A brief history to see how we reached distant learning during COVID-19

When education began in the US, it was access to knowledge for anyone within the listening range of a radio in the 1920s. A simple classroom and a blackboard set up came into practice later and brought all the beneficiaries under one roof. Pencils and papers caused a revolution in education and remain a part of education even today. Thus, educational tech has evolved and retained a few of them over centuries, eventually becoming a $6 trillion industry.

Investment in EdTech

By 2025, it is expected to grow into a $8 trillion industry globally, and $10 trillion by 2030. The general opinion is that the industry is severely under funded and the reason for several old technologies still thriving is because of lack of investment on innovation. From only oral learning to digital learning, for what education has seen in the world, it could have reached further advancements with more investments.

Evolution of technology has defined how education is passed on from one generation to another. Every time a new tech comes into place, both the teaching generation and the learning generation are equipped. Learning techniques have only evolved with time.

Let us trace how technology has evolved with time, leading to the modern EdTech industry.

🗣 Oral education

The first form of known human communication was oral communication, and it was only sensible that education followed suit. Verbal education was first recorded in ancient Greece, and recitations and poems were the means of learning. Writing eventually crept its way into education at around 5th century.

12th century saw the use of slate boards in India, and eventually blackboards were used in the 18th century widely. This technology moved into overhead projectors during the second world war in the US for training the soldiers. The 1990s saw the increase of computer software and power point became popular. This shows that technology was initially used for other reasons and later introduced in education.

Oral education still plays a major role in the form of lectures. 2000s became the era for video lectures, and with COVID pushing the world towards distant learning, webinars are taking their place predominantly.

✍ Written education

The invention of printing press in the 15th century was a turning point in written and text communication. Religious texts to news to pamphlets were printed and distributed among the masses. This meant written documents came into existence, as a result of which government officials and business persons were expected to be literate. Thus, written communication was introduced in formal education.

19th century saw increase in transport facilities. 1858 was the first time the world saw distance education, thanks to postal and transport systems being widely available. Distance or correspondence education is still prevalent in all parts of the world.

Written education increased accessibility to people who could not formally attend schools, which means increased literacy rate. Digitization and the internet have elevated it today, and web-based learning has reduced the use of papers and delay in access.

📺 Broadcasting and video

Educational radio programs were made popular in the 1920s by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Later, in the 1960s, TV was used for school education. In the 1970s, UNESCO recommended wider use of TV for education in developing countries. However, practical constraints like setting up and electricity came in the way of making the mission successful.

High speed internet resulted in digital compression, and the cost of video creation and distribution dropped significantly in the 1990s. In 2002, MIT gave free access to recorded lectures as part of their Open University programs. Then came the revolutionary world of YouTube in 2005, which is still a major source of education among the youth. In 2007, Apple Inc. started iTunesU as a portal for digital materials for university students.

Most of the digital platforms today carry forward oral education in different media. Visual digital representation gave way to creativity and more interesting methods to present education.

🖥️ Computer technology

Since its invention in 1930s, computer has revolutionized the tech world in more than one way. Portable PC in 1981 was sure to bring massive support to the existing EdTech. World Wide Web in 1990 made almost every information available for anyone with an internet connection.

Eventually, every institution invested in getting computers and using them for education. The concept of smart classrooms with projectors, computers, and other AV aids became the norm.

The students today learn with the help of laptops and iPads. Apps are introduced to customize learning processes. Progress is measured on all angles including academics, extra-curricular and co-curricular activities. COVID has strengthened the process and even those who were not using computer systems have had to go through digital learning. The importance of technology has vividly shown itself during this period.

Future of EdTech

Investments have gone up as the world immerses itself in distant learning. By Jan 2020, there were 14 unicorns in the EdTech industry, led by Byju’s from India. The future of EdTech lies in components like VR/AR, AI, bio-metrics, wearable devices, etc. Social media is already taking over as a communication medium between teachers and students. Zoom, Google meet, Skype, etc., have been some of the most used platforms for online learning during COVID.

The emotional well-being of the learner has to be focused on, and the EdTech apps are well on their way to track physical, mental and emotional health. Technology has shrunk the world to one, and age, gender, impairments, socio-economic status, etc., hardly play a role in determining access to education. EdTech has been on top during these trying times.

Basic techniques of reading and writing will not see their end. The job of technology is to enhance this experience and enable more and more learners. Books have gone digital as well. This paradigm shift has happened at a rapid pace, and will move faster. Considering a slow shift over the centuries, the upcoming changes are going to be rapid. It is our job to raise responsible digital citizens, and help them transition well into the digital world.