2 Predictions For The Future Of Education Technology

edtechoptions

While walking my dog this morning, I started to think about, what else, education and technology. It’s my passion and fun to explore even on dog walks. After mulling over the various pitches I got in my inbox last night (everyone wants coverage, same ol’ story), I started to think about differentiating factors. In other words, what makes these edtech startups different? Why should any Edudemic reader actually care about them? What makes them different from all the rest?

Long story short, most edtech startups are the same. From where I’m standing, the biggest verticals in education that startups are tackling are in the form of ‘big data’ and ‘apps’ and ‘online learning.’ All great things but it would appear that everyone and their mother just discovered that there’s gold in them thar edtech hills. While most startups begin with an honorable goal and worthwhile effort, most fail. That’s just the story of startups. We don’t have 4,000 different Facebooks, do we? There’s only one Instagram, Twitter, and Google. There are certainly copycats, spinoffs, and other versions of all these major players … but there’s only one big kahuna for each sector.

Bear with me, I swear I’m not rambling here.

So we’ve established that there is really only one king of certain sectors. For the edtech world, those are easy to quickly rattle off: Edmodo, Twitter, Khan Academy, Evernote, iPads, and a few other big names we talk about all day long on Edudemic.

These big names are doing a swell job at helping education usually making heaps of money at the same time. So, bully for them. But what about the other would-be leaders? The 1,000+ startups that all want a piece of the edtech pie? What does the future look like for them?

I’m glad you asked, dear reader. (Also, thanks for making it down this far in the article. We haven’t even answered the headline for this article so kudos to you!) The future of education technology is not a new app, tool, or teaching method. I love flipping my iPad to IWB my PD as much as the next guy, but it’s not the tech that’s important here.

Option #1: Big Names Stay Big

apple-logo-educationThe first potential future of education technology is most likely to happen. It involves the big names remaining big in their respective industries. Apple, Google, Evernote, etc. Each of these brands will continue to innovate and schools around the world will adopt whatever they roll out. Mind you, not everyone will adopt everything. But it’ll essentially be business as usual. Apple will come out with an iPad 9 and your child’s school will, one year later, say that they’re adopting 900 iPad 9s for K-12. Sounds just like this year … and last year … and the year before. People love their iPads.

So what will happen to the many edtech startups as the big names stay big? Companies like Edmodo and Grockit continue to dominate headlines on TechCrunch, the New York Times, and the like? Well, they continue to nibble at the scraps left by the big names. After all, no one company is ever able to eat 100% of the pie. Look at Apple for example. They try to eat the entire pie and then Google came along to snap up more than half of their pie. That’s the nature of open markets.

So this is basically the ‘business as usual’ option which the education world should be quite accustomed to at this point. After all, you can’t swing an iPhone without hitting a story about the current ‘disruption’ happening in education. But that’s mostly where any change is happening. In the media and in the headlines. Most teachers I’ve spoken with over the past several months describe either a big uphill battle to get any proper technology integration or they just talk about standardized testing. Not exactly a massive disruption, in my opinion.

Option #2: Actual Disruption

bulb-disruptionIf we were to see some actual disruption and change in education, it’d start happening very soon. It would take the form of the big players in edtech slowly ceding more and more pieces of the proverbial edtech pie to startups and other organizations. For example, Apple would see their presence in the classroom erode thanks to new tablets like the Amplify Tablet, a custom-built tablet designed for classrooms. I saw quite a few negative comments to the Amplify tablet and actually some pretty angry people at a recent conference talking about how tablets in general are beyond the ‘buzzword’ phase and are simply costing school districts more money than they have. Personally, I think tablets can be very useful and powerful learning tools in the hands of a quality teacher / facilitator.

But whatever your opinion, the important part is that people are talking about non-Apple tablets. They’re talking about a tablet that was built by a much smaller company that could theoretically replace costly iPads. In this option, those upstart options actually take over the spots currently held by Apple and the other big names. Whether it turns into total fragmentation of the edtech market or simply more choices for teachers, admins, and students … it’s a new scenario for the education world. Actual options!

The exciting part about this second option for the future of education technology is that it actually might happen. Emphasis on might. Apple’s market share is eroding and there are many (MANY) startups looking to take just a slice of the Apple education pie. So if you want to be a fortune teller and try to predict if this second option actually happens, here’s how to start reading the tea leaves:

Keep an eye on the new non-Apple and other big name options. For example, if the Amplify tablet takes off even a little bit, that’s likely a harbinger of things to come. On the flip side, if the Amplify tablet and other devices start to dwindle OLPC-style, then we’re likely continuing on business-as-usual for quite some time.

In Summary

So whatever happens, the smart money is on the big names staying big. But I wouldn’t count out the droves of startups looking to actually disrupt education. That disruption would take the form of actually replacing the big edtech names with others. But it’d be exciting to watch and could mean an improved education experience for all.

Or maybe not. What do I know?

7 Comments

  1. Marco

    April 1, 2013 at 2:21 am

    Yes, what do you know…anyway, just following from your predictions. The big guns have to innovate. If they don’t, they will die. I’m sure they will again try and change the paradigm. With respect to the educational area, I feel that it is getting complex. It’s good that a new IT savvy generation of teachers is making good use of the tools available to engage students, yet some still question the cost effectiveness of the devices. As for engaging, yes, they are engaging kids but there still remains the skepticism. I can only take the innovation from a historical aspect, the slate, the pencil, the pen, the calculator, etc. every one of these advances were ridiculed and taken as a hindrance to education, now, time has told us that they have become an integral part of education as well put together tools. So, where to from here? I think it’s all dictated by what the real world of finance and industry dictates. Robotics, automated systems, self driven cars, greener energy, preservation of resources and conversion of wastes to renewable energy as well as advancements in health research will be the drivers of technology. Then again, what do I know….

    • Jeff Dunn

      April 1, 2013 at 11:59 am

      Well struck Marco, couldn’t agree more. I guess it’ll only be a matter of time before we know what the future will actually be for edtech, IT, and education writ large.

  2. Jodie Pozo-Olano

    April 1, 2013 at 9:48 am

    Jeff – I often think about puzzling work issues while walking my dog. So, first of all, I loved the headline…honestly, with all the pro-iPad hype on the wires, it’s the the only reason I opened the link!

    The one question worth answering, which you alluded to, is why we consistently try to shoe-horn products designed for consumers into classrooms without first thinking how the use of these devices will need to change.

    • Jeff Dunn

      April 1, 2013 at 12:00 pm

      My black lab is basically my ‘thinking cap’ to be honest. He looks at the world so simply that it makes me do the same. It’s marvelous. In any case, your question / hypothesis about shoehorning consumer (or even enterprise) products into education is a good one. It deserves some thought. Expect a post about it after my next couple of dog walks!

      Feel free to shoot me an email at edudemic [at] gmail.com anytime to weigh in, would be great!

      -Jeff

  3. Jim

    April 3, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    Transparent technology will never be achieved by starting with, “Ok everyone, go to the cart and grab an iPad (or some sort of generic knock-off “designed” for the classroom).” Likewise it is unlikely to be achieved by a teacher who is a digital immigrant. Students need to be allowed to select tools to solve problems given to them by their teachers such as: Research this question, write this paper, create some thing, interview this person, gather with these people. There are aps for that and students love using their devices (aka solving problems with solutions of their own design) for classwork. The digital natives will choose devices to assist but permission to do so must be emphatic! The disruption and disconnect comes from teachers who impose their limited problem solving routines to the set of solutions the students are developing. Teachers and schools live in fear of technology accessibility and of being insensitive to the real effects of privilege and the digital divide and are steered away from posing any problem that doesn’t start with, “Ok everyone, go to the cart and grab an iPad”. Allowing the students to solve problems in their own way, with or without a classroom/district provided solution, also removes the big question of cost effectiveness. There is no hard dollar cost to encouraging students to chose the format of their solutions and presentations. Transparent.
    But hey, I’m just a guy with an opinion too and what do I know??
    Cheers all.

  4. Steve diFilipo

    April 4, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    Innovation and disruption occurs most likely at the organic level: an individual educator, a group of students, one school in a large system, a department in a university. Evolution is a slow process, unfortunately.
    The future of educational technology has nothing to do with technology. It has everything to do with leadership. The type of leadership that doesn’t come from ‘big names’ or ‘actual disruption’. It originates with the vision of a maverick educator. The type of leadership that originates with the risk taken by a rouge thinker.
    A final question, when was the last time the author predicted the future with any accuracy? Or is this another effort to fill column inches or meet a deadline?
    Hmmm…

  5. Marc Schulman

    April 6, 2013 at 2:35 am

    I think the question is not so much if Apple remains on top but rather will the big educational content providers continue to dominate , or will the indies innovate and make real changes?