The continued effects of the Covid-19 pandemic play a strong part in how the trends in digital education have developed over the last 12 months. Entering into the new year, we should see consolidation around these with many of the same aspects from 2020, some of which were around before education was plunged headfirst into emergency remote teaching and then into a sustained focus on blended and online learning at almost every level. However, some new areas of focus have risen to the fore that were previously only secondary issues for technology-enabled instruction.

Context is Everything.

One of the biggest lessons from the rush to online is the widely acknowledged importance of context and lived experiences of learners and educators. Each country and teaching environment has had to deal with a very specific set of challenges in surmounting the Covid induced obstacles. In Southern Africa, the lack of access to devices, the equitable provision of data and creating supporting home learning environments has been a major challenge. In 2021, look to see more government departments, organisations and educators in general making a greater effort to bridge this many-faceted divide and so bring the potential advantages of online learning to significantly more learners.

Increase in Educator Online Teaching Skills & Agility.

For many teachers and lecturers, 2020 bore a lot of frustration because of the steep technical learning curve many had to take in developing, preparing, and facilitating lessons and teaching online, many for the very first time. Although many made it through merely by coping, it is widely recognised that it takes a specific combination of core IT productivity skills and digital learning theory to get technology-based teaching right. Expect to see more institutions taking digital teaching development more seriously from this year onwards.

More online – it’s what they want.

For many students involved in tertiary education, 2020 was the year that proved that digital facilitation is their preferred mode of learning. While some disciplines will remain practically focused to some degree, the bulk of theory engagement and collaboration can take place online and students may resist attempts by universities and colleges to return to primarily face-to-face teaching once lockdowns lift long term.

For learners in professional workplace settings, greater training choice, quality and flexibility in format, medium and device (mobile etc) will be the order of the day. Expect to see even more engagement and innovation through the use of video, interactive and gamified elements as well as progress monitoring and feedback.

Assessment is in Flux.

Although remote proctoring and surveillance-based exam sitting received major flak for its invasive and obscure practices, more and more educational organisations are exploring and implementing remote assessment protocols and greater numbers of students are asking for it too. 2021 will see significant innovation at various levels with regard to how assessment is carried out and policy and recognition systems may follow suit very quickly to enable a vastly different set of testing and examinations process than we used to have.

Educational Technology budgets and R.O.I

From universities and colleges to corporates and professional training bodies, it is virtually assured that more money will be allocated towards funding for platforms, tools, skills and initiatives that enable and support digital and remote learning in every form. This will extend to the way that digital learning is tracked and monitored too. Likewise, organisations will also be more discerning in their learning technology investments and will expect significant results from them too, now that they are the main focus of delivery and performance monitoring.

More Academic Data, AI and Performance Monitoring.

Not a new trend by any means, but 2021 will see an even greater focus on the collection, analysis and application of users and student data to validate the activity of digital learning and, when coupled with increasingly pervasive AI, used to personalize education for learners. While data analytics has been around in education for many years, from this year we will see significant efforts, particularly by well-funded corporations to develop sophisticated responses to make these solutions work better and more available for regular teaching.

OPM’s and Educational Outsourcing is Growing.

As universities and organizations continue to grapple with challenges of reaching their students through the online space, many have already recognized the serious investment in time, resources, technology, and skills required to be competitive in the digital learning space. In order to try and reach new students and markets, many organisations will invest in partnerships with third-party programme managers who will help them develop their online courses and academic offerings far beyond what they could do on their own in a short time. Universities especially will need to think carefully about how they use such providers while preserving their academic and research sovereignty and ensure they move towards digital teaching independence at some stage in the future.

Schools Need to Transform.

Of all the organisations battered by Covid in 2020, pre, primary and secondary schools have been probably hardest hit as the need to pivot fully online was not an even remotely realistic risk 18 months ago. Many teachers have responded admirably to the challenge but it’s clear that many schools will need to include some future planning at the very least to ensure they can respond to potential future pandemic risks with far less disruption.

Schools and the socialization aspects they embody are so critical for young learners but expect to see a greater emphasis on technology-based subjects as well as the introduction of programmes that foster learner independence and self-discipline as well as a rash of new fully online schools catering to a growing set of home-based learners who have weathered the pandemic well and seek to continue the fully remote experience in future.


Digital Education Trends 2021 – written by Myles Thies, Director of Digital Learning Services  at Eiffel Corp

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