Adaptation of Education Technology in the New ‘Normal’ and Beyond: Simplicity, Integrated Platforms and Emergency Learning Plans

By Chaminda V. Silva and Gamika Seneviratne | Published: 2:00 AM Nov 25 2020
FT Adaptation of Education Technology in the New ‘Normal’ and Beyond: Simplicity, Integrated Platforms and Emergency Learning Plans

By Chaminda V. Silva and Gamika Seneviratne 

With COVID -19 continuing to impact our everyday life, the schooling system across the country is now accustomed to the idea of e-learning based education. In spite of the excellent resilience of teachers in adapting to the digital platforms, a few core issues that affect developing nations like ours remain, they are as follows;

1.    Simplicity is crucial: Educators don’t want complex EdTech/ e-learning platforms and the effects of complexity is compounded in Sri Lanka

2.    One Integrated platform: Avoid the confusion/ in-efficiencies of accessing multiple platforms 

3.    Emergency Learning Plan (ELP) for schools: Beyond the pandemic era  

Simplicity is crucial: Educators don’t want complex EdTech/ e-learning platforms

A good Learning Management System (LMS) interface is intuitive and user-friendly whoever the user and should require the minimal effort to learn. This is illustrated by a recent survey conducted by Capterra on 66 participants involving schools and universities, in which the majority (53%) of participants who switched to LMS stated that being ‘hard to use’ was the primary cause for a switch.

The findings were similar even during the pre-COVID-19 as well. In a 2016 study, the Brandon Hall Group, a Human Capital Management (HCM) research and advisory services firm, found that 44% of institutions using an LMS are thinking about replacing them primarily due to the search for “a better user experience” closely followed by a “better administrative experience”. 

The effects of complexity are compounded in SL

The set of core features in LMS utilised by educators/ administrators from leading schools include conducting interactive video classrooms, assigning homework to students, grading homework/ quizzes and to provide feedback to the students. 

While some educators may have used adjacent features, the successful evolution of LMS platforms here were primarily driven by the above, along with simplicity, easiness- to -use and the ability to keep control of the virtual classroom. However, during the pandemic, for a lot of educators the complexity surrounding EdTech platforms have been more of a hindrance in solving the current education challenge.

Powerful off-the-shelf technology products such as Google Classroom (GCL) and MS Teams are highly commendable, coming to the rescue of the educators around the world during the pandemic. Some versions of these products are offered free for schools, which has enabled educators to minimise the disruption to school education. These products have their own unique structure, perhaps in its existing avatar well suited for senior classes (i.e. grade 12) in Western countries, where higher levels of technology savviness and higher accessibility to a relatively sophisticated smart device among educators are the norm.

Educators in developing nations require more simplicity, more user friendly EdTech platforms that can be accessed even with a low cost smart device and / or smartphone. 

One Integrated platform: Avoid the confusion/ in-efficiencies of accessing multiple platforms 

The challenge of having to access multiple platforms is numerous, and can create confusion resulting in inefficiencies. Some of the key issues faced are; 

- Using multiple platforms would require the educator to go through multiple trainings and understand the varying nuances, creating a hurdle for a less IT savvy person to keep abreast of 

- The possible requirement to manually repeat the same task, in  multiple platforms creates significant inefficiencies (i.e. tasks such as updating of student lists/ roster, sending notifications, calendar updates, submitting and grading homework assignments etc)

- The requirement to coordinate with different support personnel from the respective platforms versus having a Single Point of Contact (SPoC) in an integrated model 

EdTech platforms need to be aligned to the requirements of educators by integrating important features in one unified platform in a simple and easy- to-use manner.

Emergency Learning Plan for schools: Beyond the pandemic era

Now that the Covid-19 pandemic has magnified the requirement for an Emergency Learning Plan (ELP) for every school, it is timely for educators to perhaps look beyond the pandemic era and think of an on-going Emergency Learning Plan solution as a continuity procedure. During an emergency, the ability for school/ educators to instantaneously connect with parents/ students would help mitigate ambiguity surrounding unforeseen events and alleviate anxiety levels among the community. Further, in the event the school premises are not physically accessible beyond an acceptable period, the ability for the school to get the learning back on track within a few days, would be key to minimise disruption to education. Subsequently, the sophistication level of the technology and features of the Emergency Learning Plan should be a function of the school’s requirements and the budget. 

In summary, the EdTech platforms need to be customised and simplified to meet the requirements of educators in developing nations: Simplicity, control, higher integration among platforms are some of the key factors driving adaptation among users. Further, it is timely for educators to look beyond the pandemic era and think of a permanent Emergency Learning Programme solution as a continuity procedure based on the schools requirements.

(Chaminda V. Silva is the Managing Director and Gamika Seneviratne is the Head of Product at an educational technology institute in Colombo) 

By Chaminda V. Silva and Gamika Seneviratne | Published: 2:00 AM Nov 25 2020

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