The 5 top EdTech trends – summer of 2017

Glastonbury a marginally more interesting gathering….but only just.

We are in the season when many learning and technology leaders gather to discuss what’s new and what’s trending in the world of education. And at two recent conferences, Learning Technologies and EdTechXEurope there was plenty to see. Generally, the role of technology in learning seems to have found its place with many acknowledging it should support learning not drive it. However it’s still very easy to look at the latest shiny new offerings and think, this is great how can I use it, rather than, what learning problem does it solve.

Here are a few of the most notable developments.

1. Video is getting even better – fuelled by the YouTube generation of learners, those who would rather watch a video than read a book as a means to consume knowledge, we have some new developments.

Firstly, using video to deliver micro learning.  Not just small chunks of video but untethered, JIT, 3 minute courses that offer the learner digestible easy to remember information. Think of micro learning as a series of very short courses that could be linked to each other or not, and can even include assessment.

Secondly, interactive video. TV is no longer the all commanding medium it once was, it like other technologies has had to evolve. In recent years the shift has been towards better engagement, offering spin off programmes where there is a live audience, web sites that showcase the backstory to the characters and programmes that require the audience to vote and so influence events. Now we have interactive video, where the individual can choose what they would do and so change the future. Check out this amazing example, used by Deloitte to attract new talent.

2. Gamification is becoming better understood. For the uninitiated gamification is the use of game based principles to improve motivation, concentration and more effective learning. Gamification uses Points (P) as a measure of reward, Badges (B) as a visual record of success, and leader boards (L) to create competition.

We now believe Dopamine, the pleasure induced neurotransmitter (chemical) is not created as a result of a reward e.g. by being given a badge, it is the challenge and subsequent achievement that releases the dopamine which in turn leads to pleasure. This might seem obvious, with hindsight, no one gets pleasure from being top of a leader board, if they did nothing to get there.  In addition, dopamine is released when you have a new experience, so think about changing pathways, setting different questions and tasks, it’s certainly not very motivational to go over the same content again.

3. Information overload is leading to a need for Knowledge Curation – we are living in an age where  information is abundant. You can learn anything from the internet. But there lies the problem, we have too much information, we suffer from information overload. Curation is the collecting and sorting of meaningful content around a theme, and it is now in some instances being thought of as more valuable than the content itself.

Arguably curation is not so much about what you curate and share but what you don’t share. In addition to the organisation of content the curators need to have an expertise in the subject and an understanding of their audience and what they want.

Steven Rosenbaum in his book Curation Nation, offers up a good summary. “Curation replaces noise with clarity. And it’s the clarity of your choosing; it’s the things that people you trust help you find.”

4. The market is becoming more accepting of user generated content (UGC) – organisations are beginning to see the benefits of UGC for a whole host of reasons. It’s a very fast way of generating content, there is a lot of expertise that can be uncovered by allowing individuals to share what they know, it’s often user friendly, and importantly its cheap. It is of course not perfect, and there are concerns about quality, but by allowing the users to rate the content, the quality might just look after itself.

5. Virtual reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Artificial intelligence (AI) – not that these are all related, but just a simple way of me summarising three areas to keep an eye on in the not too distant future. All of these technologies are becoming cheaper, largely because of the investment made and experience being gained in the gaming industry.

By way of a footnote Google have released an open source software called Tensorflow which can help with machine learning, something that they believe will help drive new initiatives in AI.

And the badge goes to …….

la-la-land

And the winner is ……La La land……..you have to feel a little sorry for Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway at this year’s Oscars, after all they only read out what was on the card, which is kind of what actors do. And I have to share some of the responsibility, it does seem as if my own profession played no small part in the mistake.

But what is it that makes 3,500 of the most well paid, successful people in their industry give up an evening to watch, on the whole other people receive an award. And why does anyone want an Oscar or the Academy Award of Merit to give its correct name, after all it’s only a 13.5-inch badge, and it’s not even gold.

Why do people want badges?

Perhaps we can answer this question by taking a closer look at gamification, the use of game based incentives in education of which I have written before. PBL (Points, badges and leader boards) is the term most often used to describe some of the elements within games that make them so compelling and worthy of further investigation.

Points and leader boards are perhaps self-explanatory but what is it about the badge, why do people like/want them? They are of course not new, teachers have awarded good students with a star for an excellent piece of work for years, the Scouts offer a whole range of badges when certain skills have been demonstrated, and those with qualifications will proudly display letters after their name as if in some way it mattered. The point is of course, it does.

Social psychologist and research scientist Judd Antin together with Elizabeth Churchill, collaborated on a paper called “Badges in Social Media: A Social Psychological Perspective” antin-churchill. There work helps shed some light on the value of badges.

The 5 Primary Functions of badges

Antin and Churchill suggested that badges could serve several individual and social functions depending on the nature of the activities that the badge rewarded and the application of the badge in a particular context.

  1. Goal setting – desire is the first part, you have to want or need something. But then the best way of satisfying that desire is to make it into a goal, planning the smaller steps that will help you get there.  Wanting the badge is motivational.
  2. Instruction – badges are instructive, showing the individual what is available and most valued. This may help direct learning and move students out of their silos as they see what else they might work towards. E.g. giving a badge for the student who attempts more questions might encourage others to do the same.
  3. Reputation – badges are a physical means of storing experience, expertise and interest. In fact, some argue that badges will replace CV’s in the future as they are a more dynamic and current record of what an individual has achieved and a means of measuring their reputation.
  4. Status/affirmation – badges advertise past achievements, and communicate accomplishments without you having to say anything. They are also a form of personal affirmation, confirming to yourself that you are successful. When studying becomes more challenging its possible self-doubt might creep in, maybe when you get to this point you might want to look at your past achievements, and a badge is a great way of storing past success.
  5. Group identification – badges are clear indications that you belong to a certain group or club, you are the same as someone else and so will be accepted by them. Are you a qualified accountant, if so you must be the same as me. A classic example of social ranking.

Antin and Churchill go on to suggest that badges don’t work for everyone and more research should be undertaken in different contexts to explore the circumstances in which badges are the most effective. But on the whole badges offer an incredibly simple and motivational way of changing behaviors, and getting people to take action rather than not.

A unique badge

La La land will of course never get the ultimate badge, the Oscar, but in years to come it may achieve something far more important, a unique badge that is unlikely to be given to anyone else. The badge that everyone will remember who didn’t win the Oscar for best picture in 2017.