The Role of EdTech Providers in a Post-Pandemic K-12 Landscape

By Guest Contributor Dr. Shawn Smith, Chief Innovation Officer, McGraw Hill School Group

We’re in a transitional moment in K-12 education. As an institution, education has always had an incremental relationship with change. But within that relatively static institution, individuals – teachers, students, principals – have been making their own changes at the scale of their classrooms, schools, and learning communities.  

Those changes, sometimes small and sometimes radical, have been building towards a larger shift at the scale of the institution for a long time – and between rapidly advancing technology and shifts in norms brought on by the pandemic, it’s time for EdTech and curriculum providers to keep pace with the teachers paving the way for a new age of K-12 classrooms. 

A Post-Pandemic K-12 Landscape 

Let’s start with a look at the changes brought on by COVID-19, many of which are still taking shape as teachers gear up to return this fall:  

Flexibility for teachers and students. Just as in many other sectors, the pandemic illustrated for many school and district leaders that learning doesn’t have to take place in a classroom, during set hours, according to a specific schedule. Embracing flexibility for teachers and students could make a difference for students that thrive in alternative environments, and even play a role in preventing teacher burnout or demoralization. For curriculum and EdTech providers, it will be critical that our tools meet this new flexibility with agility to adapt to the “classroom” spaces and schedules of the future.  

Ubiquitous blended learning. Educators have been practicing and refining blended learning models for years. But COVID forced them to adopt a blended learning approach overnight, working through challenges and identifying advantages in real-time. Even as many students return to the classroom, I expect to see blended learning become a permanent fixture in many schools – particularly those that have found success with using a mix of in-person and online learning as a driver for more personalized instruction.   

Where Are We Now: In Flux with Tech 

Taking a step back from the impacts of the pandemic, where blended learning has become ubiquitous out of necessity, we can see a wider picture of the classroom technology landscape: the work in refining blended learning models prior to the pandemic was always part of an ongoing effort to personalize instruction, in the context of educators’ quest to accommodate varying student needs.  

Personalized and blended learning are often treated as interchangeable, so to examine their relationship, let’s quickly level set: 

Personalization: The learner and the teacher collaborate to drive learning and determine needs, plan, and learning design. 

Blended Learning: A mix of technology and face-to-face instruction. It combines brick-and-mortar classroom learning with online learning, and students have some control over the time, pace, and place of their learning. 

Blended learning is a model within which personalized learning can take place – but blended learning is far from the “last word” in EdTech. Personalization does not occur simply because students have new flexibility to choose between a classroom or their homes, or because they have some control over the pace of their learning. Truly personalized learning is a much loftier goal, involving advanced technology and precision insights. To get educators to a point where true personalization is scalable, EdTech providers have work to do: With the right tools, we can move personalized learning from a conflated buzzword to an actionable, realistic, everyday framework for teaching and learning. 

The Future of Empowered Educators 

The tools educators need for the classroom of tomorrow should all have one thing in common: they should collect, adapt to, and disseminate student learning data. Much like personalized learning, “data-driven teaching” has become a buzzword that sometimes means little to student outcomes and carries with it the implication that teachers will have another tedious task on their endless to-do lists. In reality,

teachers can truly “drive” with data when they have tools created by data scientists and curriculum authors, who analyze student performance in connection to necessary skills. Now, many teachers are expected to analyze data and make connections to curriculum themselves, and it’s dubbed personalized learning – which is a difficult task. Educators adapting to blended learning models shouldn’t have to be data scientists, curriculum authors, or researchers: they should have science-driven tools, powerful information, and data-based recommendations that enable them to perfect the art of teaching based on science. They should have what they need to leverage data to optimize instruction and personalize learning experiences in a modern, blended, flexible environment.  

Working in a 130-year-old learning company lends me the unique perspective of joining an institution in its own right, as McGraw Hill has evolved alongside teachers and learners for a very long time. Occupying spaces within the traditional textbook publishing industry and the innovative technology arena, we see the opportunity to unite proven content and research-driven practices with student data insights. For all curriculum and EdTech providers pursuing advancements in data science, our objective should not only be to gather precision data on student performance, but to make that data actionable for educators: and it may be the most critical thing we do in the next few decades. 

With time, partnership, and innovative thinking, K-12 stakeholders have the potential to come together and influence change at a macro scale, so that teachers are finally empowered to make those micro changes in their classrooms that will mean all the difference for learners.  

For more on the future of education and what we can do today to create better learning environments, check out our blog, Inspired Ideas.

Dr. Shawn K. Smith

Dr. Shawn K. Smith is currently serving as the Chief Innovation Officer for McGraw Hill and a national leader on issues surrounding digital education and pedagogy.

Described as an “education futurist”, Shawn is an author, speaker, entrepreneur, and rare book collector. He has one of the largest private collections of John Dewey’s writings in the world. Shawn has authored four books on education: Teacher as Architect: Instructional design and delivery for the modern teacher (2012), The New Agenda: Achieving personalized learning through digital convergence (2017),The Shape of Change: The continued journey of the Digital Convergence Framework(2018)and Wisdom and Influence: Mastering the Digital Convergence Framework (2019)Formerly Shawn was a teacher, principal, and Chief of Schools for 15 years in school districts in Illinois and California and served as CEO and co-founder of Modern Teacher for 9 years.

Shawn has made appearances on both Discovery and learning channels as well as various radio, web, and podcast programs. Shawn has degrees from Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin (bachelor’s degree, elementary education), the California State University, San Bernardino (master’s degree, middle school education), and the University of Southern California (doctorate degree, urban education policy and leadership).