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How Irish firms are helping shape the future of Education Technology

With the pandemic experience of the last 18 months, technology in education has become a hot global topic. Faced with distance learning requirements, school systems, educators, parents and students alike have been actively searching out technologies and platforms to help bring continuity and effectiveness to the learning experience.

This impact on learning has been felt by the business community as well. Many/most employee training events and new-employee onboarding processes are now conducted virtually. Companies and other organizations are looking to EdTech solutions for training purposes, often looking to mobile solutions for employee ease, comfort, and safety.

A recent article within EdSurge states that before the COVID outbreak, about half of US school districts provided some form of off-campus broadband services to their students. This year, that number has soared to 95 percent of districts. That may come as no surprise, but the jump clearly illustrates just how dramatic a change this has been for schools. In a different article published by EdTech Digest, most school district technology leaders reported larger IT budgets, with curriculum software/subscriptions and cybersecurity receiving the most funding. 

In the corporate space, a gallup.com poll reports that 7 in 10 white-collar workers in the US are Still Working Remotely, making companies rethink large training days in big conference rooms to something which is accessible from any location.

For schools, businesses, and organizations worldwide, COVID has had a massive impact on the EdTech sector. Many market analysts agree that the pandemic accelerated EdTech adoption by three to five years in just the last 12 months.

Irish Innovation

Long before the pandemic, Irish companies — including startups and established firms — have been recognized worldwide for their EdTech solutions and viewed as leaders in innovative EdTech technologies worldwide. Acknowledging the importance of the eLearning and the EdTech sectors in the Irish economy, the Irish government has committed more than €6 million over the last six years to the Learnovate Centre, a technology center dedicated to innovation in learning, which benefits Irish businesses across both the technology and education sectors.

With the need for a high level of student engagement and interaction, online speech and language learning has become the fastest-growing market segment within the EdTech industry. Irish companies are greatly succeeding and excelling in this area and many others. Prime examples include:

LearnUpon is on a mission to revolutionize corporate learning. The company’s user-focused LMS and industry-leading expertise enables businesses to deliver impactful training that fuels employee, partner, and customer success. LearnUpon recently closed a $56 million investment from global growth equity firm Summit Partners. Find out more from LearnUpon CEO and Co-founder Brendan Noud. 

Prodigy Learning is an award-winning global EdTech business providing innovative online platforms that enable learners to develop and prove their skills. Their solutions range from skills assessments in education to job-ready digital skills certifications from IT industry leaders, including Adobe, Autodesk, and Microsoft. Prodigy Learning’s Coding in Minecraft assessment product (which has been the focus of their US presence) received great endorsement by winning the international e-Assessment Association Award for Best Formative Assessment product.

SoapBox Labs: proprietary speech recognition software has been built from the ground up to deliver privacy and performance for kids ages 2 to 12. The company’s voice engine caters to kids’ unpredictable speech patterns and behaviors, is accurate across global accents and dialects, and works in the noisy environments that kids inhabit.

Nualang has released a new, ready-to-use classroom package specifically designed for grades 6-12 language teachers. Enterprise Ireland proudly supported Nualang in launching the platform within the United States for the 2021-2022 academic year to help fill the gap in remote language learning of conversation skills. Nualang uses AI to advance its mission to enable unprecedented communication, conversation, and pronouncement practice for students — all guided by the teacher.

Beyond innovative, online/remote tools for language and speech development, Irish innovation is helping deliver learning experiences in unique ways. Robotify, for example, is helping students learn to code by controlling virtual robots and guides them to produce original software ideas with the tools, resources, and freedom to grow their creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration skills. Check out this video of Steve Wozniak chatting about Robotify and their new partnership with the Wozniak WOZ ED K-12 team.

Dublin-based virtual reality firm VRAI combines Virtual Reality (VR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to provide enterprise and public service organizations with a scalable, remote, VR simulation training solution for reduced risk, improved outcomes, and increased information retention compared to traditional training. The company’s solutions have been well received, and VRAI aims to double its headcount in the next 18 months ahead of a US expansion.

The Opportunities

Irish companies have a diverse mix of approaches and products, with online education and LMS services encompassing a wide range of applications and sub-sectors, including K-12 and higher education, as well as all types of government and workplace training. There are opportunities for firms to develop ever more granular, skills-focused programs, along with assessment and reporting outcomes in all these areas. There is a huge demand for digital/STEM skills at all levels.

Digital learning environments now embrace immersive learning approaches like AR/VR, simulations, and gamified learning. We’re beginning to see education Software as a Service business models and Education-as-a-Benefit models emerging where employers work to retain and incentivize employee success and growth through education. In essence, the “what” “how” and “where” we will all be teaching, learning and working have — and will remain — constantly changing. A few key disruptors specific within each of these market segments may include:

K-12 Education: A great deal of development is focused on the K-12 market, searching for ways to best engage, stimulate, and educate these young students. The gamification of content for students is becoming popular, as well as new modes of remote communication unique to the K-12 experience, including enhanced, high-quality AV content, speech recognition, and podcasts. No doubt AR, VR, and immersive learning will significantly impact this segment as costs come down and system ease-of-use increases.

Corporate and Workplace Training: There is a lot of energy and opportunity around LXP (learning experience platform) technologies for this segment. LXP is an AI-driven, peer-learning experience platform that uses software as a service (SaaS) for delivery. LXP can be a very intuitive learning and development platform in helping employees answer key business questions and provide them with opportunities for professional development.

New AI-focused learning systems focus on the user experience, enhancing the usability of the learning, and can interact with many types of learning content and systems. Technologies with a strong focus on collaboration, outcome measurements, ROI, and end-to-end training solutions are of particular interest to this sector. AI-driven, immersive learning technologies, including AR/VR have the potential to completely reshape how we think about workplace training and education.

Higher Education: Beyond the many student education advances noted, this unique sector has a significant need to digitize the traditional, extensive paper-based systems most all colleges and universities have in place.

There is a great need to make processes easier, faster, and with more online self-help systems for students and faculty alike. Additionally, these institutions need to gather and analyze large volumes of data across a traditionally siloed ecosystem. The needs of higher education institutions today range from looking for platforms to measure skills with competency-based education; to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of student populations.

The Lesson Plan

What the EdTech industry needs now more than ever are technology partners with an ability to respond to markets needs in an agile, cost-effective, and efficient manner; companies that deeply understand the EdTech market, its technologies, and the evolving trends in real-time; and have access to a skilled, well trained and motivated workforce.

In a post-COVID environment, the importance of EdTech will not diminish. The pandemic may have forced growth and change for the sector, but the use of digital technologies for education — possibly in hybrid applications — is here to stay.

And no doubt, the current and next generation of Irish EdTech providers will help public and private education institutions, as well as corporate and government entities deploy solutions that bring people together, instill learning, and spark creativity and innovation in education on a global scale.

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