Learner centricity: Seven ways EdTech is disrupting top down teaching

April 12, 2022

In this article, Anne Olderog, senior partner at Vivaldi, discusses the transformational impact of EdTech and the prominence of learner centricity in driving this change.

Learner centricity: Seven ways EdTech is disrupting top down teaching

EdTech’s rise to prominence has been little short of phenomenal over the past two years. The move to more remote learning during the pandemic has rapidly increased the pace of digital transformation. The global education technology market size was valued at USD 89.49 billion in 2020 and is expected to witness a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19.9% per year until 2028. A series of high profile new digital platforms have gained significant investment, and are opening up exciting new possibilities for learning.

These EdTech pioneers are at the crest of a rising new wave of companies disrupting traditional pipeline businesses. Known as ‘the interaction field model’, this revolutionary new approach to business is being realised through education via a fundamentally new business model. These businesses are all about creating value not by leveraging physical assets like with old world ‘pipeline businesses’, but rather by bringing together key participants in the industry and creating value through exchange.

In Education, there has been much discussion on a shift from an “authoritative” (“knowledgeable adult” to a “tabula rasa” learner) to a lateral or peer-to peer model. This makes Education particularly susceptible as an industry to shift from a traditional (“pipeline”) one-to-many model to a many-to-many ecosystem where learning comes from everywhere and everyone.

There are seven ways EdTech companies are leading this charge that are worth examining, underpinning them is ‘learner-centricity’.

1. Platforms for unbundled courses

One of the most prominent phenomena of the EdTech revolution is the rise of platforms such as Coursera. The most famous posterchild of the new generation of EdTech companies, their $7bn IPO is a testimony to the enduring business opportunity in the new ‘many to many’ model. A community of 87 million learners and over 200 universities, Coursera opens up access for students and enables professors or institutions to reach wider audiences, creating a larger market opportunity for all.

Science of Well Being by Yale professor Laurie Santos, has been taken by an astonishing 3.38 million students. This model might well be pointing to the future of education. Disrupting the traditional approach by allowing students to assemble their own set of courses best suited for the professional and life paths they set for themselves, based around ‘star instructors’.

2. Information Exchanges

The rise of student-centric information exchanges has been a defining trend of the past few years. Chegg, Quizlet and Course Hero allow students to contribute study sets they can share publicly to help others build their knowledge and also answer specific questions directly.

Participants in this ecosystem are not just students, they also include other types of participants. For instance, instructors can create study sets to share with their students and track their students’ progress. Content creators can partner with Quizlet to become ‘Verified Creators’ – combining their content with Quizlet’s study tools and selling that content to schools or directly to students. Indeed learner information exchanges are only the starting point and will try to scale up to include more and more audiences over time.

3. Learning Networks

The next model seems to be emerging to counter the fear that technology might eliminate community. For instance, Prisma, started by former Google execs, defines itself as a “connected learning network” cultivating independence and the joy of learning. It allows individual learners already on the K-12 level to form their own community. This model is predicated on creating learning and network effects among the different cohorts as they exchange ideas and best practice building cohesion and momentum.

4. Conversational Learning

From studies into neuroscience, we know that asking big, open-ended questions makes learning more motivating and creates active attention. This is the premise of ‘Conversational Learning’ which helps to create viral and network effects by drawing students into great conversations. Kialo, Parlay or Packback are three examples of EdTech companies inviting students into debates on often open-ended questions.

Discord takes this model even further by creating micro-tribes within larger networks. Students can join groups around particular topics or Silent study rooms. It will remind them to take breaks as well as recording session time for leaderboards. Meanwhile study bots will help students meet deadlines.

5. Mentorship and Support Networks

Matching learners with support – from instructors, real world experts, or peers – is a problem this new ‘many to many’ model is particularly well suited to solve. Brainly allows students to tap into the brainpower of thousands of experts worldwide by asking them questions. At the other end of the spectrum, Piazza focuses on micro-communities on the college or course level.

Online tutoring platforms such as Knack, Vygo, Skooli or Tutit create ecosystems based around matching students with support, whether this is from tutors or peers. Meanwhile Peerceptiv is focused on creating a virtual cycle of feedback on writing and analytics that set the stage for collaboration between students and instructors.

6. Creator Economy

Creator Economy EdTech players enable students to not just be recipients or even interpreters of information – and not just tutors or mentors – but also creators and authors in their own right. For instance, Scratch is a platform where students can program interactive stories, games, and animations, and share creations with others. GoConqr is a social learning platform – offering an array of learning tools for students and educators to create and share study resources in innovative ways.

7. Innovation Labs

The last example that demonstrates learner centricity is ‘innovation labs’. Curio is an online platform for educators to discover, curate, and collaborate to find new ideas to transform education. Among teacher-centric platforms, this online community of teachers enables collaboration and sharing of best practices/methods for teaching – joining community groups, asking questions (anonymously or not) as well as connecting with others through private messages.

Most of these merging new models can work with each other to facilitate improved learning outcomes through learner centricity. The question is, of course, which particular players are likely to quickly build scale and viral effects – and those are largely rooted in the ability of these EdTech businesses to create learning effects, in particular from data that will allow them to improve their offering as they go.

EdTech businesses are so exciting because of their focus on learner-centricity and the ability to use digital technology and data to transform a traditional top down approach. They are one of the best examples of the new ‘Interaction Field’ model of doing business, premised on an entirely new value creation model based on collaboration and a many to many ecosystem. With a variety of distinct models that all have unique strengths, it is clear EdTech is a fast learner.

About the author

Anne Olderog has a wealth of knowledge on education, both in terms of her work and also personally. As Senior Partner at Vivaldi, the global business transformation firm, she leads projects on growth & innovation strategy, positioning and brand architecture, for education companies including Blackboard and McGraw-Hill to ensure that today and tomorrow’s learners get the very best that education can offer.

She has also worked with education brands including Per Scholas, LIFT, Notes in Motion and the Dance Theater Workshop. Anne is also founder of Acton Academy in Verona, New Jersey. At Vivaldi, Anne works with education brands to help them stay relevant to today’s learners, devising strategies for the future. She believes in Learning Centricity – where the future is to give the keys to the learners – not merely teaching, but encouraging learning. Anne has written extensively on the subject, including how COVID-19 has changed the world of education.

New to EdTech?  Read our EdTech 101 guide: https://global-edtech.com/edtech-definitions-products-and-trends/