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Technology applied to education: what did we learn in the pandemic?

For the educational technology industry, known as edtech, this change represented an unprecedented challenge and a unique opportunity to put its capabilities to the test.

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This article was translated from our Spanish edition. Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Just over a year ago, we encountered a new reality: governments in many parts of the world announced national quarantines and with it, the closure of schools, universities and other educational centers.

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One of the main challenges that the pandemic brought was for these institutions and their educators, who had to find a quick way to be able to continue classes remotely. It was also for parents who require care and assistance for their children in this learning process.

For the educational technology industry, known as edtech , this change represented an unprecedented challenge and a unique opportunity to test its ability to innovate in scenarios that are constantly changing and where predicting the future is no guarantee.

Rapid innovation: are we ready?

Since before the pandemic reached us, the size of the crisis was already drawing, with lockdowns announced first in Asia and eventually in the rest of the world, however, not all organizations saw the signs to adopt measures that could reduce possible damage. .

Some companies were quick to adapt with obvious winners like Zoom , Google Classroom, and Microsoft Teams . However, some other players managed to adapt their products and provide support to parents and teachers who needed it urgently, both in basic education where preparation was uneven and there was a marked difference between public and private schools, and in large university centers.

More than a year away, it is worth asking: how can educational technology companies innovate quickly to adapt to such a sudden change and do so successfully?

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Today the term innovation is used indiscriminately. Many companies consider themselves innovative, however not all of them make effective use of their resources when the time comes to make adjustments and changes with little time to maneuver, such as those required by the pandemic.

The following are factors that help your company to be in a position of rapid adaptability, that is, to be ready to solve new and unexpected problems:

  1. Promote a culture of innovation. A declared and practiced innovative philosophy, where there is constant feedback from users and an analysis of the needs and problems they are expressing.
  2. Let your employees fail. Many companies say they are innovative, but it is a good time to ask yourself: do you let your collaborators do experiments? Are you willing to accept that most of your attempts are going to fail? Do you provide "psychological security" or a genuine environment where failure is part of your day to day?
  3. Collaboration . A frank understanding that the efforts of every team in your organization go together to primarily benefit your user and no one else.
  4. Practice and discipline. Be rigorous with user research, conducting experiments and analyzing results, so that they generate relevant knowledge for the company.

Education technology (edtech) was an oasis in the storm for many parents and teachers during the pandemic, but the size of the problem suggested that we are still far from solving all the problems inside and outside the classroom. In fact, educational technology became the sector that received the most investment in 2020 from venture capital firms and saw a 50% to 100% monthly growth in revenue according to Business Standard analysis.

Undoubtedly, this experience will make companies and innovation teams reaffirm once again the importance of not being distracted by the complexity of the software, hardware or the interface - important elements without a doubt -, but that sometimes distract from the main function of innovation. : identify the problems and pains of users, to generate solutions that improve their life.

Does anyone want to think about adults?

While we were taking care of the teachers, children and parents, there were other sectors of the population that were less visible and therefore poorly attended. An unexpected consequence of the pandemic in my life was returning to the home of my parents, two older adults in their early 70s.

The experience has been most rewarding and also inspiring. My parents spent the first 4 months of the pandemic improvising to shop for groceries at the local market as early as possible to avoid contact; going to the cashier with a mask, face shield and gloves; and struggling to connect to yet another of those video calls. It was until I arrived with them that they were encouraged to ask for food through an app or make more payments online. On the other hand, I witnessed how difficult it was for my mom to use Zoom or Teams to access her Senior University online classes.

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My first observation of this is: yes, digital skills are an imperative that we all have to develop in order to have access to many opportunities today, but in the case of older adults they are also a gateway to independence, to facilitate your life and even to be more secure. And I think we have a lot to do, because although there is a digital lag on your part, on ours, we continue to create complex platforms that are not taking into account those 12 million Mexicans over 60 years of age.

My second observation is that “life-long learning” is here to stay and there are still many adults who need to discover it.

Edtechs, fintechs, healthtechs, and all the techs in the world: seniors need us a lot.

Checking for solutions

In my experience within institutions such as the Tecnológico de Monterrey, the Interactive Museum of Economics and recently at Twinkl, the largest digital educational publisher, I have always been aware of the advances in edtech and with the pandemic we keep our things in a drawer of the office, and we went home in deep uncertainty.

As part of an innovation team that I am part of, we managed to launch some experiments on our digital channels, analyze data from interviews with our users, and draw on our most valuable skills: all the teachers who are part of our organization.

This is how we developed a free home learning hub, which included suggestions for educational activities to do daily at home and soon reached hundreds of thousands of entries. Within 15 months of its launch, these contents have been viewed more than 5 million times, benefiting a community of more than 11 million users, receiving positive feedback.

The learning for educational technology more than a year after the pandemic is that to innovate we do not need the most complex solutions or elaborate an intricate technological display. What the pandemic taught us is something more basic: that to innovate we must always start from the fact that we are human who need each other; understand how important school is as the place where education occurs on a multitude of levels; recognize the fundamental role of teachers –which goes far beyond what they do in front of the blackboard–; and do not forget that sharing and exchange are necessary activities for learning. I'm excited to recognize that we have tons of opportunities to keep innovating.