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Education Technology

Personalizing Hybrid Learning for Each Student

Photo: Courtesy of MChe Lee on Unsplash

Our panel of experts shares how edtech evolved and made a difference throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and what technologies and techniques educators should keep using in the future.

Mark Gruzin

CEO, Frontline Education

While the transition to hybrid learning has been a tremendous challenge, how can we make sure students receive a personalized learning experience?

Personalized learning is not a new challenge, although the need has intensified during the pandemic, putting teachers into extraordinary circumstances. While there is no one answer, additional teacher support provides great opportunities. Ensuring individual student success requires that teachers have the necessary resources and strategies to manage their instructional environments and foster student learning. 

It is more important than ever that all teachers have access to sustained, data-driven, and classroom-focused professional learning. Leveraging technology provides access to ongoing professional learning, enabling teachers to collaborate, share and gain feedback from others that can support and sustain targeted student outcomes.

Where do you see education technology heading post-pandemic?

The pandemic highlighted the impact of edtech in multiple areas. It revealed significant gaps in the adoption of virtual classroom technology that have contributed to learning loss. It also exposed outdated manual processes and disconnected administrative systems as district offices went virtual, especially HR departments already grappling with maintaining teacher engagement and the impacts of a teacher shortage. 

Post-pandemic, education is embracing better-connected human capital management solutions to provide comprehensive hire-to-retire support to all staff. This less-talked-about but equally important edtech shift will have a significant impact on all aspects of the educator lifecycle. 

What was the biggest trend you saw in the education technology space during the pandemic?

The adoption of virtual collaboration, both in the delivery of classroom instruction as well as administrative functions has emerged as a key trend.

Breaking down physical barriers and eliminating manual processes has increased collaboration across all K-12 stakeholders, including teachers, parents, students, and administrators. Over the past year, we’ve seen exciting examples of parent-teacher communication in support of individualized learning, teacher collaboration to share ideas and gain feedback, as well as sharing of data and elimination of administrative silos to streamline efforts and gain efficiencies. 

As schools adopt more connected technologies, the benefits of virtual collaboration will continue to touch all aspects of education.

How has technology helped empower the education space to most effectively elevate classroom engagement, foster collaboration, encourage creativity, and increase student comprehension and performance?

Technology has introduced many benefits to the teaching and learning experience. A primary advantage is the ability for teachers to individualize instruction in ways that are only possible with instructional programs, student management systems, and data analytics tools. The combination of these innovations empowers teachers to provide real-time feedback, form meaningful collaborative student groupings, encourage a focus on individual student interests, and monitor and react to student progress through formative and summative assessments. 

Access to student performance data and analytics provides a unique opportunity for teachers to both understand the impact of instructional strategies and respond to individual student needs.

Sara Potler LaHayne

Founder & CEO, Move This World

How can we make sure students receive a personalized hybrid learning experience?

Personalized learning starts with getting to know your students, and that takes intentional time and effort. Building relationships is a core competency of social emotional learning, and incorporating SEL both in large group settings and in smaller groups or individual meetings with students can help educators better understand the needs, strengths, and interests of their students. 

Where do you see education technology heading post-pandemic? 

Social emotional learning has always been the foundation for all learning, and educational technology is helping educators and families better understand that. The cognitive benefits of social emotional learning are critical for child development, but are especially impactful when making up for lost learning time, learning after experiencing trauma, and learning in new environments. 

I also envision a future where students are not passive consumers of content, but actively engage with educational media and digital resources — inviting movement, play, exploration, connection, and creation. We are still so beholden to sitting in front of a screen, but learning with technology can be much more interactive and dynamic. 

What is the biggest trend you have seen in the education technology space during the pandemic?

One of the biggest trends I’ve seen is that everyone is talking about social emotional learning, but not many people deeply understand what it is or how to do it. Adding a module about empathy is not enough. Students need a robust, experiential, and evidence-based social emotional learning curriculum that grows with them year after year. I worry that any content related to emotions, empathy, or equity is getting labeled as social emotional learning and that could be doing a disservice to our students. 

Another big trend I’ve noticed is family engagement has dramatically increased. Parents and caregivers are closer to school communities than ever, and I hope we continue this trend because our children are learning everywhere, all day long, and if we can better coordinate learning at school with learning at home, we can more holistically support child development.

How has technology helped empower the education space to most effectively elevate classroom engagement, foster collaboration, encourage creativity, and increase student comprehension and performance?

I think technology has helped remind us of the power of human connection. It’s not about the tech, it’s about what we do with the tech that matters. I think that has been empowering for everyone involved in education, from teachers to parents to providers. Engagement, collaboration, creativity, and increasing student performance are people-centered goals, and while technology can help facilitate that work, we’ll be more effective when we focus on the social and emotional capacity of the people using these technologies. 

Jeremy Glauser

Founder & CEO, eLuma Online Therapy

How can we make sure students receive a personalized hybrid learning experience?

For years we have known that a digital transformation was imminent. Prior to COVID, technology had transformed all aspects of our lives, from how we communicate, to how we listen to music and watch movies. However, many of our instructional strategies looked the same as they did 20, 50, even 100 years ago. COVID forced us to discover new methods of delivering education to students and created a new appetite for education technologies that enhance the student experience.  

Providing students with a personalized learning experience has always been a goal in education, but that is much easier said than done. What the pandemic has helped us realize is that personalized learning and individualized instruction require a different way of thinking. 

Yes, hybrid has its challenges. However, it also comes with an opportunity to provide a personalized learning experience that meets the needs of the whole child; academically, socially, and emotionally. We are truly able to meet students where they are in order to help them get to where they need to be. 

Where do you see education technology heading post-pandemic? What about the future?

Pre-pandemic, investment in edtech was tens of billions of dollars. In the coming years, it is projected that investment dollars will be in the hundreds of billions. The pandemic has forced the digital transformation we are experiencing now and will continue to evolve in the coming years. Now we know how much more effectively we can serve our students, as leveraging integrated resources allows us to meet the needs of more of them. There is no going back. 

However, that doesn’t mean we don’t have a lot to learn. There is a learning curve for us as we implement technology into teaching and learning strategies, but technology is here to stay. 

What is the biggest trend you have seen in the education technology space during the pandemic?

The incredible appetite for technology centered on communication, engagement, and effective reporting on student performance. We have realized the incredible capabilities that we currently have at our disposal, and identified the areas in which we lack. 

We are hyper-focused on continuing to build out a purpose-built therapeutic experience within school systems that provide everything from the delivery of services, documentation, reporting, and family communication to allow districts to support all levels of student needs. 

How has technology helped empower the education space to most effectively elevate classroom engagement, foster collaboration, encourage creativity, and increase student comprehension and performance?

Historically, we have educated students in a way that does not embrace the fact that youth today are digital natives. In doing so, we have done them a disservice. Using the technology students are familiar and comfortable with to be more engaged, collaborate more effectively, and foster creativity in the context of their world. 

By allowing educators to provide a more personalized learning experience, technology fosters student agency and self-awareness. Students learn to utilize the vast resources available to them, from emailing researchers about a topic they are studying to seeking out a therapist. As a result, students will leave us as empowered individuals who will help shape the future.

Amy Yamner Jenkins

Head of Schools and Distribution, Outschool

How can we make sure students receive a personalized hybrid learning experience?

With the introduction of remote and hybrid learning, schools and districts had a choice: They could take their approach to teaching and learning and move it online with minimal modifications, or they could seize an opportunity to do something different.  Hybrid and remote learning open up a tremendous opportunity to personalize for schools that are ready to do it.  

While in a traditional brick-and-mortar classroom, teachers often opt for whole-group, direct instruction. Hybrid makes it possible for teachers to personalize and for students to not only experience learning that is anytime/anywhere and at their own pace (often considered core tenets of personalized learning), but to also experience learning that is more aligned to their interests and passions. 

By moving away from a model that relies only on the teachers in the building to one that thinks about students being able to learn from other teachers online, schools can personalize learning in more authentic ways. The schools and districts that do this well will be the ones that rethink time and space, find ways to incorporate time within the school day where students have more choice, and that encourage classes that inspire a love of learning, in addition to ones that give you “credit.”

Where do you see education technology heading post-pandemic? 

Prior to the pandemic, the use of technology in classrooms was, to a degree, still only visibly present in schools that focused on being “innovative.” While we saw an increase in the use of edtech over the past decade or so, the progress was slower than many hoped for or expected. 

The pandemic was a great accelerator  in terms of adoption in schools, as well as investment in companies. In a recent discussion led by Michael Horn, education leaders agreed that the pandemic led communities to come together and make technology work for them and for their students, and schools, students, and families saw that technology could be a great asset. Teachers learned to use new tools and consider new delivery methods, and students found that both asynchronous and synchronous learning could be fulfilling. 

As we look forward, we imagine that not using edtech in a more integrated fashion will become the exception rather than the norm. There has been a seismic shift from edtech as a nice-to-have to a must-have out of necessity, but looking ahead, we see there is no turning back for many districts.

What is the biggest trend you have seen in the education technology space during the pandemic?

Last spring, we saw many teachers teaching online in ways similar to how they taught in the classroom. Without training or preparation, they were ill-equipped to make the radical transformation that was demanded of them. As the spring went on and into this year, we saw schools and districts investing in professional development, and teachers reaching for tools that enabled them to reconsider how they taught online. 

Schools are seeking and implementing edtech that focuses on engagement — from tools designed to make learning more interactive, to classes taught live and online. While previous use of edtech was often about catching students up (or helping them to accelerate), we saw a shift to thinking about how edtech can also engage students, help them to build connections with others, and get more excited about learning. It is a trend we hope continues, where edtech is less about deficits and more about inspiration.

How has technology helped empower the education space to most effectively elevate classroom engagement, foster collaboration, encourage creativity, and increase student comprehension and performance?

While there are countless stories of students not attending class, turning off their cameras, or creating fake video loops to look as if they are paying attention, there are a nearly equal number of stories about how technology has helped to increase engagement. By bringing schools into all of our homes through Zoom and other conferencing services, as well as through LMSs, Google Classroom, and others, in many cases, parents have increased visibility into what and how their students are learning. 

This visibility alone has had the power to increase both student and parent engagement. We see additional examples of how edtech can positively transform the education space in its capacity to foster collaboration — replicating small groups through breakout rooms, collaborative documents that students work on together, and students posting their work and getting feedback from others, to name a few examples. 

But one of the greatest benefits of the increased use of technology has been the creativity it inspired and the ways in which teachers opened up how students demonstrate mastery. Yes, students are still taking tests and writing papers, but they are also more likely to be shooting videos, creating interactive presentations, building websites, creating skits, and beyond. 

With more time in their homes and on their own, students have also been able to pursue passions and discover new interests — sometimes through their teachers but perhaps even more frequently through accessing other live classes, learning through YouTube, scrolling through TikTok. It is easy to focus on all of the things the pandemic took away from learners, but it is so important to also account for the benefits that many (but not all) learners experienced throughout this tumultuous time.

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