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Looking Ahead to 2021: Transitioning to New Business Models & Learner-Centric Experiences

Dmitry Krasovskiy

Ph.D., Head of Education & Learning Services, EPAM
Blog

With all the uncertainty, 2020 saw a rapid leap towards digital transformation across industries, especially education. COVID-19 accelerated the shift to digitally-enabled learner-centric experiences, but many implementations were compromised as schools and educational institutions needed to make the switch to distance learning very rapidly and were unable to take the time needed to develop optimal solutions.
Learning from home prompted the emergence of new end-user behaviors, which will have inevitable implications on the EdTech industry in 2021. Looking ahead to the new year, education providers should consider embracing new business models and reinventing digital experiences that augment and transform emergency remote learning to quality online education.

Distanced Education Triggers New Behavioral Trends

The dramatic shift to online education delivery directly to people’s homes resulted in a crash course in teaching and learning remotely using digital tools. Both the user experience and quality of education were affected by the steep learning curve faced by students, instructors, professors, administrators and staff to reach the digital dexterity required as a result of stay-at-home orders.

With the further institutionalization of online education and digitization of learning content, learner journey and education cycles, the average person is taking on more of the role as a teacher for their children and as an educator for themselves. Education is no longer limited to either physical environment or structured learning. Behavioral patterns are changing towards homeschooling, self-study and peer-to-peer education, setting the stage for consumer EdTech. Now, students can and want to be the owners of their learning paths, where continuous career-driven education is perceived as an opportunity for a better life and fulfillment​.

These trends bring to mind key questions that your organization should be asking itself as we look to the future:

  • What support and services can your business deliver to aid the adoption of remote learning tools and technology?
  • What digital tools can you provide to learners if they are now their own educators? What tools can you give to professors and instructors if they are no longer teachers, but rather coaches and mentors?
  • What new learning trajectories, alternative credentials and new learning environments can be offered to support lifelong learning?
Business & Technology Trends in EdTech

Understanding these new behavioral trends driven by volatile market changes, here are some of the business and technology trends we predict for 2021.

New business models. Schools and other institutions that provide onsite education experienced tremendous cuts in budget and loss of tuition revenue this year. At the same time, they are struggling with the task of transferring business online – at least to some extent – and finding a way to differentiate from the competition. While educational institutions now have to tighten their belts making it difficult to sell them new products and services, EdTech companies that have adopted a direct-to-learner strategy may find themselves in a more favorable position. Educational eCommerce, consumer-like experiences and subscription-based models are expanding their market reach by opening the doors directly to people’s homes.

Next-generation learning experience. The rapid switch to remote learning clearly demonstrated that quality online education cannot be achieved by simply transferring traditional learning online via videoconferencing software and text-on-screen. The need for learner-centric approaches to digital experience design arose long before the COVID-19, triggering technology trends like smart campus ecosystems, next-gen learning experience platforms, nudge tech and adaptive learning. The pandemic accelerated the need to enrich the UX/CX in educational products, putting greater emphasis on developing end-user digital dexterity, new display and visualization, and collaboration features.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications and data analytics. Although relatively slow in adoption, applications of AI in education are broad – from smart conversational interfaces to adaptive learning paths and intelligent content. Data-driven technologies that enable robust learning analytics and insights are greatly needed by both institutions for business intelligence and for students’ personalized learning experience and improved outcomes.

Security and trust. The last-minute switch to digital tools uncovered many gaps and pitfalls in student data processing, security capabilities and integrity of educational systems. This is compounded by the fact that COVID-19 has brought greater questions regarding accessibility compliance and digital equality in education. Now, as we start to settle in the new normal, EdTech providers will have to bridge those gaps with solutions that ensure both security controls and ethical use of data.

Education to employment. Now more than ever, learners will make choices with their careers (and finances) in mind. For educational providers, this actualizes the need for technology infrastructure that supports trusted digital credentialing, career software, cross-lifecycle CRM and integration into the wider ecosystem of partners – everything that can support lifelong learning and career-driven online programs.

Optimization. Cost-effectiveness has become a key word in 2020. Migrating to the cloud, enabling self-service user support and implementing interoperability are some of the ways to optimize costs while producing quality digital education solutions.

Accelerated Demand for a New Digital Learning Environment

So, how can EdTech providers future-proof their products and services for the next normal? Responding to learners’ demand to stay connected and remotely access teachers, peers and the best learning resources available globally, education and technology providers should integrate into the wider ecosystem of external partners, resources and social platforms. They need to build robust back offices, integrated systems and tools that seamlessly talk to each other to enable new learning trajectories and experiences.

In times of uncertainty, learners seek guarantees of success and learning outcomes. Educational providers should ethically leverage data analytics and machine learning technologies for a better understanding of learner behavior and use those insights for personalized and adaptive learning.

Finally, learners look for educational content that is easily digestible, available on-the-go, engaging and addresses their own learning goals. To adapt to the new market conditions and evolving learning behaviors, education and technology providers need to design and develop integrated authoring tools and content management systems that help reinvent the learning environment and enable enriched learning experiences and quality online education.

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