Key Edtech Trends to Watch

Technology can serve many purposes, including education. Here’s an overview of the upcoming trends in the Edtech field.

If you’ve been paying attention to trends and developments in technology over the last couple of years, you’ve likely encountered the term “Edtech.” But if you’re coming from a consumer product background, you may not fully understand what this entails and why it’s more important than ever.

First, you should know that it’s now a market estimated to be worth US$8 billion with education-based venture and equity financing reaching $1.87 billion in 2014, a year-over-year increase of 55%.

Educational technology (Edtech) itself is simply the use of technology—whether software or hardware—in a learning environment. It’s a diverse industry that can be split roughly into three verticals:

  • Administration (management of information and processes)
  • Instruction (teaching material)
  • Assessment (student knowledge and progress documentation and measurement)

Strong growth is being driven by a number of factors including the cloud, the spread of both powerful mobile computing devices and wireless Internet, and post-secondary institutions embracing BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies to thereby free themselves from the burden of purchasing and maintaining hardware.

Through such policies, students are using their own devices to access learning materials not only on campus networks, but also anywhere off-campus. This effectively transforms the world into their 24/7 classroom.

There’s a very human aspect to this as well: the impact of the millennial generation (those born between the early 1980s and early 2000s) cannot be understated.

Members of this generation have never known a world without personal computers in every home (or every jean pocket) or plentiful high-speed wireless Internet. Consequently, their comfort level with, and preference for, using technology is very high. They also exhibit a learning style that favours information on demand, customization, and immediate feedback.

It’s probably inaccurate to say that 2016 will be Edtech’s coming-out party, but the build-up that has been occurring over the last couple of years should continue, although the belt-tightening of venture capital firms in Silicon Valley is expected to have some sort of ripple effect.

In this exciting new era, the key Edtech trends that are poised to make the biggest impact in terms of adoption and benefit focus on greater context and personalization for both learners and teachers. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of these key trends.

Adaptive Learning

Based on student performance, adaptive learning technologies adjust the pacing and contents of material delivery to ensure students are learning in a style and pace that is best for them. Adaptive learning will provide benefits not only for struggling students, but also those at the top of their class who are normally at risk of getting bored and losing interest.

Dreambox Math is one app that makes use of adaptive learning

Imagine lessons and homework tailored to meet the specific needs of individual students. In the past, such a level of personalization would have required teachers to work non-stop, but advances in machine learning, analytics, and natural language processing will do much of the heavy lifting, thereby helping to drive the growth of apps based on adaptive learning.

Formative Assessment

Formative assessment is essentially educators assessing student performance early and often. This has obvious benefits for students, but when paired with data analytics, teachers can use the generated information to adjust their lesson plans on the fly.

Big data, analytics, always-connected mobile devices, learning apps that allow teachers to customize content, and the placement of questions will help make formative assessment more prevalent and useful.

With the increasing presence of tablets and low-cost laptops, students can answer their teacher’s in-class questions privately, without fear of being wrong in front of their classmates.

Project Based Learning

Project-based learning (PBL) focuses on solving a purposeful project over an extended period of time instead of just learning isolated learning outcomes and skills that are without context.

This approach seeks to better correlate with real-life work and problem-solving situations and helps the student practice and learn self-management, multi-tasking and revising among other skills.

For all of us that ever wondered “why?” when handed an assignment, PBL is an exciting shift in how we teach and learn.

We’ve known for several decades now that there is a key group of skills that young people need to succeed in the workplace (such as social responsibility, critical thinking, and choosing the best tool for the job). However, the technological breakthroughs mentioned earlier make PBL a much more viable methodology now.

AR/VR (augmented reality/virtual reality)

The nascent AR/VR market is projected to be worth $120 billion by 2020, displacing mobile as the leading computing platform. Although it’s still early, we’ll see things start to speed up in 2016. In fact, AR/VR investments have already hit $1.1 billion since the beginning of 2016.

Virtual reality offers a virtual world that users envelope themselves in by wearing goggles that block out their view of the real world. On the other hand, augmented reality blends our reality with overlaid interactive elements.

It’s important to distinguish between the two as this isn’t a case of VHS vs. Betamax; both technologies offer very different and unique experiences that don’t necessarily compete against each other.

Devices like Microsoft’s HoloLens and the Facebook-owned Oculus Rift are going to affect every aspect of our lives, including education. VR and AR will make history, nature and science both more accessible and come alive—for those who might not otherwise be able to experience it.

Microsoft’s HoloLens offers a vision of how anatomy may be taught in the future

Regardless of a lack of budget for field trips or experimental equipment or proximity to exotic locations, thanks to AR/VR, students will be able to enter a world of discovery to anywhere, anytime, through virtual subjects, scenarios and experiments. And this isn’t merely a vision being pushed by marketers onto educators: teachers want more tech in their classrooms, including VR.

Like any new device or platform, what’s needed is a “killer app” that the mass market simply needs to own. This will help drive adoption and bring down prices while encouraging the development of even more apps. However it’s not hard to imagine virtual field trips to the Jurassic age and fully interactive classroom-sized solar systems in our future.


The lack of quality software, coupled with hardware costs multiplied by the sheer scale of educational institutions, has held back edtech since the first popular home computers gave us a glimpse of what could be over 30 years ago.

But we’re now living a very exciting time. Over the last 10 years, technology has revolutionized entrepreneurship, entertainment and the arts. Education is now starting to catch up and, more than ever, the opportunity exists to meaningfully transform it to the same degree.

Kevin Oke
Kevin Oke is co-founder of Victoria BC-based LlamaZOO Interactive, an award-winning educational technology start-up. Kevin has worked as an employee and consultant in digital interactive entertainment for 10 years. He has worked with Fox, Electronic Arts, Sky Sports and Nickelodeon on 40+ projects.
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