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What works offline doesn’t work online: edtech stakeholders

Online learning requires new pedagogy and social strategies in order to attract and engage students, according to edtech leaders. Big data and increasing investments in the sector will drive innovation in digital learning, they asserted.

L-R: Karine Allouche Salanon, CEO of Pearson English Business Solutions, Rob Grimshaw, CEO of TES Global, John Martin, CEO of Sanoma Learning, Jonathan Harber, co-founder of EDGE EdTech. Photo: The PIE News.

"Data can tell us what works in the global classrooms, and we have to find a way of unlocking that information"

Gamification ranked high among solutions to create engaging online learning at this year’s EdTech Europe conference in London, which brought together some 650 speakers and delegates to discuss innovation in the global sector.

“Using digital content needs to be as easy as falling out of bed”

Stakeholders agreed there is a need for a pedagogical shift in the move towards online learning, rather than simply transferring existing teaching models online.

Simon Nelson, CEO of FutureLearn, described many of the existing MOOC platforms as “dull”, saying that they did not suit mobile learning and “the student experience was left behind”.

Karine Allouche Salanon, CEO of Pearson English Business Solutions, also underlined the need to prioritise the student experience.

“Human interaction is so important,” she told The PIE News, after advising MOOC providers to take an active approach to facilitating peer-to-peer engagement, rather than relying on video lectures alone.

Allouche Salanon was drawing on her own experience from curating online career development training at Pearson.

Since becoming CEO in 2013, she has taken the division from negative to double digit growth and the division saw its course completion rates soar from 11% to 76%, after it introduced a digital counsellor to help students on its online programmes.

“We only had the online, self-study learning product when I came in, and we introduced much more blended [learning] in every single thing we do,” she said.

Classroom technology and mobile apps also came under scrutiny at the event.

CEO and founder of data science course provider Galvanize, Jim Deters, summed up the need for creativity among edtech providers given that “we are now in technology ubiquity”.

Joseph Noble, head of channels and partnerships in Oxford University Press’s ELT division, noted a trend among some education providers of transferring existing teaching materials, such as textbooks, online without adapting the content to a new and interactive format.

Instead, he said that ‘gamification’ is key to engaging students, using mobile learning as a “tutor in your pocket”.

He cited the language teaching app DuoLinguo as an example of a successful teaching tool with a good business model and engaging format.

“People will give almost any information about themselves if they think they are getting value from it”

In-classroom education technologies must suit the needs of not only students but teachers, he added.

“Using digital content needs to be as easy as falling out of bed,” he urged.

Big data will play a role in forging these new models, delegates heard.

“Data can tell us what works in the global classrooms, and we have to find a way of unlocking that information,” counselled Rob Grimshaw, CEO of TES Global.

Allouche Salanon of Pearson noted that “people will give almost any information about themselves if they think they are getting value from it”, saying that most people “couldn’t imagine” sharing the amount of information most Facebook users share online today a decade ago.

This could help companies to gather data on their learner demographics and further hone their offerings, she said.

Meanwhile, stakeholders agreed that new investment in the sector will fuel evolution.

Not surprisingly, LinkedIn’s recent acquisition of online learning platform lynda.com – the fourth biggest deal in social media history – was frequently referenced as delegates discussed how investment can drive innovation.

As a growing number of private equity firms move into the edtech space, they will be “critical” to the education technology lifecycle, Allouche Salanon predicted.

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