How start-ups are dominating educational technology in the classroom


Teaching in the 21st century is changing. If you’ve been a teacher for more than a few years, you’ll have seen for yourself how rapidly evolving educational technology is beginning to transform the classroom, with tablets and touchscreens increasingly playing an important part in academic life. Behind many of the technological innovations available to schools today is a new wave of educational start-ups, visionary companies that are harnessing the latest technologies to revolutionise the way young people learn.

The importance of technology in education

For as long as people have been teaching and learning, educational tools have helped make the process easier. From the invention of the pencil, right through to familiar props such as overhead projectors, educational videos, calculators and CD-ROMs, education and technology have always been natural bedfellows.

In recent years, however, the edtech phenomenon has reached new heights – ‘disrupting’ the world of education as we know it, to provide a new paradigm for learning. Increasingly synonymous with computers and connectivity, technology in schools now routinely includes learning apps that make education more accessible, many of which are developed by rising stars new to the technology / education sphere.

The role of educational start-ups

Education in technology is big business. According to strategic body Edtech UK, it’s a sector that accounts for a whopping 49% of all digital companies in the UK, with schools spending £900 million on educational technology every year.

But just as the home computing revolution was prompted by pioneers like Apple and Microsoft challenging the status quo, technology in education today is dominated by relative newcomers to the tech sector. While giants such as Google do offer technology for education (Google Classroom is a popular free resource), the edtech market is currently exploding in a similar way to the dotcom boom of the late 1990s. Of course, the majority of new education start-ups are likely to fail – but their very presence in a thriving edtech scene is a positive, and exciting, sign of innovation.

A new approach to learning

Through taking part in interactive games and activities, pupils can benefit from a fun and immersive approach to learning that encourages individual students to work together. That’s how the brains behind Norwegian startup Kahoot! see the future of education, and they’re doing all they can to make it happen. Launched in 2013, their chart-topping app aims to bring a social element to the classroom, getting students to ‘look up and connect’ with each other as they engage with quizzes and games, instead of burying themselves in their books.

Homework, meanwhile, has been transformed in many schools, with the help of new technology for education. Study tools like Firefly enable students to learn at their own pace, in their own time – taking ownership of their learning and researching topics for themselves.

Lightening the load

Teachers, too, are benefiting from new ways to streamline their workload, as well as using edtech applications to plan lessons and source teaching resources. Popular tech for teachers includes lesson planning assistance from apps like Planboard, while Newsela adapts written content for a range of age groups – so students can read at their own level.

Meanwhile, as the piles of marking and admin grow ever larger, popular tools like Firefly and Satchel can help reduce these time-consuming tasks, while enabling teachers to connect and communicate with parents, students and even colleagues across the globe.

What next for educational technology?

Educational technology will be ever-more central in the schools and universities of tomorrow. And as technology shapes the learning environment within schools, home-based learning will undergo a similar revolution, offering students of all ages a chance to take part in self-directed home study.

Artificial intelligence is a technology on the cusp of a breakthrough. In the world of education, as AI-enabled technology moves into the mainstream over the next few years, schools will be better equipped to tailor their teaching resources to individual learners.

Educational technology applications can also offer something valuable that schools haven’t been able to harness before; and that’s data. With e-learning assessments completed online, analytical information can be collected to provide a unique insight into trends that may otherwise have gone unnoticed. This in turn can be used to focus teaching resources on problem areas, improve staff performance and measure standards from one year to the next.

It’s difficult to predict exactly how educational technology will look in 5, 10 or 20 years’ time. Whatever happens next, however, innovation is needed to drive change. And true innovation, more often than not, comes from the new kids on the block. Move over, Microsoft – the start-ups are coming to change the world.

A wide range of excellent resources on the topics of business and technology can be found at BBC Active Video. Our selection of resources brings to life the themes explored in this article and can truly enhance the learning experience of your students.