• Smart Home

    Remote Learning will be Indispensable in Smart Homes

    Laura van der Ham, Head of Research at Dasym
    Sebastiaan Crul, Researcher & Strategist at Dasym

    After two years of remote learning, both students and teachers are tired of the “zoom university” and the priority has shifted to opening up schools and universities. Nevertheless, that does not mean that the role of education technology (edtech) in the smart home is finished. Quite the opposite: as the pandemic becomes endemic, remote learning has become firmly established and is here to stay.

    Moreover, the forced shift to online education during the pandemic has taught us valuable lessons about both the value of on-site education and the merits of smart home education. Already, edtech providers are seeking ways to improve remote learning: addressing its limitations in comparison to on-site education – and playing on its strengths as a complement to on-site education.

    Remote learning could enable a more resilient educational system

    It is tempting to interpret the endemic phase as the endgame of the virus but this might be misleading. Endemic doesn’t imply going straight back to normal and leaving all covid curbs behind. The virus is still here and harmful to many. The number of infections might become more manageable and predictable but will not disappear overnight. New waves of infection or more virulent variants might pop up, and lockdowns and quarantines will become commonplace. Schools and colleges will need to be permanently on their guard, closely monitoring the virus and ready to quickly switch to hybrid or remote learning to prevent that students suffer learning losses.

    To ensure robust education systems, we believe that remote learning from the smart home will be an indispensable feature of the future. Policymakers have widely recognized remote learning’s potential for developing resilient hybrid learning systems. While the adoption of tech in education used to lag compared to other industries, the pandemic has accelerated the shift to digital and increased the willingness of stakeholders to implement edtech. The question is not if remote learning is necessary but how to improve and integrate it in a sustainable way. This includes having access to on-demand remote learning systems and ensuring increased tech-savviness of teachers and students.

    By 2024, worldwide edtech spend will more than double (left). Edtech will account for less than 5% of worldwide spend on education (right)

    Smart Home
    Source: Citi GPS, October 2020

    New solutions integrate social elements into virtual environments

    To create a more resilient education system, the edtech industry is improving the user experience of remote learning. Education institutions and the edtech sector agree that zoom classes and isolated virtual learning environments cannot replace classrooms and school buildings. The gallery window view of videoconferencing has been lifesaving but now edtech companies are looking for ways to improve the user experience by integrating more social elements into virtual environments.

    They are developing new features that increase the feeling of being present, and making interactions more natural. In this sense, there is a strong overlap with the metaverse. As discussed in a previous blogpost, it will take time to implement VR/AR technology into the home. In the ultimate form, however, the metaverse could virtualize entire schools including the social meeting spaces such as school yards and canteens in the virtual learning environment.

    In the near term, however, several startups are working on solutions to create more spontaneity and social interaction. Through integrations, online meeting platforms (e.g. Zoom, Teams) and virtual learning systems such as Canvas (part of Instructure Inc.) and Brightspace (part of D2L Inc.) are embedding this new technology into their offerings. During the pandemic, Microsoft Teams opened their doors to third-party apps, while Zoom launched their ‘Zapps’ ecosystem. Using these platforms, developers can now integrate whiteboards, polls, quizzes and other interactive elements into video calls.

    At the same time, start-ups are offering alternatives to the incumbent edtech and meeting platforms and building ecosystems themselves. Engageli, for instance, uses a completely new approach to a virtual classroom. The company has abandoned the gallery view that focuses on slide shows and one-to-many communication, and has replaced it with a table view setting that makes collaboration easier, along with break-outs rooms that are more intuitive for hosts to organize and oversee. In May 2021, Engageli raised $33m in a series A funding round, bringing total funding raised to more than $47m.

    Other companies use spatial gaming infrastructure to create more spontaneity and social interaction in virtual learning environments. Students experience more degrees of freedom in these virtual environments than a regular Zoom meeting, and can simply ‘walk’ away to form a break-out session. In partnership with spatial audio company Embody, Logitech has developed Immerse, a personalized spatial audio technology currently focused on gamers. Combined with improved earbuds and 360° cameras, this feature could greatly improve remote learning. For instance, when the person in the right corner of your screen is speaking, spatial audio will bring the speaker’s voice from that same direction, while the camera will zoom in on this person.

    Edtech plays on the strengths of remote learning

    In addition to integrating more social elements into remote learning, the edtech industry also takes advantage of the unique characteristics of remote learning, namely, personalization and the integration of new learning formats such as videos, interactive quizzes and games. Remote learning offers new opportunities that, if incorporated cleverly, will enhance schools and classrooms in multiple ways. Historically, classrooms are constrained by time and space, making personalization a hard task for a single teacher. Remote learning systems and digital education, on the other hand, can make teaching more personal.

    The education software suites of Google and Microsoft offer extensive possibilities to help teachers make better decisions, such as selecting assignments based on students’ proficiency or preferred learning styles (visual, auditory, etc.). Other starts-ups focus explicitly on personalized learning. Edtech unicorn Gostudent is a private one-on-one tutoring school offering tailored learning plans. Moreover, it deploys AI to match students and teachers, and uses facial recognition to track their satisfaction. Other companies use AI and learning analytics to remove learning roadblocks such as information overload and lack of motivation; something hard for teachers to detect as every student uses different learning routines. GoStudent is one of the edtech unicorns that emerged from the pandemic. In January 2022, it raised $340m in its series D funding round, backed by Prosus, Deutsche Telekom, Softbank, Tencent and several others. The company is valued at $3.5bn.

    Besides personalization and learning analytics, remote learning enables new forms of learning formats, content and resources. In-school education is better suited for core lectures, tutoring and group projects. Online learning, by contrast, will be driven by individual needs and benefit from standardized and scalable digital formats. Game-based learning platforms such as Kahoot! gamify learning to improve, for instance, knowledge retention and enhance strategic thinking.

    On the level of content and curriculum, the supply has grown enormously. Moreover, it is becoming easier to integrate new content formats into the remote learning curriculum. From YouTube explainers to podcasts and TikTok videos, in hybrid school systems teachers are able and willing to delve into a wide range of resources to supplement (or create) their course material. There are strong scalability and efficiency benefits to not having to rebuild your course every year. For instance, more time for Q&A sessions with students, interactive lectures and personal guidance. Furthermore, software suites and platforms such as Roblox Education assist teachers to master designing online courses in complex virtual environments.

    Thus, education in the smart home will not be a tool of last resort. On the contrary, remote learning through edtech solutions will be the cornerstone of a more resilient educational system.

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  • Authored by

    Laura van der Ham
    Head of Research at Dasym

    Sebastiaan Crul
    Researcher & Strategist at Dasym

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