The pandemic has upended education as we know it. School districts and universities across the country were overwhelmingly unprepared for the overnight shift to long-term distance learning and its resulting consequences around equity, relationships, and alignment.
While schools and teachers have shown great courage and ingenuity in rapidly adopting technology that was not designed to address these challenges, this very technology can contribute to exacerbating inequity, weakened student-teacher relationships, and fragmented systems. There is ample opportunity for EdTech to better support teachers, students, and families in the current remote learning context and beyond.
As the education sector looks to evolve the use of technology in the face of the ongoing pandemic and gradual return to in-person schooling, it can learn from another industry at the very heart of the pandemic: healthcare.
Not only are education and healthcare two industries experiencing rapid, technology-driven change as a result of the pandemic, but they also share essential characteristics: a focus on human outcomes (students and patients), a foundation of relationships (between students and teachers, and patients and healthcare providers), and a complex system of stakeholders (from administrators to service providers to government regulators).
Through our experience working with organizations in both the education and healthcare industries, we’ve surfaced three areas where EdTech companies might take inspiration from healthcare’s use of technology to help accelerate positive outcomes in student equity, student-teacher relationships, and systemic alignment.
Understand students more holistically
Distance learning has surfaced the staggering disparities in each student’s home environment, from quiet spaces to study and parent/guardian support to access to technology and connectivity. While this has highlighted the unique circumstances of each learner in new ways, there are many factors beyond environment alone that determine how students learn. These include VARK learning styles (visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic), executive function (how learners cognitively process tasks), social/emotional learning (how students collaborate and relate to each other), and individual histories and experiences. Understanding the unique context of each student can help teachers and administrators recognize roadblocks or opportunities to help learners achieve their best.
Education has typically leveraged technology to streamline specific tasks – whether it’s to deliver or disseminate information, or to conduct formative or summative assessments. Yet there is great opportunity for EdTech companies to help teachers and administrators gain a more holistic understanding of students as human beings, and what support they need to succeed.
Learning from healthcare
The medical community recognizes that chronic health conditions are often impacted by non-clinical factors known as social determinants of health. This includes everything from zip code and financial stability, to education level and social support, to past experiences in the healthcare system. The healthcare industry is working to identify and utilize this information on patient context in order to provide better care. In Artefact’s work in diabetes care, there is emerging interest from healthcare providers to integrate Patient-Reported Outcomes surveys into diabetes care tools. These surveys help healthcare providers gain more nuanced insights about a patient and more effectively target interventions – which are more often related to connecting patients to the right resources and services rather than increasing an insulin dosage, for example.
Education might similarly use technology to improve understanding of student performance and engagement. A more holistic picture of students that moves beyond the standard scope of assessments could help educators and administrators connect the dots between student performance and behavioral, environmental, or other psychosocial factors. While this can help schools meet immediate student needs like access to technology, the long-term implication is the potential toward a more proactive and expansive approach to supporting students and their learning.
Create space to build relationships
We’ve all experienced disruptions to our relationships as a result of physical distancing due to the pandemic, and telecommunication has introduced unique challenges in maintaining authentic connections. This is even more relevant in the context of education, where quality of interaction between teachers and students (as well as among students) lead to better engagement in the classroom, and subsequently better learning outcomes.
As teachers experience myriad challenges to translate in-person classroom activities over teleconferencing or e-mail, we are recognizing that the role of technology is to augment, not replace, critical interactions and relationships in education. Beyond simply translating in-person interactions to virtual ones, technology can help create additional touch points to support learners of different types, for example, by leveraging both synchronous and asynchronous modes of communication, interaction, and instruction. Employing a combination of these approaches can help educators amplify the relational aspects of teaching to achieve better student outcomes.
Learning from healthcare
Adoption of telehealth services has seen steady growth in the last few years and especially during the pandemic. Beyond improved access to care, telehealth can improve patient outcomes in areas like chronic condition management and mental health. Instead of having to schedule an appointment weeks ahead only to get a limited window of time, telehealth introduces new flexibility that allows patients to reach their providers through different modalities based on their situation and preference. Synchronous solutions like audio/video sessions can support real-time care and consultations much like in-person appointments but without the need to factor in time for intake and administrative work, while asynchronous solutions using AI chat bots for triage and instant messaging for patient-provider communication can facilitate non-emergent and ongoing care outside of the limitations of what could be accomplished during a traditional appointment. Telehealth subsequently gives patients more agency to manage their own health by broadening their choices and affords providers the ability to attend to patient needs without having to be in the same space at the same time.
As educators continue to innovate strategies to engage learners in front of a screen or through increasingly flipped and blended learning environments, teachers can use synchronous and asynchronous technologies in concert to reach and empower different kinds of learners more effectively. Moreover, leveraging technology to take some of the rote tasks of teaching off an educator’s plate so that they can focus on higher-order relational outcomes, creates new opportunities for educators and learners to connect and interact both within and outside of the “classroom” – the boundaries of which are surely changing as a result of the pandemic.
Bridge systems by reducing fragmentation
The piecemeal adoption of technology over time has created a fragmentation problem in education. This has further accelerated during the pandemic, as remote learning forces classrooms, schools, and the education system at large to digitize at an unprecedented pace. Products designed to address specific needs for different stakeholders – learners, educators, administrators, or parents – introduce silos of information that lead to inefficiencies and redundancies.
It’s not uncommon to see teachers relying on one tool to access curriculum and class materials, another to distribute said materials, and yet another to capture assessment and student information. In this process, teachers themselves become the bridge across the system: manually organizing, transferring, and entering information to ensure that information is propagated across platforms. There is opportunity to create alignment and reduce teacher burdens with “agnostic technology.” This means creating a unified standard or architecture to ensure digital products are interoperable – in other words, able to “speak” with each other.
Learning from healthcare
The healthcare industry has adopted Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) – an electronic health records data standard – that has unlocked innovation across the industry. For example, the SMART apps platform built on FHIR allows medical apps to run across different healthcare IT systems and communicate with one another more seamlessly. The consumer-facing Apple Health app is also built on FHIR standards, and can synchronize with various health IT systems, giving patients more access to electronic health records and more agency in managing their own health. Interoperability improves efficiency by allowing data to be shared more easily across supporting systems and between different stakeholders. Reducing fragmentation also provides a more comprehensive view of the system and insights at different altitudes, enabling the industry to tackle more complex challenges.
In EdTech, an interoperable system might enable more coordination among educators, parents, and administrators in the same way digital health solutions help clinicians, home care aides, and visiting nurses provide more coordinated care. Interoperability standards could ease the burden on teachers and administrators, help them surface better insights across data sets, and more effectively allocate resources.
Inspiration and innovation
While the accelerated adoption of technology in education has surfaced many challenges, it also presents opportunities for EdTech to help education evolve during and after the pandemic. By looking to the use of technology in industries like healthcare, EdTech can help propel and improve student equity, student-teacher engagement, and systemic alignment in education – all central to helping every student achieve their best.