Digitization of Education – Modernizing Classrooms for Good

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” – Nelson Mandela.

When I was a young kid, I could not even imagine learning anywhere except for a traditional classroom and in the physical presence of my teachers. There was some noise about desktops as I stepped into teenage, but it was only limited to our ‘Computer Science’ classes once a fortnight where we would learn coding in BASIC language. As I stepped into college, I graduated as a ‘Computer Applications’ professional who frequented computer labs primarily for practicing my coding assignments. Most of my learning still happened in traditional classrooms, with teachers around, and through paper books. (Interestingly, I have progressed from calling them real books to paper books in the last few years). Fast forward to 2020 – The year that changed mine and probably the entire world’s outlook about education. We work remotely, collaborate virtually, learn through online courses, virtual classrooms, and virtual instructor led training sessions, which very amusingly is also how our kids learn today.

Integration of technology into learning and education is not new but the pace at which it advanced through the year 2020, is remarkable. The field of education was in fact one of the first ones to be affected by the disruption caused by the pandemic. Millions of educational institutions had to resort to online teaching – something that was in the pipeline for the longest time and yet never really prioritized. Some were better prepared than the others, but it won’t be incorrect to say that everyone learnt and evolved for better. With this rapid transformation, we also realized that the potential of digitization in education and learning is huge and exciting. While there are many challenges, there are abundant opportunities too. And as we step into 2021, I can’t help but feel amazed by the sheer thought of learning technology progressing by leaps and bounds.

What is Digitization

Wikipedia defines digitization as the process of converting information into a digital (i.e., computer-readable) format. In the context of learning/education, digitization may be better understood as a subset of ‘Digital Transformation’. Digital transformation is best understood as the adoption of digital technology to transform services or businesses, through replacing non-digital or manual processes with digital processes or replacing older digital technology with newer digital technology.

Common Approaches to Digitize

Digitization largely makes use of (but not limited to) mechanisms like:

  • Online learning courses which can be taken at the learners’ convenience and assist in self-paced learning. These courses are usually targeted at building competencies and knowledge in specific subjects or skills. Course creators can accordingly build them as interactive learning modules. using appropriate instructional methodologies like gamification, animations, videos, simulations, scenarios, and more.
  • Online assessments and examinations which make the whole assessment process convenient and hassle-free for both teachers/trainers and learners.
  • eBooks which provide an interface to learners to access learning material digitally and in an interactive fashion.
  • Study assistants and virtual bots which are available anytime anywhere to guide the learner on all their queries.
  • Curating and converting OERs (Open Educational Resources) into interactive videos, nuggets, and more.  

Challenges to Overcome

While the above digitization approaches contribute to bringing a certain level of ease in the system, there are some challenges that still need attention.

  • Transforming Content Appropriately

Learning online works differently from traditional classroom-based learning and hence the approach to design and deliver both should also be different. Digitizing a piece of content is not about converting it as-is to an online format. We need to apply the right learning design strategy, instructional approaches, and learner engagement tactics to make content appealing for online learners.

Breaking longer content into smaller micro-learning nuggets is equally important. These small learning bytes make a good use-case for just-in-time learning and periodic reinforcement.

Responsive design is another important factor to keep in mind while digitizing content. Learners are likely to access online learning content on a device of their choice.

  • Integrating Multiple Systems

While this doesn’t pertain to content digitization per se, but the right system integrations form the core of any digital transformation initiative. All systems in picture need to communicate with each other seamlessly for the transformation to be effective. For example, in a major upskilling initiative in a company, if the learning management system is exchanging data with the performance management system, it will become much easier to measure the impact of any learning program on the employee performance and even predict what kind of learning programs would an employee need.

In the context of education, systems like student information systems should be integrated seamlessly with salesforce or a CRM, attendance management system, learning management system, and even online meeting tool like zoom to track the entire journey of a learner – from candidate to a certified professional.

These are just a few examples, there could be many others. The point I am trying to establish is that learning cannot operate in a silo; it will work the best if it is a component of the entire organizational workflow.

  • Building a Culture of Continuous Learning

In today’s dynamically changing world, it is important for any organization or educational institution to develop a culture of continuous learning. Upskilling and reskilling continuously is the only way to survive in this competitive landscape. People must learn faster than ever before and for that, we need to weave in continuous learning in the organizational culture and not just make it a mandate.

Making learning available in the flow of work, periodic reinforcement of relevant learning content through nudge-learning, using deep analytics and AI to recognize and address competency gaps, are some ways technology can help address this challenge.

The Way Forward

We are in a time where phenomenal changes are taking place in the education and learning domain. Are the new EdTech products capable of helping develop skills that future workplaces will demand? As per a McKinsey report, by 2030, 65% of today’s grade school kids will end up at jobs that haven’t been invented yet. Clearly, today’s jobs are not necessarily going to end up as tomorrow’s jobs. Hence, we need to rapidly address competency gaps, not just through school education but throughout work lives of professionals. In this changing marketplace, learning is no more meant to be confined to the four walls of a classroom, it needs to evolve. It needs to enable learners to acquire new skills whenever they need and wherever they need.

Digitization is the first step towards this transformation. Solutions like AI-based teaching assistants, chatbots, automation, nudge-learning, augmented and virtual reality will take center stage. Where do you stand in this whole transformation? What challenges have you experienced and what results have you achieved? I would love to know. Drop me an email at info@harbingerelearning.com to connect and discuss.

An Educational Program to Help Teenagers Recover from Nicotine Addiction: A Case Study in EdTech

Drug addiction is a severe problem in youth across USA. In fact, prescription drug misuse is the fastest-growing drug problem in the United States. And it intensely affects the lives of teenagers in multiple ways. Substance abuse and problematic patterns of substance use among youth can lead to problems at school, cause or aggravate physical and mental health-related issues, promote poor peer relationships, cause motor-vehicle accidents, and place stress on the family. They can also develop into lifelong issues such as substance dependence, chronic health problems, and social and financial consequences.[1]

As a non-profit organization that aims to transform lives impacted by addiction and substance use through behavioral healthcare solutions, one of Harbinger’s end clients had it on their plan to develop an educational drug recovery program for teenage learners. Their intention was to positively impact the lives of as many teenagers as possible by rolling out the program in multiple schools and colleges to improve its reach. Regarding the program development, the client had two primary requirements – Development of an app and an engaging educational course which would play on that app.

Keeping in mind the preferences and needs of teenage learners, sensitivity around the subject area, and the learning objectives, it was important to get the technology selection and design of the program right. Shared below are some guidelines by the client for each of their development requirements and how Harbinger helped achieve them through its EdTech development capabilities.

  1. App Development

They wanted to set up a drug addiction recovery application (Both web-based and mobile), which would enable individuals to access drug treatment programs based on user modules. Different roles including youth, parents and professionals would use the application. The application would also produce reports and analytics to analyze the impact of each training.

Harbinger studied many environments for their user interface quality, customizability, performance, overall maturity, and durability and finally chose AWS Lightsail environment. We then moved to build the custom web and mobile app for drug recovery. Other essential technology choices that we made were – ReactJS for the responsive web front, React Native for the mobile app, and Laravel Framework to support durability and performance. The app included functionality to give performance-insights to learners in real time. Periodic notifications and customized reports helped in tracking learner progress efficiently.

The below figure represents the solution architecture of the application.

EdTech Solution Architecture

  1. Course Development

In any online educational course, it is important to minimize dropouts and ensure a higher level of engagement for learners, and same was the case here. The client wanted to design an engaging educational experience, which suited teenage learner preferences, based on a 5-stage recovery program. They also wanted to ensure that the program wouldn’t scare the learners away, instead motivate and encourage them to achieve the objective of calling it quits on nicotine.

Harbinger decided to give the teenage learners a Netflix-like user experience. There was chunking of content into smaller modules, as series and episodes. Our designers treated episodes with different instructional and visual design methodologies. Some episodes were made available as comic strips, some as scenarios, some had an inter-conversational interface, while some had gamification components. This built learner interest and ensured engagement to be spot-on. The design of the entire learning program was as a responsive website.

As a result of all the research and efforts that went in, the client could launch a successful drug recovery program that helped improve student outcomes drastically. They were even able to promote this program in schools and colleges, which resulted in the program’s wider reach. Harbinger is very proud of the fact that it has been able to work with the client to meet all desired objectives and contribute to this noble cause of drug recovery. Apart from this particular case, we have also helped many other clients build successful educational technology solutions. To know more about our EdTech expertise or to view a demo of the drug recovery solution, please drop a note to info@harbingerelearning.com.

[1] https://youth.gov/youth-topics/substance-abuse#_ftn

5 Trends That Will Drive the Transformation of EdTech in 2021

Covid-19 has accelerated the adoption of technology across various sectors, but the speed at which EdTech advanced is remarkable. Millions of schools switched to remote learning, almost overnight. And it looks like the changes that EdTech has enabled, will continue to influence education even as educational institutes prepare for a full return to classrooms. EdTech is here to stay. With that, let’s look at the 5 trends that will possibly guide the growth of EdTech this year.

1. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

2020 has been a roller coaster ride for all of us, and this has thrown up a lot of opportunities and imperatives. One such imperative is leveraging AI to build skills for the future. There is a lot of buzz around how workplaces of the future need new skillsets. McKinsey released a report a couple of years back, which states that by 2030, 65% of today’s grade school kids will end up at jobs that haven’t been invented yet, which means they would be entering the job market with a competency gap. AI will play a significant role in this transition. Designing study assistants to identify skill gaps and appropriately recommending the right content to fill those gaps would help. To make this possible, EdTech companies would have to look at both tech and content in new ways to design such solutions.

2. Educator Support

The pace at which educators have had to adapt to tech-driven delivery methodologies in 2020 has been unprecedented. And this is likely to continue with newer technologies coming in. Professional development for online instruction would also help educators to develop online teaching skills. It is also imperative that educators not only have a say in the EdTech product design but also get help through technology support tools. Another consideration is that these tools should be user-friendly; educators should spend more time delivering education than figuring out technology. Quillionz and Raptivity are two good examples of such useful tools. Quillionz helps educators get question ideas and reinforcement points from content (both text and videos), and Raptivity helps educators build pre-class, in-class, and post-class engagement.

3. Digital Transformation

The year 2021 would be a watershed year for this digital transformation for educational institutes. The level of digital transformation might vary from K-12 to higher-ed to skilling platforms. But there is no denying that digital transformation is much more than just providing a Zoom license to get virtual sessions delivered. In addition to using AI and providing educator support, it will also involve creating the entire end-to-end hybrid learning ecosystem to bring about this transformation. 

4. Integrations

Education systems have mostly been working in silos till now. Be it student information systems, learning management systems, student engagement platforms, CRM, attendance systems, or alike, most of these systems operate in isolation. The data that resides in these various systems could help design new experiences if allowed to integrate. For example, suppose a student takes a zoom class. In that case, the attendance system marks their presence automatically, or if the student undertakes an online course, the recommendation engine suggests appropriate learning pathways based on the student’s performance. EdTech products would have to ensure how they seamlessly fit into this ecosystem without adding more administrative work for their customers.

5. Equity in Education

The pandemic has widened the already significant social disparities, and as education and training have shifted online, fears about the ‘digital divide’ have intensified. We are talking about ‘digital inclusion’ and bridging the ‘digital divide.’ Institutions need to find ways to support students as well as educators. Creating asynchronous and offline learning opportunities and not trying to replicate the whole school day online are some strategies that will surely help. Technology will undoubtedly play a significant role in providing ways to do this, but in practicality, all stakeholders need to do their bit to bring equity in education. At Harbinger, we are trying to play our part in bringing equity in education through one of our flagship products – Offline Player. This player allows students to access learning data without internet connectivity. 

Team Harbinger recently hosted a ‘Point of View’ on this topic. The session captures some of the above points in detail. Click here to view the recording of the session.

EdTech tools and technologies have enabled educational institutions to rise to the occasion and make a smooth transition from classrooms to remote learning in 2020. If anything, 2021 will only see it getting bigger and better. As an EdTech provider, are you equipped to handle this enormous growth? What challenges and opportunities do you foresee? Please drop us a note at info@harbingerelearning.com. We would be happy to discuss.  

The EdTech Story: Designing Products for Impacting Student Outcomes and Student Engagement

The education landscape around us is disrupting rapidly. This was happening even before COVID hit us, and the pandemic just accelerated it. What is even more interesting is, that these changes are not happening at a focal point, but cutting across age groups – K-12, Higher Ed, and adult learning. With more and more teaching related activities moving remotely on devices through digital apps, impacting student outcomes and student engagement is coming across as a key challenge for various stakeholders.

The need of the hour is to blend instructional pedagogies with innovative use of technology. There are various aspects that are critical while designing an EdTech product. We have broadly categorized them into four key areas listed below from our experience.

Impacting Student Outcomes

An article published by Forbe’s magazine says that the only metric that matters in EdTech is student outcomes. The role of technology is to act as an enabler to impact these outcomes. At times, it may sound as a controversial stance, and debate it and say there is more to it. But eventually it all leads up to student outcomes. Broadly, if I had to list all such key outcomes, they would be:

  • Driving social mobility and prosperity in economically weaker sections of societies
  • Bridging the gap between formal education and jobs of the future
  • Making education inclusive and equitable for specially abled students
  • Closing the achievement gap for students

We should also consider making the product design process a more collaborative one, by involving educators. Educators would be able to put together a totally fresh perspective in front of EdTech investors and providers about how they perceive real world challenges, which then could be used to into a line of code or an algorithm for a feature.

Harbinger has been providing various engineering services for its EdTech customers. As part of our UI/UX services, we do interview teachers and professors, in the target market, to understand their needs, usage patterns, and pain points. And based on the inputs, our team works with product managers to design product features, improve current product and its design. This helps in not only designing relevant features, but also increase product usage, which in turn helps the business with their objectives.

Designing it Right for Enhanced User Engagement

When it comes to designing products for EdTech industry, design is an extremely important aspect. In fact, a bad design is a death knell for your product. There are numerous cases of debacles in the EdTech industry due to bad design. Once such remarkable case is when New York city’s education department created a data system to replace Achievement Reporting and Innovation System, or ARIS. The investment that went into this was in tunes of USD 95 million over a period of 8 years. When an audit was done to determine the user adoption, it revealed that only a meagre 3% of parent population had logged in into the system. Further investigation revealed that the main reason for this was bad design.

Why designing for EdTech becomes different as compared to some of the other industries is that varied persona types that you have to cater to. The same application or platform could be used by students, teachers, administrators, and parents. And each user type will be using it for a different purpose. This adds a layer of complexity and makes it fun and challenging to design an EdTech product.

Accelerating Digital Transformation through Integrations

In the current context of things, your products are key to help educational institutes make the leap of digital transformation. And integration is a key enabler for digital transformation. You no longer have the option to leave out integration for next time; you need it and you need it now.

Adoption and eventually success of your product heavily relies on integration readiness of your product. In the beginning, the stop gap arrangement for educational institutes was to deliver instructions on web applications like Zoom or Webex. But these were not designed to meet the focal needs of impacting student outcomes and engagement.

There are a variety of products that an educational institute might start using, but if they do not talk to each other, then the entire purpose is defeated. And imagine how the entire experience would be from a student or faculty perspective.

A majority of their time would be spent in navigating from one application to another. And of course, there is the entire angle of data. How do we manage this navigation problem and make sense of the data and provide meaningful insights to stakeholders – if the applications and products are working in silos? The need of the hour is to leverage integrations to accelerate your digital transformation strategy.

Let me bring up a case here to further support the case of integrations. Lately, educational institutes have turned to digital credentialing to validate and recognize skills. Credly, a leading player in this field integrated with Canvas. And a result of this integrated ecosystem – universities are now able to seamlessly and efficiently provide digital credentials to their students on completion of learning programs within the LMS.

Preparing for an Economy of Scale and Disruption

Preparing for an economy of scale and disruptions, both at the same time. Looks contradictory. Allow me to elaborate it a little further.
When the pandemic curveball hit us, and educational institutes closed their physical campuses overnight, replacing it with remote learning and instruction models. It was an act necessitated by the circumstances at hand. The curve to stabilize operations was steep for some and for some others it was relatively easier.

One key reason behind this was that EdTech products which were optimized for cloud could quickly scale up, but the others struggled, some crashed. This entire experience has helped convince stakeholders that preparing for an economy of scale is must and getting on the cloud is the key.

There is one thing that the recent disruptions have taught us is that this is not the last disruption. There could be more, something else, in different sizes and shapes. And while you prepare for an economy of scale, by migrating your products to the cloud, it will also provide you the much-needed elasticity for the next disruption. You can downsize the technology infrastructure and save on costs while you wait for enrolments to pick up.

These are the most interesting times in the EdTech space. This is an opportunity to contribute towards shaping up teaching and learning in the future. In the subsequent blogs, we will peel down the layers of each of the four key aspects we touched upon. In the meanwhile, if you have any questions or comments please feel free to drop us a line at info@harbingerlearning.com.