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The End of School as we know it

By Dr Michelle Deaker, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, OneVentures

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Dr Michelle Deaker, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, OneVentures

The transformation of the education sector presents many opportunities

The education sector is in the process of transformation, quickly becoming the new frontier of investment for venture capital (VC) and private equity (PE) firms. Educational programs are changing so they are cheaper, more efficient, and more tailored to the exact needs of the student - from primary school to university.

Even as primary and secondary schools are adopting digital curricula, a survey by consultants McKinsey found 60% of teachers in the US lack the digital resources they need. For science and languages teachers in earlier grades, the figure is over 70 percent. In Australia, some 40 percent of STEM teachers do not hold a degree in science or mathematics.

"Technology is personalising the educational experience to match the exact needs of each student"    

In tertiary education, institutions are looking to boost enrolments, which have been stagnant or falling in a number of countries. The issue is affordability.

Various commentators, including President Barack Obama, have called for competency-based education (CBE). Like Intelligent adaptive learning (IAL), this involves the personalisation of education. Students are only taught what they do not know, and are assessed on what they actually learn, rather than on their attendance in classes. With CBE, a course bypasses what a student already knows.

The solution is to make courses shorter, cheaper and more effective. A US government survey found that about one quarter of students was enrolled in courses that involved at least some degree of distance learning or coursework via the Internet.

In Australia, the University of Queensland can accommodate up to 200 students in its Virtual Classrooms. Recordings of classes mean that students can listen in at a later time that is convenient to them. Virtual Classrooms can also be used for team-building activities, which encourage the interaction between students.

Like the University of New South Wales, many of our universities now offer blended learning including tutorials and lessons online.  Companies like Smart Sparrow are now working with over 55 institutions globally to facilitate the online learning experience through their platform where lessons are created using rich interactive content that provides intelligent feedback like a personal tutor and analytics to the teacher on student attainment. One such course implementing the technology for mechanics saw the failure rate drop from 30 percent to fewer than 7 percent with an overall increase in mastery. Rich simulations that are interactive engage the students in the learning environment closer to gamification.

Businesses Embracing Change

Businesses are embracing the change, developing in-house educational institutions to ensure their staff maintain a competitive edge. Education is becoming more virtual, more digital and less associated with physical campuses. Mobile devices, games and VR will increasingly play a central role in education.

And non-traditional, digital teaching is likely to become far more common. Juniper Research sees 2016 as being the watershed year for Virtual Reality (VR) headsets and expects that the new technology will transform entertainment over the next five years.  As entertainment changes, so too will education through mobile devices.

A recent study by Philadelphia's Einstein Medical Center found that over one third of babies aged one year had touched or scrolled the screen of a mobile device such as a smartphone. By two years of age, over one quarter of children were using mobile devices for at least an hour a day.

Technology is personalising the educational experience to match the exact needs of each student. IAL captures every decision that a student makes. That decision is then analysed in terms of learning theory: the student's path within and between lessons is then adjusted accordingly. In essence, IAL combines Artificial Intelligence with teaching. Sometimes, IAL engages children through games on smartphones or other digital devices. Some students who have difficulty in focusing on learning are able to concentrate on games for hours.

Employers are also investing in education. According to a recent McKinsey report, only about 40 percent of employers in the US believe that their new employees have the skills that are needed for success.

The process of transformation is complex, and involves many different companies at varying stages of development. Many of those companies are small, nimble and innovative. They are precisely the kind of companies that need assistance from VC and PE firms.  For countries like Australia, which are substantial exporters of educational services, schools and universities have no choice but to embrace the changes, signally the end of traditional blackboard teaching as we know it, or used to know it. It is time for education and learning to move into the 21st Century.

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