Realising the disruptive potential of EdTech
In early July, two significant conference keynote speeches were made. One at the NCVER’s annual conference and the second at the QS Europe conference. And while the NCVER conference was focussed on VET and the QS conference was on higher education, the keynotes are relevant to both sectors.
Starting with the NCVER conference keynote, Dr Borhene Chakroun from UNESCO offered a substantial, well thought through policy context for the changes happening in education.
Key points he made included:
- The need to seriously embrace lifelong learning – not only focussed on preparing youth for jobs of the future and re-skilling workers as their jobs change, but also helping senior citizens keep learning – because the world and technology is changing so rapidly .
- Individual learning accounts will be key to supporting individuals in this new reality of lifelong learning. Current examples include:
- France where they were introduced in 2015 and 1 million people have so far accessed them
- Singapore’s Skill Future initiative
- South Korea’s new Learning Card, and
- The European Commission which has just finished public consultations on individual learning accounts.
- Dr Chakroun argued these accounts are needed so individuals can make choices and spend their funding on either quality assured training, guidance or validation of existing skills.
- He went on to say that quality assured microcredentials (including industry-certified courses and MOOC credentials) are important pieces of the puzzle in bringing us closer to true lifelong learning, and this type of learning needs to be recognised in VET (and higher education).
- There is also a data revolution underway and it can/will have a profound positive impact on improving learning but teachers will need help to learn new skills
- Dr Chakroun spent considerable time in his address speaking about the benefits of personalised, adaptive learning. UNESCO is not just embracing the power of personalised learning, they are also encouraging the use of high quality open source tools and resources to facilitate better online learning and they want governments to fund more of these resources so that the private tech sector is not getting access to all the student data as they do now when educational institutions use commercial resources.
When I think about Dr Chakroun’s (and UNESCO’s) recommendation to introduce Individual Learning Accounts (and they have had some support here in Australia albeit not at a policy level) – I am struck by the challenge for both providers and policymakers. By their very nature, learning accounts move funding decisions away from governments and into the hands of learners, that in turns has implications for government-funded institutions.
Turning to the QS conference, the most notable presentation was from Coursera’s Chief Content Officer, Dr Betty Vandenbosch. I heard Coursera’s CEO speak back in mid-2018 when they were pivoting their platform and the courses on it to help corporates with up-skilling and re-skilling.
Amongst the points Dr Vandenbosch shared were:
- 75% of UK university students want lectures to stay online.
- 57% of UK institutions are re-thinking their online priorities.
- Digital lectures will “be the new textbooks” which is a comment similar to the claims of Professor Claire Macken at RMIT University (I spoke to her about it, in this episode of the podcast).
- Coursera sees four changes, which occurred during COVID, having a long-lasting impact on learning:
- Increased use of blended learning, including:
- Institutions forming new partnerships to share content online. During COVID 59% of EU-institutions shared online course content with each other to help their students who couldn’t travel to attend lessons face-to-face in another city or country.
- More flexible, job-related training: eg Coursera has rolled out this kind of education in one Hungarian university and the course has been so popular that Coursera is now the fourth largest faculty in the university.
- Student employability is key (in the US hiring for entry-level college graduate positions fell 45% last year):
- The pandemic accelerated automation of job roles, shifted many people to working remotely and accelerated digitisation (94% of UK businesses have accelerated digitisation since COVID).
- The jobs landscape for digital skills is growing fast and changing quickly – in Australia modelling from the National Skills Commission paints a similar picture.
- Coursera is involved in teaching digital skills by supporting industry-education partnerships. Google chose Coursera as the platform for their IT certificates for entry-level tech jobs. These certificates can be taught in a few months and are targeted at learners with no college degree and no prior work experience in IT. Since their launch 12 months ago they have had 500,000 enrolments (59% had no prior degree, 53% were Black, women, Latino or veterans, and 46% had been earning less that US $30,000 pa). Recognising that this cohort of students may need additional support, Coursera worked with NGOs, community colleges, governments and non-profits to provide on-the-ground mentoring, coaching and peer support to the students. Once learners finish their certificate they can apply for job vacancies at more than 130 large employers who are Google partners (eg Intel, Walmart, H&R Block). They can also go on to further online study at one of three Coursera partner universities (one in the UK and two in the US), with the certificate counting for credit towards the degree. About 1/3 of enrolments this year in the University of London’s BSc Computer Science had done a Google Certificate and received credit for it.
- Expanding equitable access – online learning expands access in two ways (stackable learning which can help those who haven’t completed a lot of/or any formal learning beyond school, as well as offering greater access to students in less developed countries).
- Coursera (and other EdTech providers) have structured their short courses to build up, or ‘stack’, to full degrees to offer learners more options and flexibility.
- Online education has also massively expanded access to education in developing countries during COVID. Coursera saw enrolments double in India, and grow by more than 60% in each of the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. Their Top 5 locations are now: 15.8M users in the US, India 11.9M, Mexico 4.9M, Brazil 3.4M and China 3.2M.
- Coursera has also seen growth in women studying online during COVID and expect this to continue (their data has fewer women than men studying online pre-COVID).
- Increased collaboration between education and industry: examples included Novartis using Coursera for 32,000 of their workers to enrol in courses available on the platform, and another partnership with the NY State government after 1.7 million private sector jobs were lost in NY in April 2020. Affected workers were given free access to Coursera and 25,000 took up the opportunity. City University NY and a NY employer association were also involved., and in Estonia the government partnered with Coursera for them to give free access to courses on their platform for 79,000 people (which was equivalent to 7% of the unemployed labour force in Estonia).
For me the key lessons from Dr Vandenbosch’s presentation were:
- Providers need to be thinking differently about their course content – what Coursera worked out a few years ago (and others have too) is that there is a lot of extra learning that employers and individuals want as the world of work changes, and by breaking up full degrees, diplomas and certificates into smaller chunks and offering them at scale – there’s an opportunity to meet some of that huge level of demand for upskilling/reskilling.
- Providers also need to be thinking more expansively about student support for online learners. I was really impressed by the support Coursera iss offering for the students doing the Google certificates