• Eric Lam

How has COVID-19 changed the way an Edutech business is run

Updated: Nov 21, 2020

We would all know by now that COVID-19 has created the most drastic economic crisis in recent history the world has ever seen. And when the world pivots in such a manner, new habits emerge. For the Edutech provider, from these habits emerge the following trends in needs and practices:

  • Edutech and online learning has gone from being a ‘Good-to-have’ to ‘Must-have’ for educators worldwide;

  • Users expect providers to Help first, and Monetise later;

  • There’s never been a more poignant time to deliver what truly matters, rather than what’s powerful;

  • User Acquisition costs is at all time low;

  • Geography is less relevant for the provider, as everyone gets used to these new habits;

  • Speed is a main determinant for success - more than ever before;

  • Flip classroom can finally be realised - if we get it right.

I will be sharing the article on the above on my LinkedIn page and you are welcome to connect with me. These habits and trends all point to the promise of learning virtually, or learning in absence, as the means to ensure learning continuity, and finally, the world is ready and receptive for this change.

The Challenges of Online Learning

A plausible Vision of an incredible learning experience could look something like this:

I learn just what I need, when I need to use it. What I have learned enable me to use it well (when I need to use it). I enjoy learning it.

This vision points to learning in absence (aka online learning) being the way forward to realise it at scale. But we know that this is hardly the reality. So let’s address the elephant in the room about online learning: while touted by many as an effective way to enable learning productively, it is not as efficacious as we would like to, despite years of experience and attempts to experiment with different models, using different technologies. The lack of outcomes surrounds three main facets:

  • Completion: too few have been known to complete an online course and this suggests that the online learning model may not be efficacious enough to enable learning of concepts to take place. Why is this so?

  • Learning Efficacy: as a lead on the previous point, online learning experiences may be considered to be ineffective in helping learners learn well enough to apply what they have learned in their workplace, in their lives. Can content ever be structured in a manner that makes learning without physical interaction effective?

  • Engagement: online learning often lacks the ability to engage learners like physical interactions between the trainer and the learner can afford. Can we structure the online learning experience to be engaging, and if possible, even addictive?

But perhaps, could we be asking the wrong questions? Afterall,

  • Why is it so important that a trainee completes a course?

  • Do we really know what a trainee needs to know? What she already knows?, and

  • Have we ever seen a piece of learning content that is highly engaging, very viral, yet highly rigorous to learn?

Getting to the Basics - Why would I want to learn?

We sometimes forget why we want to learn something and tend to assume that a solid delivery platform or piece of technology is enough to make learners learn effectively. When we take for granted the question of engagement, we miss the opportunity to create a learning experience that is powerful enough to get learners to grind through it. When figuring out how to engage learners, we need to consider important action psychology principles and the psychological handles for making anything meet the needs of our learners while framing it in a manner that will encourage them to share with their peers what they have learned. If we can achieve that, we would be able to design learning experiences that will make learners want to put themselves through the laborious process of learning and mastering something new.

Next Up - What should we be REALLY training

In recent years, there have been a lot of talk about about preparing our learners for jobs that don’t quite exist now, and unless we have a crystal ball that directs on how such jobs may look like, we are at best only able to linearly project what the job functions, styles, and requirements could be in the foreseeable future. This is hardly enough information for anyone to adequately design something that can be implemented today. When faced with such ambiguity, it would be fair to ‘regress’ towards what may matter most at the core -- that to build a workforce that is adaptable, malleable, quick and agile to face any major pivots in job roles, we need our learners to be able problem solvers.

And engineers will tell us that able problem solvers are people who can ask the right questions, model phenomena in the natural or artificial world, frame the problem, analyse complex information and problems and use mathematics and computational thinking effectively in the process, argue with their peers to reach consensus, gather important and relevant information, share and convince stakeholders on their point of view, investigate and test models and thinkings, design and explain solutions to problems.

These are the main science and engineering practices, within which most of our current understandings of problem solving models are derived. At the formative learning years, these practices fall within the broad scope of STEM and STEAM. If you are curious to know more about it, you can find an article on it here, and how such practices can be used to analyse the COVID-19 crisis.

Scoping learning activities around these practices requires knowledge of inquiry-based learning and are not that straightforward, but we can consider the following two frameworks:

  1. The four levels of Inquiry, where Level 1 is where the trainer guides the learner through conceptual understanding, and Level 4 is where the learner, in the absence of any guidance, asks the right questions, frames the problem and develops the solution to the problem at hand;

  2. The BSCS 5Es Instructional Model, comprising five stages of performance and habits from the learner: Engage-Explore-Explain-Elaborate-Evaluate.

The trainer is therefore encouraged to design activities that go beyond imparting knowledge to getting the learner to perform tasks that apply the knowledge in a manner that would suggest enduring understanding.

Then - consider how to profile Abilities

Quite rarely would a learner find the need to attend an entire course to learn what is taught in the course. There are several reasons for this and it would be reasonable to assume either that most learners would know at least some parts of the course prior to attending it, or some parts are simply irrelevant for those learners’ needs. Whatever the reason, the power to accurately profile each learner’s abilities with respect to what a learning experience is expected to deliver on, would enable trainers to personalise the learning experience for each learner.

With personalisation, each learner will find the unique reason to attend what is taught in any given course, and invest the time to attend it. And personalisation at scale can only be done effectively using technology.

Personalizing the learning experience thus begins with test a learner’s ability to perform various tasks, creating a learning ‘heatmap’ or a cognitive model that is unique to the learners in the same class, then curating a learning experience that comprises learning content and face-to-face learning on a fully online or blended model, and finally testing for and ability to meet different performance demands to confirm understanding.

In the continuing education context, this would require a systematic approach to deconstruct a current curriculum into components that match requirements of the job, followed by reconstructing curated learning experiences for each learner in a personalised curriculum.