Saturday Essay: 6 Lessons EdTech Platforms Have Learned During The Pandemic
Entrepreneur Bertie Hubbard looks at the EdTech market.
The past year has been an incredibly challenging and unprecedented time for everyone - and the education sector in particular has faced huge hurdles, with extended lockdown school closures and the cancellation of exams.
As so many aspects of people’s lives increasingly ‘went online’, from socialising and shopping, to work and education, EdTech platforms have really risen to the fore - a trend that seems likely to continue into the future.
At MyTutor, as an online tuition provider for thousands of families and over 600 schools, we’ve seen a big surge in demand for online academic support during this period. Here are six key lessons we’ve taken from the year.
1. Tech is for everyone
Image by Steven Weirather from Pixabay
Prior to 2020, tech in education was often seen as the preserve of the IT department - and EdTech itself as an emerging niche. Now, it’s become mainstream. Whether it’s collaboration tools like Google Drive, conferencing platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, learning tools like Satchel, or online tuition solutions like MyTutor - educators are increasingly turning to tech to overcome the challenges presented by the pandemic, and tech fluency has become essential for everyone.
2. Don’t neglect training
The switch to online and blended learning models has been a big learning curve for schools. While teachers are expert at managing a physical classroom with 30 pupils - differentiating needs, keeping up engagement and monitoring behaviour - it’s understandably been challenging to shift to the uncharted territory of digital management and online lesson delivery.
As schools are now legally required to provide online education for children who are out of school to self-isolate, it’s become clear that there’s a real need for teachers to receive not just initial but ongoing tech training as part of staff Continued Professional Development (CPD) - so they’re equipped with the right skills to be just as effective online as in the classroom.
3. Keep the customer experience simple
At MyTutor, we’re an EdTech company in the process of scaling up to deliver online tuition to 30,000 students across 600 schools this year as part of the government’s National Tutoring Programme. 2020 showed us how important it is for our onboarding processes, and the experience for our customers, to be as simple as possible.
It’s never a good idea to make assumptions about a customer’s prior knowledge. Our four types of users - school teachers, parents, tutors and teens - all have different needs, perspectives and levels of experience with tech. It’s our job to make our platform as easy and stress-free as possible to use, for everyone.
4. Get creative to engage parents and pupils
Photo by Julia M Cameron from Pexels
For EdTech platforms, it’s important to focus not only on teachers, but also on other end users - including pupils and parents - and how to engage them.
When the lockdown came into effect in March 2020, many of our partner schools switched over from hosting lessons in-school, to enabling students to have their MyTutor lessons at home. At the same time, in our direct-to-parent business, we saw a steep rise in the number of parents looking to online tuition as a COVID-safe homeschooling solution.
We had to quickly find new ways to make sure pupils and parents were fully engaged with their MyTutor lessons - and creativity was key. We created at-home how-to guides and parent letter templates for schools, and even launched a free Online School with daily live webinar tutorials on GCSE Science, English and Maths topics to get more parents involved and inspired.
5. Tech access needs to be universal
Image by mmi9 from Pixabay
One thing that lockdown threw into sharp relief is the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their better-off peers - with many children unable to access online learning because of a lack of internet or devices at home. It’s estimated that this attainment gap widened by as much as 4 months over the course of lockdown.
The government’s free school laptop scheme went some way towards addressing this issue, but there’s still much more to be done. That’s why it’s great to see low-cost, innovative products like Raspberry Pi (a personal computer built into a compact keyboard) being considered as a solution for making computer access more affordable for families.
6. Prove impact to stay relevant
Lastly, with the success of the nation’s administering of the COVID vaccine, there’s finally some prospect of a return to normality. But this crisis has shown just how essential EdTech platforms can be, with applications that have value well beyond lockdowns.
For EdTech platforms to remain relevant, they need to be able to prove their impact - and help parents and teachers to see tangible improvements in academic progress and outcomes. This is something we’re passionate about at MyTutor, and we publish an annual Impact Report that shows the progress pupils make after a term of online lessons (1 whole grade after 10 sessions, on average).
All EdTech platforms need to keep impact and evidence in mind to ensure their value is clear as we look ahead to a brighter 2021.
Bertie Hubbard is the co-founder of MyTutor, an EdTech start-up founded to offer life-changing tuition for all. Since its inception, MyTutor have provided over a quarter of a million lessons, with results showing that pupils improve by an average of one whole grade in just 12 lessons. https://www.mytutor.co.uk/