Technology Research

Behind the (Not So) Hidden EdTech Agenda

Events like the ASU+GSV Summit remind us that edtech is no longer a “wild west” of fringe ideas, disruptive innovations, and nice-to-have solutions. A large and growing number of companies are taking aim at the very heart of higher education by uprooting and reshaping the single unifying principle that holds this industry together: curriculum. Quite simply, they are reimagining what is taught, how it is taught, and why it is taught. Having spoken with dozens of these companies over the course of this conference, it is clear that curricular transformation is unmistakably the driving force behind their agenda. Take, for instance:

What is taught or “content”

A growing number of learning management companies, publishers, and open content providers are no longer satisfied to serve as a platform for content delivery alone. Instead, they hire armies of people to produce content, curate it, vet it, rank it, continuously improve it, and seamlessly integrate it into their platforms. While few of these companies take aim at wholly displacing traditional (i.e., faculty led) forms of content production, some come close… very close. Content is king in this business, but as the tenor of our interactions throughout ASU+GSV suggest, content is also fast becoming a commodity.

How it is taught or “method”

Other companies are focused on changing not only the means through which teaching and learning takes place, but also core pedagogic methods. These companies offer platforms supported by agile and responsive features and functionality that can be deployed in any number of ways and across the whole of the learning lifecycle. What were once largely one-to-one delivery structures facilitated through clunky, hard to use platforms are now becoming more immersive, modularized, and adaptive. Access to these tools is now more available (and cost-effective) than ever before through lower cost wholesale enterprise systems, adaptive learning platforms, integrations, and the like.

Why it is taught or “purpose”

Often overlooked in debates about the role of edtech in higher education are the philosophies that inform the design of many systems. Especially among many newer companies, the focus on innovation is about much more than platforms, products, and profits. Rather, technology is being used to shape values and a learning lifestyle that aligns technology with broader national—and even global—priorities, from degree completion and student success to social justice.

The Bottom Line

Without a doubt, edtech is a force that is here to stay. Before next year’s ASU+GSV event or the dozens of similar events like it this year, remember that this movement is not about enhancing higher education, but transforming it or, dare we suggest, reforming it from within.

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