EdTech and the Australian tertiary education sector
Firstly, congratulations to the EduGrowth team for a very engaging annual Summit. Registration was free and so is access to all the recordings if this summary leaves you wanting more.
There were more than 1,500 registrations for the event– and at the start of Day 3, Emeritus Prof Beverley Oliver interviewed Caroline Hartnett from Global Victoria about the Victorian government’s new $3.2 million investment to expand EdTech engagement and research. If you are an EdTech organisation based in Victoria the details are available on the Study Melbourne site.
Returning to the program and the first session to grab my attention was the panel discussion on Day 1 which featured a great discussion about EdTech and the State of Education Innovation across all levels of education. It featured the brilliant Maria Spies from HolonIQ and Collette Rogers from Deloitte Australia.
Collette spoke about the July 2021 report Deloitte released on the Australian EdTech sector and the impact of COVID. Amongst the points both Maria and Collette made were:
- 8% of Australian EdTech companies now have a user base of more than 1 million monthly users, compared with only 1% a year earlier
- Despite the growth and the Australian EdTech sector’s growing maturity, 43% of EdTech providers found it harder to attract new customers during the pandemic as educational institutions had their focus elsewhere. Also while many experienced an increase in users on their platforms that did not always result in increased revenues (as some looked to grow numbers during COVID while at the same time financial decision making within education institutions was often delayed)
- Most of the growth in Australian EdTech in the last 12 months has been in online learning and assessment services, and this was particularly the case in higher education – which also saw a very strong focus on online assessment, not just exam proctoring but different forms of authentic assessment
- There’s an emerging focus in higher education and VET in thinking about technology and the student experience – with technology enabling more personalised student support services
- With universities having less discretionary funds to invest in new systems they’re increasingly looking for solutions that plug into their core existing systems, and while all universities have learning management systems (some better than others) their future focus will be on quality, learning outcomes and assessment being built out of/on to their LMS. Universities will also be looking for more learner analytics and student support (and I think this will also be the same in VET)
- Universities are increasingly focussed on more work integrated learning and employer engagement and there are some good emerging virtual platforms to support this. They are also exploring new business models and more partnerships with businesses – and EdTech can support that
- Post-COVID and the major, overnight shift to online delivery, universities are now re-thinking their planned investments in campuses and technology and they are informed by the mostly positive experiences of their students with online learning. The question universities are now asking is “what works best online and what’s best delivered face-to-face?”
- Much of the growth coming in B2C activity for EdTech companies in Australian higher education will be linked to upskilling and lifelong learning, skills passports, etc (ie professional learners looking for shorter courses)
On Day 3, Tim Dodd from The Australian interviewed Prof. Liz Johnson from Deakin University and Deanna Raineri from Northeastern University in the US. The topic was ‘Students demanding innovation: EdTech enabling new business models’ and despite all of the differences between the US and the Australian higher education sectors – the insights and observations from both women were remarkably similar. They included:
- 10 years on from the invention of the MOOC – what’s changed most is “who” is the student, because MOOCs have allowed a much wider range of students to access higher education, and the changing world of work and need for lifelong learning, upskilling and reskilling will only continue that trend
- ‘Professional’ learners (ie those looking to upskill) want shorter form content, more specialised content, and more job relevant course offerings, not traditional content.
- Having experienced online learning during COVID, many traditional on-campus students also want more of the flexibility online learning brings, albeit they do not necessarily want fully online learning
- Online learning also allows content to be tailored to the individual learner, and personalised, stackable learning is a lower cost option which can still be aggregated up to the full degree
- COVID-19 has given undergraduate learners more confidence in online learning but there is still a need for support for teachers and students in adapting to online education
- “Cloud First” at Deakin University underpins their learning design strategy, that is “if you design well for online learners, you’re designing well for all learners”. Some classes (and students) work well face-to-face and others work well online, but a good LMS and good learning design allows for a nuanced and sophisticated approach across the institution
- Reinforcing this point, Deanna observed how online learning done well can be more educationally sound than traditional models. In traditional face-to-face models the lecturer prepares the course themselves. In online learning a whole, wraparound, team comes together to help design the course, and in doing the design work – the focus is on the learning outcomes the academics want their students to achieve. The course is then designed specifically to achieve these outcomes
- Both universities are actively thinking about how they position themselves, what their unique value proposition is, and the threat of disruption (particularly in ICT education) from the non-accredited, industry certified alternatives. Both institutions are also working closely with industry and embedding industry examples into their courses/including industry certification in some of what they teach
Vivian Fan from Global Education spoke to Ryan O’Hare from OPM provider KeyPath Education and Dr Dino Willox from the University of Queensland who spoke about partnerships between universities and industry:
- The role of the OPMs in helping universities expand and scale their online offerings typically to the lifelong learner/working professional was discussed, and the significant growth in OPM partnerships – because of the specialist education and industry experience their bring to their university partners
- Historically university partnerships have been focussed on research and/or philanthropy but today’s partnerships are “service delivery” relationships being driven by both the range of challenges and opportunities universities are facing and universities’ growing awareness of their competence and ability to manage these challenges (a “strengths-based” approach where private entities are more agile, especially when it comes to technology)
- The key question confronting EdTech providers is how to approach a university – where to start given there are so many layers in universities? As a result most EdTech partnerships usually end up falling within a procurement process – which runs against a true partnership approach. Universities are now starting to set-up innovation-type hubs (which typically come out of their international education experiences where partnerships with commercial organisations are the norm) and these hubs are often best for EdTech companies to work with because they have an understanding of partnerships and how to work with commercial organisations
In the last session of Day 3, despite the focus being on higher education, there was a panel session on ‘Innovation in the institution’ featuring Dr Chris Campbell from Griffith University and Rob Thomason from VETASSESS, facilitated by Herk Kailis from Cadmus.
- Chris discussed the Explore Learning and Teaching website where Griffith University staff members and external contributors from around the world can share innovations in the use of EdTech in teaching – and the innovations on the site are backed by research and further refined through research
- This was one of 7 websites Griffith University created to help them manage the shift to online teaching during COVID and they’ve since decided to keep five of these to continue to improve teaching practices and support their academics
- Griffith University uses teaching and learning consultants who help staff share their innovations and provide support to academics in sharing new ways of working, and they meet once a week to do this, with most Griffith courses now use Microsoft Teams even to support face-to-face learning
- Rob made the point that COVID has challenged VET providers more than universities, because of the hands-on nature of VET and particularly assessment
- VETASSESS has developed some innovative responses to the challenge of doing VET assessment in a more online/virtual environment (especially using AV equipment not just for domestic assessment activities but also in assessing skilled migration applicants offshore)
- Both speakers discussed the challenge in bringing teachers and institutions along to understanding the benefits of EdTech and how to integrate it into their “normal pedagogical approach”, given most were educated prior to the big leap forward in EdTech in the last five years
- Then panel also had a very good discussion about assessment in an online context in this session (not surprising given Cadmus is an online assessment platform) and Rob explained how VETASSESS’ offshore assessment using video will change their assessment practices in future
- Rob spoke about the procurement challenges for large public institutions in working with small start-up organisations
In the first session of the ‘Skills and Workforce Development’ final day – Andrea Cornwell from the Digital Skills Organisation and Prof. Sally Kift, President of the Australian Teaching and Learning Fellows discussed regulation, innovation and EdTech. It was a very good discussion with Andrea’s strong policy and regulatory background giving good context to the work of the DSO. Sally in turn drew on her experiences in the university sector and the challenges of innovating especially when government funding is not currently available to support institutions in investing in educational innovation.
In the session I facilitated with Sally Curtain from Kangan Institute and Prof. Belinda Tynan from the Australian Catholic University – we discussed ‘The War for Talent: EdTech enabling industry growth’. I really enjoyed the conversation and got some good insights into the innovation and the employer engagement occurring at both institutions. Examples include:
- the co-location of Kangan’s Cremorne campus in the heart of the tech-hub in Richmond sees it providing skills training to meet the needs of potentially the largest concentration of tech companies in the world. Kangan’s work includes designing entry-level “new collar” courses to help build a talent pipeline for these companies and others
- Kangan is involved in a new pilot program with the Digital Skills Organisation which they intend to subsequently scale through the rest of their campuses and network
- in higher education universities are working with employers in a range of collaborative activities including research, providing input into curriculum, work integrated learning, joint ventures and engaging industry representatives on university advisory boards. These activities will be boosted through the new National Priorities and Industry Linkages funding
- Work Integrated Learning is now virtual as well as local (with many ACU students undertaking virtual placements during the pandemic), and so is employer engagement with Kangan’s Automotive Centre of Excellence working with Suzuki in Gujarat, India to provide them with their training expertise
- what institutions teach is also changing – for Kangan one of the changes is a growing focus on renewables in trades training (the ‘Working safely with solar’ short course was Kangan’s highest growth course in 2020), ACU is embedding industry certification into some courses
- government funding has also had an impact in encouraging more short course offerings, with the Victorian government encouraging more “bite sized” courses during the pandemic through it’s Working for Victoria program, while in the higher education sector the Commonwealth government’s funding for undergraduate certificates has also been important
- helping young people entering post-school education to understand the importance of lifelong learning will be important and EdTech also has a role to play there through start-ups like My Career Capital (which has a partnership with Kangan).
The next session to catch my attention was ‘The Stackable World: Life-long skills curated through technology’session which was facilitated by Cherie Diaz from Open Learning and comprised Andrew Barnes from GO1 and Brad Birt from Curtin University. It was fascinating to hear about how Curtin University, an innovative but traditional higher education institution is embarking on offering stackable credentials, and contrasting these experiences with Go1 which is a platform designed solely for short courses for employers and their staff (and is Australia’s latest unicorn with a valuation of $1 billion after their $270 million capital raise in late July).
- Brad likened the move to offer stackable courses to the shift in the music industry from “creating an album” to helping learners “curate a playlist”
- Andrew picked up on that theme and pointed out how the playlist approach is what defines the GO1 platform. They are the “Spotify for Education”
- Go1 is in talks with Curtin University to host their content on the platform, along with their existing content from Coursera, EdX, Skillsoft and a number of specialist, industry-specific, VET providers
- Go1 is also working with industry associations to curate content for their continuing professional development offerings
- Curtin’s smallest stackable unit involves just 1 day of tuition (albeit with more learning required to complete the unit). It in turn is mapped to the AQF and can then be stacked up into a Graduate Certificate and from there into a Master’s degree
- Brad also discussed the fact that Curtin sees a future where they will recognise workplace learning (not necessarily done with Curtin) for credit towards credentials at Curtin University
And then finally Maria Spies was back on the screen again, this time with Marc Washbourne from ReadyTech – speaking with Gill Cashion from PWC Australia. They were focussed on EdTech investment and ‘The New Scale: Capital Amplifying Education Impact’. If you are interested in where EdTech investment is going and how to raise capital in the EdTech sector then this session is well worth watching.