With the rise of Artificial Intelligence in recent years, disrupting almost every industry it touches is inevitable. Rise of “new collar" jobs requiring skills and not degrees'' has been evident since the past couple of years. Leaders who are in tune with social trends know very well that we need to prepare citizens and youth for job descriptions that have not yet been defined. Means of doing everything better is continually being explored and with traditional jobs being threatened, the “future of work” has been a common theme of discussions in corporate circles. Over the past few years there was already a debate about the efficacy of our K-12 and college education system and how “flipping the classroom” would challenge the traditional expensive college education system.


And then COVID-19 struck the world. Major economies and life itself seemed to come to a standstill. However, thanks to the internet and advancement in Education Technologies, while maintaining social distancing, students were able to stay at home and get connected to their schools and teachers virtually. Work from Home (WFH) became the norm rather than a desirable perk. In such a transformed word, acceleration of digital transformation of all industries is happening rapidly and we are now living in a world that has to deal with everything being reimagined. Including Education.


Education technology (EdTech) is a term we use to describe the industry that combines education and technological advances, revolutionizing the conventional landscape of education. EdTech not only allows educational institutions to serve a larger and more diverse audience, but also enables educational participants, both teachers and students, to foster relationships in an interactive fashion.


As you can appreciate, EdTech solutions have been becoming part of our everyday lives whether you are a student, parent, educator or knowledge worker in the industry or a professional from any field who is keen on keeping their skills up-to date.


In our “Getting Real with Engineering” series of virtual events, ASEI brings together domain experts and we discuss things from an engineering mindset. This time we decided to focus on Education Technology and conducted a webinar with 3 panelists representing different perspectives of education technology Academics, Technology, Venture Capital and Business. This post provides a bird’s eye view of what transpired when Amrish Chopra and Piyush Malik hosted Dr Preetha Ram, Rohit Chhabra and Narendra Shankar.


First, we had, Dr. Preetha Ram, who previously was an educator and dean of Emory university and went on to start an education technology startup which had a successful exit a few years ago. She is currently working for Pier 70 ventures and investing in the next generation of educational technology companies. Dr. Ram defined the current state of affairs at universities whereby universities and colleges with low endowment and low ranking may not survive the current crisis of low or no enrollment due to COVID-19 pandemic. This crisis now provides us with an opportunity for disruptive innovation in the academic field. New technologies will be used for educating students such as AR/VR immersive learning, using AI and adaptive learning to tailor education to specific students. With several universities going online, we may also see partnership’s with big tech companies and educational institutions.


Next we had Rohit Chhabra who is Vice President of educational technology operations at Zovio which runs an online-only university called Ashford University. Ashford University offers associate's, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in more than 50 areas. Rohit’s view from an already established online university which is already supporting 20,000 plus students. Rohit talked about the challenges in running an online university from a student as well as schools’ point of view. From students’ viewpoint some challenges were: adapting to online learning, keeping motivated, finding the right school, etc. From the school's point of view, it is challenging to convert a regular course to an online course, train faculty, technology help desk for teacher and class and define the value proposition for online education. Given all this there are opportunities available for providing better online education. Some areas were providing better learning and collaboration tools, assessment automation, target course work for individual needs, etc. Finally, Rohit talked about increase in online enrollment numbers as students look for university’s having online presence as it provides them the flexibility.


Our third panelist, Narendra Shankar is currently the global head of business at Udacity - an educational startup ‘unicorn” providing focused education and skill training for students. Narendra talked about how there will be increased loss of jobs due to automation and still companies are saying that talent shortage is their number one risk.


Narendra talked about how they have built a new type of degree, called NanoDegree, which provides practical and specific skill training for less cost than the Universities program. All education is done online. Udacity delivers their educational material by providing an immersive curriculum with support from mentors and real-world projects. Narendra mentioned that traditional universities are working with Udacity to provide more of a blended experience for students.


Key Take Aways:


Some key takeaways from the panel discussion and audience questions that ensued:


Current educational system is ripe for disruption and COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the process


Low ranking and low endowment universities will have to adapt to new technology or become defunct


Future of education is more and more online with traditional universities partnering with technology companies to provide education. Google-Stanford University anyone?


Traditional University may be replaced or supplemented with online degrees (such as NanoDegree.)


There are a number of opportunities for technologists and engineers to take the education Industry to the next level . Some areas are Augmented Reality, Blockchain, Assessment of exams, etc.


Overall this session was full of ideas and thoughts on current and future of educational technology and opportunities for engineers. The future of EdTech in a Post COVID word seems promising. Some PreCovid era projections placed the US Ed Tech market at nearly $50 Billion by the end of 2020 growing at 9% year over year but now it will grow much rapidly. Schools, businesses, parents and individuals, everyone wants to be part of the EdTech evolution- why would anyone not want to capitalize? If you would like to know further, watch the video and get in touch for more info.The Video for this session is being posted for the ASEI members here.


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