Digital Learning Creates Opportunity and Promise for 2022
2021 was filled with challenges and obstacles for education, yet it forced us to take a fresh look at a slow-moving system, forever shifting the way we teach, learn and communicate. Looking ahead to 2022, there is still a level of uncertainty, but also confidence in the technology during unexpected, unprecedented times. It’s safe to say that digital learning is here to stay in our post-pandemic world.
Regardless of the strong push to usher children back into the classroom as COVID-19 cases dropped, educators and parents were not quick to dismiss the immense benefits that digital learning, EdTech platforms, online modules and apps provided to students in recent months. Even though a majority of Americans returned to the classroom this fall, teachers and parents are continuing to turn to the digital tools that supplemented learning outside of the classroom. Just as we’ve restructured the nine-to-five corporate office model, there’s no doubt that the classroom model is forever reshaped.
What does this mean? Fortunately, or unfortunately, there is still no master vision for how technology can, and should, shape the culture of education. Clearly providing access to technology doesn’t necessarily create a better learning future, and we need to think about the appropriate application of any technology. While there is a lot more experimentation to be had on this front, we think here are a two areas that will see greater interest in 2022:
The Increase of Parasocial Learning
While many are quick to judge technology for inhibiting people’s abilities to socialize, giving children access to digital learning tools actually proved to open many doors in 2021 and contributed to the rise of parasocial learning. Parasocial interactions are a kind of psychological relationship experienced by an audience with performers in the mass media. Along these lines, we define parasocial learning as the education and learning derived from not only the knowledge-sharing from a teacher, but also the emotional and personal connection experienced with influencers, celebrities or fictional characters in media. In other words, learning is now moving beyond the traditional 1-to-1 (e.g. tutor-to-student) and 1-to-many (teacher-to-class) relationships to a many-to-many relationship.
This shift and the various platforms that support this type of learning allow educational collaboration to transcend geography and infinitely expands a student’s network. As EdTech companies continue to build solutions for the classroom of the future, children will hopefully have broadened access to cultures, people and ideologies they never would have previously.
To that end, more companies should consider creating collaborative tools for students beyond shared documents and video breakout rooms. The pandemic exposed the importance of social and emotional learning, which can often hold weight over the subject matter of the course itself. By adopting these types of technology, digital learning will make our future leaders more worldly, more aware and more collaborative. Keep in mind, these modules should continue to be used supplementally, in addition to in-person direction from educators.
Continual Learning: Throughout Day & Life
As much as students have gained from the advancements of digital education tools, teachers arguably have taken advantage of the benefits even more. With what we were able to build in 2021, teachers have been able to harness the idea of continued learning outside of the classroom, creating a more holistic approach to education that does not end once a student leaves class. Kids can turn to math or writing help apps when homework gets tough, and teachers can create chat rooms that empower students to collaborate after hours. For this reason, we’ll likely see continued and increased use of digital tools not only inside of schools, but at home, in 2022 -- meant to provide additional support when instructors are off the clock.
Giving kids access to tools that can supplement traditional teaching methods is also a huge help during a time where access to teachers is low. The current teacher shortage has left educators strapped for time and resources when catching kids up to speed matters most. Not only will digital tools empower children to learn and absorb materials independently, tech is giving valuable hours back to teachers to prep curriculums, grade work and spend more one-on-one time with the students who need extra support. In 2022, it’s likely that EdTech will become the new, affordable and accessible “tutor.”
The last 18 months catapulted our already technology-dependent society further to integrate digital tools into our everyday lives. In schools, we’ve made tremendous leaps and pushed boundaries to uncover whether outdated systems needed change. With the digital tools of 2021, parents, teachers and students have been given opportunity, convenience and community. In the coming year, it will be important to find a sweet spot that blends together traditional learning and online resources to understand what defines the future of education as we know it. One thing is for certain, digital learning will be a default part of all students' education going forward.
About the author
Jennifer Lee is Chief Growth Officer at Photomath, the leading mobile app for math learning, where she is responsible for developing and managing the company’s growth strategy. Lee is also a Venture Advisor at Learn Capital, a Silicon-Valley based VC firm focusing exclusively on the global EdTech sector.