their different potential users.

They do this by developing user personas and building small campaigns to test and measure the performance. Finally, they roll out large data-backed campaigns.

In this article Autodesk’s Director of UX shares how she combined her UX and Marketing background to solve a marketing problem at her company. She says, “While some marketing best practices prove to work time and again, we must also meet the unique needs of specific customers in order to drive significant business value. Professing to intuitively know those specifics is shortsighted; only once we go out and try to understand the challenges of our target audience can we truly accommodate their needs.”

We have seen Design Thinking evolve from its origins in engineering to product development and innovation to now molding the world of employee experience, sales, and marketing. As educators, giving students opportunities to develop their design thinking skills equips them to be prepared for the 21st Century work environment. 

Interested in learning more about how we help develop design thinking skills in students and how we use it in our professional work at BSD Education, do contact me at mq@bsd.education. 

The Benefits of Introducing Children to Technology Early

As a millennial, my early experiences with technology were between the “analog” experience and the burgeoning technological revolution that we’re experiencing now.

I grew up at a time where you had only had access to the internet if someone wasn’t speaking on the phone (dial-up, anyone?), texting being more complicated than picking up a phone, and watching as social media went from online chat rooms to a legitimate channel for marketing.

It wasn’t that long ago that Facebook was just for college students, and now it’s a tech behemoth that every business needs to utilize.

But kids of today? Technology is everywhere, and they interact with technology more frequently at younger ages than any other generation in history.

They’ll never know a world without free WiFi, smartphones, and the power of Google in their pockets. All this before they’ve even reached school.

What are the benefits of being exposed to so many experiences with technology at such a young age? Many! Today, we’re sharing six gifts that we’ve seen in the students we work with every day.

They become more independent

Children today have infinite knowledge at their fingertips, always. Access to technology has dramatically impacted their education and their ability to learn. This is because the accessibility to that information has massively increased. These experiences with technology also means that they can follow up on their curiosity during lessons by exploring topics more in-depth independently.

Building community & social engagement

There’s no doubt that children need social interaction to develop and grow. But, in our modern age, this is no longer limited to physical bonding. Now children also need experiences with technology to virtually bond. This might be through participating in online discussions or finding friends that live across the world. These experiences lead to children feeling more connected than ever with technology.

Many summer camps and after-school programs encourage physical-virtual bonding in childhood with technology courses to teach kids new digital skills and offer them opportunities to engage with others while building more tech skills.

Digital literacy translates to more economic power

We’re experiencing a swelling gap between those with digital skills and those struggling to adapt to technological changes in our economy. Those who “upskilled,” innovated in their industries, and tried new things have learned how to adapt in turbulent times.

Children introduced to technology and digital skills learning at a younger age are more equipped for work soon.

Being more technically literate has prepared me to be adaptable, resilient, and curious about the world and career I’m in. There is no exception for children today, and the benefits of introducing children to more experiences with technology are countless.

The Future of Education Shaped By Technology

Driven by technology, we see several opportunities for progress in the future of education in the coming decades.

Students and educators worldwide must be provided access to the training, devices, connectivity, and fundamental infrastructure. This access will be pivotal in making ubiquitous progress.

However, we cannot determine progress in education where similar changes potentially widen inequality and divide us globally.

Redefinition of Literacy to include Digital to Shape the Future of Education

It’s now more acceptable in discussions with, particularly formal educators, to emphasize the importance of the career relevance of education. That said, a significant part of career relevance in education connects to technology readiness. This preparation includes a comprehensive understanding of the real world’s tools, skills, mindsets, and technology methodologies.

Accenture recently stated: “86% of executives agree their organization must train its people to think like technologists – to use and customize technology solutions at the individual level, but without highly technical skills”.

A compelling case for foundational literacies of language and numeracy is to expand to include digital literacy, skills, and a competency palette of the technological and digital world we live in.

The Development of Pedagogical Technologies to Shape the Future of Education

In the last year, we have seen the greatest ever adoption of digital technologies within education.

However, many technologies center on the process and administration of education. Therefore, it ultimately corresponds to a literal digital reincarnation of the offline school, such as learning management systems and video communication tools. 

There remains a significant future opportunity in pedagogical technologies to shape the future of learning. These may or may not be enhanced by AI but critically maximizes students’ engagement, relevance, and personalization of learning. Teachers also have the confidence to effectively exercise the principles of teaching and learning within their knowledge comfort zones.

The next generation of pedagogical technologies can potentially harness the lessons and opportunities of virtual learning and drive student and professional knowledge. As new modalities of learning become increasingly commonplace, this will continue to occur.

The Technology of Assessment and Credentialing to Shape the Future of Education

The evolution of literacies and the proliferation of pedagogical technologies are necessary evolutions in shaping the future of education. However, they will be forever constrained unless the currently predominant system of assessment in education persists. 

As stated by MIT’s Playful Learning Lab: “To improve the whole system, we must have assessments that work well with all other components. In recent years there has been a push for instruction to become more student-centered and engaging, but we have not seen any attempt to transform assessment in these same ways. Unless we change how students are assessed in today’s education system, we won’t see a significant change in the system as a whole.”

Even systems of badging and micro-credential still essentially correspond to a summative model in their means of ultimate achievement.

Educational initiatives such as Credential As You Go and the Mastery Transcript Consortium will continue to move practice forward in time. The associated technologies will drive this phenomenon beyond the walls of traditional schools and universities and beyond the defined scope of existing ones with traditionally thought of educational pathways.

Technology can increase a revolution in assessment while unlocking freedom of a (technology-enhanced) pedagogy and a digital literacy included core educational mandate. Thus, there is a fascinating possibility to proliferate ubiquity of access and hopefully equity in all its corresponding opportunities for the future of education.

How To Find Balance in a Tech-Driven Future

COVID-19 has metaphorically put us in self-driving cars traveling at the speed of light on superhighways. It goes without saying that the road has been a bit bumpy for many of us. Advancements in online learning have helped us manage the chaos and keep learning going, but at what cost?

Education has hurtled forward with the aim of equipping students and classrooms with the latest ed-tech gadgets and services.

Sherry Turkle, director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, has been studying how students use technology and how technology affects the self and our ability to learn and communicate socially. In her research, Sherry says that “technology has become like a phantom limb, it is so much a part of them(students). These young people are among the first to grow up with an expectation of continuous connection: always on, and always on them.” 

Her research points out that as students use more technology, they have fewer social interactions and connections. This, she argues, is happening even before isolation and online learning are spurred from COVID-19. 

Fewer face-to-face interactions could have potentially devastating effects on a person’s ability to hold meaningful conversations and deepen social relationships.

Sherry explains that texting, instant messaging, and email are forms of communication that you can turn on or off at will. But in contrast, “life is a conversation, and you need places to have it. The virtual provides us with more spaces for these conversations, and these are enriching. But what makes the physical so precious is that it supports continuity differently; it doesn’t come and go and binds people to it. You can’t just log off or drop out.”

Online learning and digital communication aren’t going anywhere soon. So how do we find balance with the use of digital communication and maintain essential connections away from the screen? 

The past two years of learning online have certainly brought up many challenges. Still, it has also brought us many new opportunities to connect in ways that we hadn’t previously imagined. For example, how else could we have seen Yo-yo Ma deliver cello performances from his living room or watch Patrick Stewart read sonnets from his porch? 

Like most things in life, striking a balance is vital. In a recent survey, 165 college-level students were asked their preference for face-to-face classes going into the new school year. Overall, 29% of these students reported a strong preference for face-to-face attendance. 25% of the students stated they would prefer “some face-to-face” courses, and 46% said they would not attend face-to-face classes until the COVID-19 pandemic resolves. 

These results don’t represent all opinions, but it will require a balanced approach between face-to-face classes and online classes in the future.

One solution considered by schools is Blended Learning, which combines online educational materials and opportunities for interaction online with traditional place-based classroom methods. While this is a viable solution, it presents unique challenges, especially when providing support and training for teachers. 

Blended Learning Researchers cite several basic requirements for implementing a thriving blended learning environment: 

  1. Well trained teachers
  2. Technological support
  3. Flexibility in the system
  4. Teachers with a wider outlook and positive approach towards change

BSD Education understands the need for balanced approaches to technology learning and provides solutions for schools. These include face-to-face learning, online or blended environments. So if you are looking for a comprehensive Digital Skills curriculum and platform, let us know how we can help.

How Early Exposure to Technology Led Me To Become A Chief Technology Officer

A common fear for a parent and educator is technology addictiveness or the lack of direction for children using technology. I’ve been asked by many parents what their seven-year-old, or even as young as four years old, can do to learn coding or digital skills.

I vividly recall getting off the bus and asking my Mom to rush home. So today, after weeks of watching my brother play computer games, I decided to start my own. I had memorized the steps from hitting the power button to putting in the correct floppy disk [yes, they still existed!]. A few minutes after sitting in front of the computer, I hit the enter button, and there it was. My game had loaded, and I transitioned into this imaginary world where I was a hero in my own story.

That started an almost 15-year tech career and a never-ending desire to learn and progress. Here are four different reasons I feel my experience has been more productive through early exposure to technology.

1: Micro goals

From my very first experience, I was providing small achievable goals. Want to play a game? Figure out how to turn on the computer yourself by observation first. Want to learn how to make a website? Start by observing websites and understanding what content goes on the website first.

This method of easy-to-achieve micro-goals allowed me to feel accomplished and focused along the way to a bigger goal.

Outside of goal setting, this also gave me an important lesson to split technology projects into small parts to avoid being overwhelmed.

2: The end product

The end outcome for any work I do with technology has always been a critical factor. I recall learning how to code in school for the first time. While the experience was always thrilling and exciting, I was left a bit demotivated when the end product wasn’t something that I could ever really show or use.

To drive my intrinsic motivation, I always worked on technology projects with a real-world application. This way, I always had an end product I’d be proud of.

This real-world application and the focus on the end product allowed me to consistently deliver high-quality results for my clients and customers.

When I started BSD Education, I made sure to keep the real-world aspect as a founding principle on our curriculum and platform.

3: Normalizing fails

Technology can be unforgiving; we have all experienced it fail one time or another. I can no longer count the number of times I’d be left puzzled or frustrated by my code not working. I was fortunate to experience this so many times early into my technology experience that it felt like a normal part of learning.

That resilience benefited me in other aspects of my life, from tests and exams to sports. Later in my career, I discovered how important it was for business leadership when It helped propel me into management.

Today, I always encourage parents and educators to allow failure to be part of the experience. We cannot change the world for the better if we cannot fail.

4: Don’t start with a blank canvas

I recall learning a new programming language, so I did what most aspiring developers did in their teens and picked up a book. The only problem was that almost every book I would read forced you to open a blank file and start typing or ‘copying’ more accurately. By the time I’d get anywhere to have a finished project, I’d be distracted and bored.

One of the benefits of technology is that you rarely have to start with an empty canvas. In school, I always found myself downloading a template or using a pre-existing project as a starting point to launch into my creations.

The key to doing this was to keep looking for starting points that suit your style, even if it meant going through a dozen pre-made projects and templates. What was surprising was how much I could learn from pre-built templates or open-source code.

This habit made me very resourceful when working on complex projects. One of the requirements to becoming a great CTO is understanding how to use existing resources to their potential. Although, as the saying goes, “Do not reinvent the wheel,” this helped me stand out in a pretty competitive environment early on as I was able to offer solutions quicker and more cost-effectively.

I love seeing how teachers are now experiencing the benefits of our scaffolded projects on BSD Education. Nothing is more exciting than a student showing off a project that they built in a week, which would take months and cost thousands in the market to produce today.

Hopefully, these tips help you or people you are helping learn technology more enjoyably. I look forward to seeing how you Build Something Different.

The Role of EdTech During A Global Pandemic

It’s been a full year since COVID-19 affected us all globally and forced us to quickly adapt to a new way of life.  A significant change, in particular, was to the workplace and educational establishments. Teachers and students were suddenly expected to adopt a digital way of learning and had to rely on EdTech platforms like never before.

We spoke to Nickey Khemchandani, CTO and Co-Founder of BSD Education as he reflected on the past year and the role EdTech played during Covid. 

How do you think the educational systems and individual learners coped with this exceptional change in education?

Nickey Khemchandani: We are seeing highly adaptable and creative educators changing the goals of their curriculum, increasing attentiveness to individual student needs with the help of technology, and are now starting to flourish under the change. Individual learners have found very different experiences, some really benefiting from the adjustment to the pacing of online learning, the relaxed environment of learning from home, and the increase of engagement with digital skills being put at the forefront.

On the flip side, students are unfortunately tackling challenges created by a wider digital divide, access to a ‘relaxed environment is a luxury globally, having stable and regular access to the internet and computers is not as accessible.

What role do you think EdTech has played during Covid?

NK: A critical role, it has enabled teachers to continue teaching for starters. One of the big things it was able to do was make it globally accessible for teachers and students to connect. It has enabled millions of kids to start moving into a world where online education, as well as a hybrid education, can exist.  So it’s played a role of being more like a bridge, at the moment during Covid, however, it has also started highlighting areas of growth in the future such as the benefits of an environment of online learning. As some schools enter a hybrid model (half physical, half online) we are starting to take advantage of both worlds, and the blend of the two looks like it’s here to stay.

Do you think education has been changed long term by the pandemic?

NK: Absolutely!

With the evolution of online learning, it’s made their experience of education more accessible, and less time-consuming.  Long-term positive effects for the education sector could be lower fees. That landscape could start becoming a lot more affordable.

A negative is that the digital divide is going to be a big problem to solve in the next couple of years. How do we provide access to cities, states, and households that do not have enough access to digital learning? People who have this level of access are benefiting from it, and now they are at such a distinct advantage that the divide has become even greater I would say.

What types of EdTech will see the longest-term benefit? Do you think that for example, Zoom’s growth for education will tail off?

NK: The video conference will remain, it’s a useful and global tool.  Zoom has grown but it takes a lot to become big, a household known name and tool.  I think EdTech will be more integrated into the education system rather than replacing it.

Zoom has changed the ‘playground’, the social aspect. We are looking through screens, not interacting with body language and eye contact. It’s accessible but not sociable, therefore I think it will be less used, but not completely abandoned.

How do you see the opportunities for EdTech from the pandemic? 

NK:  Funding of EdTech has grown, it highlights the importance of it when globally it’s seen as something worth investing in.  A new hybrid model of EdTech is going to emerge. We will start to see the difference in accessibility and a lot more engagement. The biggest one for me is a push for project-based learning. The future of education is results, project-based learning can only get bigger.

Was there a bigger demand for BSD Education’s product during the pandemic?

NK: Yes a larger demand came in, a big difference between us and other EdTech platforms is that we provide a curriculum and support outside of just the technology, we are way more than just a tech solution, we are an education solution.

COVID has unequivocally accelerated the EdTech and Education industries and presented new challenges to students and teachers alike. Now is the time to learn from the past year and digitizing curriculums for various types of learning will be key as we move forward. EdTech has ushered in a new era of education and undeniably played a major role during the pandemic.

Addressing the Digital Divide: Where Do We Go From Here?

There is a student I used to teach, who will remain unnamed to protect his privacy. He was a student a part of my STEM Honors class, and he always showed promising potential in coding assignments. Throughout my time getting to know him, I learned, like most of his classmates, he was highly motivated and believed in his academic prowess. Since the emergence of Virtual Learning, I’ve watched the challenges of adjusting to this time period change his motivation and diminish his belief in his ability to achieve academically. 

This year is his junior year in high school. When I was in high school, my junior year was the toughest, yet most rewarding year in high school; it was the year that determined my post-secondary success. Like most students who are attending an under-served school in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year is his first time having a personal laptop and he is living with the expectation to thrive in a completely new learning environment. 

This experience for him and his peers has been devastating, traumatizing, stressful, overwhelming, depressing, and draining. However, he is resilient. But should he have to experience this much courage, independence, and pressure at his age? My grandma once told me, “you should never have to display that much independence”. 

What we all need is support. 

This past year has emphasized the importance of understanding what it takes to holistically support the academic success and personal development of our youth. Virtual Learning has forcibly engaged every stakeholder at every stage of a child’s development to acknowledge two important determinants of our future: 

1) What our children are learning

2) How they are using technology to learn.

When addressing the Digital Divide, I think it is crucial that we prioritize adequately informing and including every stakeholder in all planning and implementation processes for integrating technology and Digital Literacy into learning environments. Parents raising children, Students learning information, Educators teaching courses, Administrators leading schools, and Tech Professionals creating learning products ALL are the creators of our tomorrow. 

We are our support; and in this support, we all need the grace to adjust – as we do so rapidly.

There are a few key focus areas I’ve noticed in my local school system, of Philadelphia, that are a part of the disparities of the Digital Divide: 

Transforming School Systems and Policies

Due to the emergence of Virtual Learning, many schools had to rapidly adjust and revamp their systems and practices. This transition has revealed how much more critical attention needs to be given to what students are learning about technology, and how they’re learning to use technology. 

This can be achieved by making a greater investment in setting and implementing grade-level standards for Digital Literacy, as well as, training talent to uphold these expectations.

Information Sharing and Literacy

During this Virtual Learning experience, many parents, staff, and students have felt either overwhelmed with information or under-informed on certain aspects that have affected the learning process. For example, there have been scenarios where internet providers have had outages, but the change in service was not effectively communicated to families; which has resulted in students missing information and feeling helpless. 

There have also been moments where school administrations have made huge changes to their school’s Virtual Learning practices without adequate notice or input from families and staff; which has resulted in immense fatigue and disorientation. Some school districts may have not had these experiences, but this is what’s disproportionately happening in under-served communities. 

This can be changed by re-evaluating the effectiveness of communication channels, and equitably including key stakeholders as consultants throughout the process of information dissemination.

Tech and Wi-Fi Accessibility

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools did not account for whether their students had access to technology or Wi-Fi. Why is that? Yes, students were primarily learning in schools, but learning also happens at home; and for the past 25 years, access to information has primarily been provided through the Internet. 

This past year has revealed a better understanding of what students have access to, and how their homelife really affects their education. There are students in homes where their Wi-Fi isn’t strong enough to host multiple devices streaming at the same time; and the Chromebooks that many students rely on aren’t always able to handle processing multiple apps operating at the same time – such as Zoom, Nearpod, or Google Suite products. 

These limiting factors are critical aspects of our youth’s future success that have been neglected for too long, and it is important to address these issues equitably. 

There are many issues for our youth at risk if we as leaders in education and technology do not respond to these disparities quickly and equitably. One important thing that is at risk is our youth’s ability to properly cultivate and enfranchise themselves from having experiences during their youth. While being forced to stay home, and without adequate resources for many, this time period is diminishing the very essence of having youth; which is time.  

Time to have exposure to different areas to spark their interests; time to take risks or make mistakes; time to refine one’s aptitude to bounce back, try again, and learn how to take calculated risks. Time to create viable niche solutions to make a life for themselves. 

However, this moment in time also brings about a unique opportunity for all the youth to cultivate 21st-century skills that are essential to the future. If more youth are empowered to explore, take risks, and be creative with technology; they can exponentially grow from this experience. 

But with the Digital Divide widening daily, will all youth be a part of the world’s digital future? That is the question I think is important for us to ask ourselves as leaders, and act upon in our daily efforts to be the change we want to see in the world.

Research References: 

6 Tech Practices to Improve Student Experience

We’ve had no end to the fantastic technology helping us along as the education landscape changes. However, as engagement and learning experiences have shifted, so have the ways we interact. Here are six tech practices in my classrooms that have improved the student experience this past year.

1. Be available outside of class (reasonably, of course)

If one of my students is showing interest outside of class, I want to meet them with the same level of zeal. So I check our online class chat as prep, which shows the students that go the extra mile that I’m there to work with them even when I don’t see them. And for the students that need a boost, I can review their work and get back to them before the next class, setting them up for better success for when we meet next.

2. Make specific tech practices meaningful through comments on work

Excellent job, and Keep it up are nice and all, but bookend the critical stuff when it comes to the student experience. When I call out specific aspects of a student’s project, I demonstrate that I can tell their work apart from their peers. When I make suggestions that inspire and guide, students are given a greater sense of direction. Commenting on a live document, referencing that individual line of code, or linking to additional resources, helps me integrate this practice with technology and goes beyond the traditional red marker on paper. 

3. Email reminders

The occasional email to students can go a long way in improving the student experience and helping them succeed in class. For example, I have an in-person class that will occasionally meet online during snow days. After some absences and class link confusion, I decided a quick email might do the trick, and like magic, they now all show up.

4. Encourage, but don’t enforce, varying types of virtual participation

I’ve had virtual classrooms with students ranging from Kindergarten to 12th grade, and the variety in types and amount of interaction has been just as wide. Your school requirements notwithstanding, I aim to be approachable regarding things like “cameras on” and verbal participation. Virtual hand-raise or Zoom chat might not just be easier for you to manage, but the preferred way to speak up from the student. But if an AFK turns into an MIA, I’ll call them out on it. There’s a balance of comfort and accountability that’s important to maintain.

5. Share screen collaboration

This year, some of my most successful periods have been when students share their screen, which I suppose is the new “standing in front of the class.” The level of individual engagement and class collaboration exceeds expectations when my students share what they’ve been working on. It’s even better when we do a bit of “bug hunting” and solve the coding mistake in a student’s project. I’ve had the same results when projecting student work for all to see in an in-person or hybrid class.

6. Virtual backgrounds and other goofiness

Sometimes the right background, emoji, or filter sets the mood just right, especially on a Friday. Your mileage may vary, but you know your kids best, so consider bringing some fun to a virtual class when needed. Just ensure them that you’re here live and not a cat.

Since online space has become an educational platform, we must utilize its strengths to work for both teachers and students for continued success. So, if you have class tips and tech practices that improve the student experience, let’s keep the conversation going! Contact BSD here. We would love to hear from you.

6 Ways Machine Learning Will Evolve Classrooms in 2021

As a technologist, I spend a lot of time with my ear on the ground for the latest happenings around the EdTech Industry.

One of the trends I’ve seen in 2021, is the use of Machine Learning being implemented in EdTech tools and teaching practices.

This is an interesting development because, by definition, machine learning uses artificial intelligence to improve upon itself. When utilized by educators in the classroom, it opens up a number of opportunities for schools to optimize their curriculum and teaching strategy with detailed insights.

In this article, I’ve identified six interesting developments and challenges from my research that may help to guide educators through 2021.

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1. Predict when students will struggle with a type of concept

Are you about to start teaching a topic focused on critical thinking?
 
Will a particular student struggle based on previous critical thinking based topics? – These are the type of answers Machine Learning can provide to teachers.
 
Using historical assessment data, many EdTech companies are able to predict when a student may need more help.

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2. Which technique works best for a student

The term personalized learning has been around now for over 10 years but we are finally going to see this implemented this year.

To help us get there, Machine Learning is using various information points to identify a student’s learning style, as you can see in the diagram below.

A large task for educators will be to consider tagging individual learning modules. This will allow algorithms to better understand what modules worked better for which student using relationships between the tags.

It should be noted that GDPR’s maturity and accessibility have played a big part in allowing access to relevant student data and will continue to do so.

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3. Teachers building their own learning models

Machine Learning relies on its training data to learn how to navigate data.
 
To date, EdTech companies are training their own Machine Learning systems. This year we will start to see learning models provided by teachers.
 
Instead of using preset and student data, teachers will start providing their own data to Machine Learning. This will allow these tools to become effective teaching assistants in a sense.

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4. Automated testing of curriculum

Curriculum designers are often looking to run test groups to improve their curriculum designs. With the aid of Machine Learning, data can be used to enhance areas such as curriculum flow. Does your lesson have the right amount of reinforcement? The system can even recommend quizzes where student engagement could increase.

A method commonly used by many EdTech organizations is the A/B test, which samples the curriculum with two groups and measures the effectiveness.

With Machine Learning and the added benefit of digital learning, we will also be able to measure student impact on assessment, engagement rates, the effectiveness of reinforcement techniques, and more.

In addition, the speed at which Machine Learning can analyze data is far greater than what we can achieve without its help. This will be a great step in the direction of truly personalized learning.

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“We help thousands of teachers at BSD Education with our ready-made digital curriculum and projects” – Nickey Khemchandani

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5. Body language detection and Audio analysis on video calls for behavioural health

Remote learning is now common practice. Teachers are facing the difficult task of identifying engagement or interest via the student body language on a video call.

It was not uncommon to hear the sound of disengagement or stress in student voices when teaching online. One of the areas Machine Learning was able to step in and help was to highlight “stress” indicators in students’ voices in a lesson.

Years ago, I read an amazing research paper by Ishan Behoora and Conrad Tucker from Carnegie Mellon University [https://bit.ly/3npEB1S] explaining how Machine Learning can classify the emotional state of designers in real-time. This got me keeping tabs on this space for how it can be utilized in Education.

As video calls become a norm in education, expect to see real-time detection of student engagement and attention tracking coming soon.

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The following is from a sample class we conducted with a technology partner. The voice of a pre-teen [below 13] was analyzed to identify stress levels. (Voices of pre-teens are easier to analyze since often their voice patterns sound similar and there are fewer similarities to an adult voice).

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6. Assisted grading of non-binary assessments

We have all seen multiple-choice questions being graded using machines. They work great and have been an incredible help for teachers.

With Machine Learning tools used in popular plugins such as Grammarly or the Hemingway Editor, it was only a matter of time before essay writing was also supported.

Research papers are already sharing promising developments and improvements in this space with the inclusion of Machine Learning.

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“Machine Learning tools need to be accessible by students as well. These tools can help students solve problems while they are encountering them. This is one of the goals technology aims to serve in Education.”
– Nickey Khemchandani

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At BSD Education, supporting educators/teachers is at the core of who and what we stand for.

With so much to look forward to as technology develops in education, it will be critical for the education community to support teachers throughout these transitions.

We are excited to hear how more schools incorporate machine learning in 2021.

What Does the Future of EdTech Look Like in 2021?

The end of the year is ideal for reflecting on the year passed and looking towards the future. Accordingly, during December, I have dedicated some time to focus on the key trends I expect to be the future of EdTech in 2021.

It is so easy to underestimate the depth and breadth of the EdTech industry and nigh on impossible to visualize the over $5 trillion ecosystems that it forms a part of.

I exist in the realm of K12 digital and 21st-century skills education with an increasing amount of time spent tackling challenges around career-focused learning for students aged 16-24. Sitting on the boards and advisory groups of schools, education foundations, and nonprofits, I am fortunate to experience a broad spectrum of education from several different perspectives throughout each year.

EdTech Investment

EdTech took a front-row seat in the global business landscape in 2020, with investors making significant bets on established and larger companies in growth investment rounds. However, I feel that venture capital investors can struggle to balance early-stage educational investment with the return demands of their investment models. Driven by a lack of specialization in specific domains of education, this investment, even with an overall sector-based generalization, is highly complex. They also lack confidence in the strength of their networks to influence growth within a huge institutional addressable market and a consumer segment that can suffer from poor unit economics. 

That said, several education investors with precise specializations are now establishing early-stage funds, presenting a solid opportunity for high-quality investment in early revenue stage companies. Well-tested and validated through the pandemic, these companies will be more robust than usual for their stage and likely undervalued. 

In 2021, while it will still be a journey back towards average, schools will begin to operate with more established processes and protocols, providing more stability for smaller but growing EdTech companies to gain a foothold and deliver initial results. With this in mind, I believe investors will deploy a continued investment growth to a broader range of companies across the future of the EdTech industry in the coming year. 

Online Learning

Educators already anticipated online learning to be an area of significant growth in 2020. Accelerated by COVID-19, online learning has permeated traditional schools to a greater extent than previously foreseen. As a result, a good standard of online delivery of formal education was achieved, and its status and perception in the eyes of both educators and parents have improved. In 2021, schools will determine which aspects of learning were enhanced by online learning and which remain best delivered in person. This will drive growth in the future of EdTech through the definition and practice of hybrid educational models and the technology and training that supports them.

Growth in Pedagogical Technology

Many approaches to online learning have focused on implementing video conferencing tools and achieving full adoption of learning management systems (LMS) by faculties. While an initial step in the right direction, this combination of administrative and communication technology does not provide a seamless transition between offline and online learning or the ability for the same understanding to be delivered in the same amount of time. 

Elementary school educators have struggled to deliver the full spectrum of learning online – a challenge that remains unresolved and not likely to be solved any time soon – however, middle and high school learning has continued online with less disruption. Overall, time-constrained learning has focused on tested topics and exam preparation, resulting in a significant rollback in enrichment and elective education, arguably more relevant to students’ futures in the real world than much of traditionally tested learning. 

I believe educators will begin to adopt and seek pedagogical technology tools in 2021 that focus on content creation and engagement, real-time student learning data, and feedback to empower best practices and bridge the gap for effective teaching between LMS and communication tools.

LMS Consolidation and Interoperability

With technology tools remaining at the heart of quality teaching and learning experiences, streamlining their usage and allowing educators to move quickly between systems will become critical. It will also mean a growing demand for and a definition of the requirements for interoperability. Currently, the fragmentation of the LMS market and unpredictability of application programming interfaces (APIs) is a barrier to broader and more consistent standards for interoperability. I believe this will begin to be resolved as the LMS market starts to consolidate towards the latter part of 2021.

Data and Privacy

Against a backdrop of increasing regulation and legal scrutiny, growth in pedagogical technologies and interoperability will lead to more real-time educational data being produced about student learning in 2021 than ever before. EdTech companies will need to be acutely aware of data privacy, protection, and storage requirements at both the consumer and institutional customer levels. In addition, global companies will need to consider effective data regions within their technology infrastructures and understand the security and architectural implications of scaling their technology, particularly where accurate time data is involved. 

Career-focused Learning and Assessment

As many developed nations continue with employment stimulus packages, the economic repercussions of COVID-19 have yet to be fully felt around the world. Going into 2021, however, these effects will become more significant, and unemployment levels will likely increase to levels similar to the post-war era of the mid-20th century. This will accelerate career-focused learning, re-skilling, and reduce university application and enrollment. As a result, people focus on faster and cheaper means of validating skills and experience that give them employment in developing, likely technology-driven industries. For the future of EdTech, this will lead to growth in opportunities for curriculum creators, new assessment providers, and credentialing organizations that have strong partnerships with the industry. 

At this point, you might be wondering why I have not mentioned artificial intelligence in the trends that I am predicting. I do believe that meaningful AI implementations in education will take place, just not in 2021. We are still witnessing the early phase of developing validated solutions for real-time data and analytics in machine learning. The longitudinal validation of AI in education and complexities of algorithmic bias will make progress slow, while other EdTech developments will have more impactful and verifiable immediate results.

Although it has been said that 2020 was when the impact of EdTech on education was felt, I would say that the door has only been cracked open. Instead, it has been a year of learning and discovery in preparation for a truly significant level of adoption at a later date. 

2021 will be a year when the disruption of 2020 becomes the new normal, and it is against this backdrop that the future of EdTech will indeed be defined.