What's Next for Education Technology

At the recent Bett conference, 34,700 attendees from 131 countries gathered in London’s Excel center to learn more about how technology is transforming education in K-12 and beyond. With 850 of the world’s leading edu-tech companies on display — and more than 100 startups looking to make their mark — educators experienced the technology shaping how students learn, create and prepare for the workforce when their educational journey ends.

After walking the show floor, listening to several keynotes and panels, and talking to a wide range of vendors, we identified several core trends that will shape education technology in 2018 and beyond:

  1. Robots are coming to the classroom

Students telling jokes about their teachers being lifeless and robotic is as old as education itself, but those gags will soon take on a very different meaning. Based on what companies were showcasing, 2018 is the year that robots will show up in a big way in the classroom. On display were robots that support educators in teaching everything from 21st-century CDT skills like 3D printing and laser engraving, to fine arts, arithmetic, English and science. Educators had mixed reactions as they weighed up the positives of having extra help in the classroom versus the implications for their long-term career prospects.

  1. Technology giants take a familiar approach to youth: The younger the better

The common belief about technology platforms—as we’re seeing with Facebook, Amazon, Google, etc.—is that the younger someone becomes a brand advocate, the longer they will be a loyal, valued (and valuable) customer. This approach, so prevalent in a number of industries, is now being adopted by technology giants. Household names, including Adobe, HP, Microsoft and Google, upped their presence at Bett compared to previous years and are investing heavily in getting their platforms into classrooms and used by the impressionable K-12 audience. The companies know that if they can have students use their technology as soon as they’re old enough to fire up a laptop, they can create brand loyalty that will be reflected in future purchasing decisions.

  1. Virtual reality opens doors into unreachable worlds

Storytelling is an interactive process. Students today are conditioned to learn by watching a screen, and companies are realizing the commercial opportunity of bringing this into the classroom. Bett attendees were transported to the trenches of WWI, walked the streets of Florence and toured the inside of an active volcano through the power of virtual reality headsets. VR offers an immersive learning experience that cannot be matched by other teaching methods, no matter how engaging the educator. Once the price-point becomes accessible for all schools, there will be little to stop it from becoming integral to the classroom for students of all ages.

  1. Teachers are crowdsourcing information from unlikely sources

Technology trade shows are not the obvious place that you would expect to find large groups of students, but this is where Bett sets itself apart from other edu-tech conferences. A number of educators brought their students along to crowdsource their opinions on the resources they would and wouldn’t like to see in their classrooms. By conducting their own focus groups in a setting that facilitates learning and sparks their student’s interests, educators gathered information to make a case to their schools and administrators for new and more suitable technology that fosters better learning.

Jon Temerlies is vice president, Technology, Washington, D.C.