21st Century Teaching Revolution – The Impact of EdTech


An adult stands in a room in front of 25 wide-eyed children, seated behind desks in five rows of five. Equipped with their understanding of a prescribed syllabus, a large wall-mounted surface on which to write, and whatever inner force inspires them to take on such a challenge, that adult must somehow deliver facts, figures, rules, theories and overall understanding of a given subject in a way that allows those 25 children to retain the information. The adult is then required to create a series of tasks which would challenge the children, in order to ascertain their level of understanding and information retention on that subject. Rinse and repeat, five days a week, for the entire length of that adult’s career.

Minus the colours added by nostalgic memories of your own school years, this is the story of teaching. And minus a few variables here and there, it has been that way since the 1820s. Educational reform has been a hot topic of discussion amongst policy makers and pedagogical experts for well over 50 years, to little avail. The tides finally seem to be to changing however, and it’s not due to the politicians or education experts, but the technologists. Let’s have a look at out how the digital revolution is proving to be the catalyst for educational transformation by giving teachers new tools for their toolbox.

Technology as the Driver

It stands to reason that new technology would be the driving force behind transforming education in this era, not only because of how immersed our society has become in the digital world, but because technology has always been the game changer in education. You needn’t look further than the abacus for evidence.

There was once a distant time when 20 fingers and toes were the only calculating tool humans had at their disposal, but as early as the Mesopotamian era, there is evidence that the tool then developed into what we know of today as the abacus (counting frame). The utility of an abacus in teaching mathematics needs no explanation – in fact it is still widely used to teach mathematics to younger learners today. But its utility as a technological milestone cannot be understated because it is humanity’s earliest iteration of the electronic calculator. Created in the 1960s, the electronic calculator was most people’s introduction to hardware with the ability to compute information until personal computers became commercially available in the late 1970s.

50 years later, computers are ubiquitous and there is now an entire industry dedicated to creating tools for e-learning. It is called Educational Technology (EdTech), and according to Deloitte, the market should reach a size of $715 billion by 2025 in China alone. It is disrupting education, and in all the right ways, none more so than by aiding teachers in doing their job. Here’s what you need to know.

What is EdTech

Think beyond interactive whiteboards and YouTube videos on World War II, the tech is way past that. Aided by Internet of Things (IoT) devices and digital tools, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is bridging the gap between teaching and learning by personalising education and tracking the progress of the learner. Big data gathering on students, curriculums and learning is an integral part of this educational revolution, helping teachers and tech providers to personalise the learning experience, find points for intervention, and rate the effectiveness of different teaching instruments.

Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and mixed realities (collectively known as extended realities) allow teachers and students to immerse themselves quite literally into the lesson. Mobile technology is increasingly instrumental to the teaching and learning experience, enhancing the teacher-student relationship both in person and during distance learning. For these advancements to work they need a network capable of carrying heavy data traffic at high speeds, and the spread of 5G is beginning at the opportune moment.

3 Educational Disruptions to be excited about

  1. Access For All

    The United Nations estimates that there are around 263 million children without access to full-time education. Poverty, war, disability and remoteness are some of the key attributing factors to this shocking statistic, but this nonetheless gives a large blank canvas on which EdTech developers may paint a new reality. And they are on track to change things fast.

    Online learning is already impacting the lives of learners in remote and rural areas, as well as providing a tool for cross-border curriculum sharing. Texts and textbooks can now be made digital and therefore accessible 24 hours a day, nullifying the need for libraries and transportation to education centres in many cases. Digital textbooks also facilitates easy translation of texts into foreign languages for wider dissemination and minimises the costs borne onto publishers needing to put out multiple editions. Perhaps most crucially, digitally presented curriculums are also able to be embedded into digital learning programs which allow for greater monitoring and customisation of learning. Teachers can track the speeds of learners, where they come into trouble, test comprehension of material in-app, and also reach learners with disabilities in ways that were never possible before.

  2. Teacher Training will Change

    It must not be forgotten that educational technology is not intended to supplant teachers, but rather empower them. Ironically, one of the biggest hurdles teachers will have to overcome is learning digital literacy and applications of these new educational tools. As much as education has remained unchanged for over a century, so too has the educating. While teaching methodology has always played a part in teacher training, digital technology learning will need to become a staple. The basics of digital literacy, data analytics, and software manipulation will be paramount to the success of teachers in a digital world.

    While any current teacher reading this will surely be dreading having to re-train themselves, it should not be lost that the tech is supposed to, and will aid them in their teaching. Testing, grading and other tedious administrative tasks will be performed by machines, allowing the teachers to not only have more data with which to track the progress of individual learners, but also have more time to develop teacher-student relationships. Teachers will also have greater freedom to develop the curriculum outside of traditional learning experiences.

  3.  Extended Realities to Extend Learning

    Go back to any history lesson you had in your school days: The Aztecs, Ancient Egypt, the Dinosaur Age. Maybe your teacher made you watch a movie, or build papier mâché  models, or maybe they just read the prescribed texts. Whichever way you learnt it, your ability to understand the subject matter depended largely on your imagination’s ability to paint the picture. With mixed realities, learners could simply use VR goggles and literally immerse themselves in the world of the texts.

    Walking among the Syrian refugees to better understand the effects of war, standing on the stage of the Globe Theatre delivering dialogue opposite a menacing Othello, the technology at hand enables learning through experiencing. Voice interfaces like Siri, Google, Alexa and to some extent Chatbots, will all soon be able to engage in two-way communication with the learner to ensure that lessons truly have been understood.

These applications barely scratch the surface of what’s to come, but we believe they do allow a snapshot into the future of e-learning. Imagine if learning about the Dinosaur Age was as immersive as Jurassic Park, or learning Pythagoras’ Theorem was as engaging as playing a video game. If you could go back in time, what technology would you want to aid your education?

So what does teaching look like in the near horizon? Think of a system where all procedures run seamlessly and efficiently, where every student’s work is comprehensively reviewed — and administrative tasks are set on autopilot, allowing teachers to be present and to provide more personalised assistance with any student not being able to keep up in class. But with each student being unique, how will that work out with AI?

Well, AI personalised learning is still currently a steep learning curve, but there are companies that are aiming to push out platforms built to bolster artificial intelligent designs that are equipped for learning, testing, and digital solutions that have the capacity to identify a student’s lack of knowledge in a subject, which then redirects them to easier topics, if deemed fit. The idea is to provide for differentiated and hyper-individualised learning in the near future, creating a safe and all-inclusive environment for students to excel, and one where professionals can undertake tasks and jobs more worry-free. The prospects for teachers in the future look bright — and very much digital.

The box is wrapped, and now, it is time to knot the ribbon. We have come to understand that the 21st century teacher must at least be knowledgeable of the growing digital times, seeing how with every generation — technology is parallel in growth.

But as the general knowledge for digital fluency rises, the very foundation of education begins to show signs of stress. So to alleviate this ageing problem, tech such as artificial intelligence is starting to shift away from the textbook, and into something wholly new.

The future of technology can surely make our jaws drop. But for now, let us sit back and enjoy the ride.