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Edtech - A Fast-Growing Business Sector with the Potential to Make the World a Better Place
By David Glover, Executive Director - Partnerships, Unitec Institute of Technology, New Zealand
In 2018 edtech attracted US $1.45 billion of investment. If America led the way, the rest of the world has quickly followed suit. From Europe to India and China the edtech industry is booming. The digitisation of our schools has spawned a whole new ecosystem of edtech companies: infrastructure businesses installing broadband, providing cybersecurity and digital identity solutions; hardware businesses offering mobile devices, tablets and interactive tools; application businesses offering new ways to enhance the teaching and learning experience.Edtech is now a legitimate industry in its own right, attracting idealistic young workers as well as commercial professionals who obtain satisfaction from contributing to a social good. Small countries such as New Zealand have found new export opportunities as a result, with companies such as Hapara, Biozone, Booktrack, and Wendy Pye selling their digital educational products around the world. Now I believe the appeal of edtech is moving out into the broader business world, driving and supporting workplace learning and development as the demand for workers with sophisticated digital skills accelerates. The established tech sector is leading the way with new ways to recruit and upskill workers online who don’t have the time, interest or need to follow a traditional tertiary education journey. My son, for example, routinely adds new Microsoft-accredited qualifications obtained through study online to boost his career and credibility as a cloud infrastructure engineer. Lynda.Com, Great Courses Plus and other online providers deliver credible learning experiences and badging that are increasingly becoming a currency recognised by employers. The UK university consortium behind FutureLearn offers hundreds of specialist courses. In New Zealand you can now study for a Certificate in Education Technology – online, of course. Industries such as construction, finance, and agriculture are increasing their investment in developing the skills of their current and future workers to meet the demands of the new technology-enabled workplaces. For example, drones now play an important role in running many of New Zealand’s large farms—so a farmer now has to learn to be a drone operator. Our new health and safety legislation has driven a rapid increase in the use of virtual learning environments and simulations by the construction industry. Across the developed world we are wrestling with issues like the future of work, the impact of automation and AI on businesses, and debating the skill needs of the next generations of the workforce that are currently still in school. The potential for education technology to make a substantial contribution should be at the heart of this conversation. Edtech can help governments overcome teacher shortages, help teachers teach more effectively, encourage self-directed learning, and enable and enhance the right learning, at the right time, just about anywhere, to just about anyone. To grasp these opportunities, the education sector needs to step up the pace, and build better partnerships with technology firms and the wider business community. As EdTechNZ commented in a recent submission to the NZ Productivity Commission: “The change in workplaces is moving at a more rapid and accelerating rate than the changes in the education sector, which historically finds it hard to innovate and scale new initiatives quickly in response to industry demand. These mismatches of capability and expectation are a major and growing problem.” The challenges remain, but the prize is worth the effort.
The appeal of edtech is moving out into the broader business world, driving and supporting workplace learning and development