Education hasn’t always done the best job of keeping up with the times. Most classrooms have been structured the same way for more than 100 years. Students sit in rows, facing the front of the room, while they listen to a teacher lecture from a textbook. There are exceptions, but this arrangement has been the educational standard for generations.


Society has changed a great deal since the invention of the classroom, so it seems crazy that the educational system hasn’t changed too. However, a revolution is on the horizon, thanks to three education technology (edtech) trends – adaptive learning, crowdteaching, and digital textbooks.


Adaptive Learning – Materials That Modify in Response to Performance


Ask any educator and they’ll tell you that every student is different. Each student has varying strengths, weaknesses, and interests. While variety keeps teaching interesting, it also makes it more challenging. How can an educator meet the needs of every student?


The answer is adaptive learning, an online teaching method that modifies materials in response to student performance. By tracking a student’s progress, the data-driven program is able to adjust the curriculum to make it more challenging or more remedial, depending on the needs of the student. Teachers can also use the information provided by adaptive learning to become better educators. It’s a winning combination for everyone involved in education.


Adaptive learning is an excellent solution for all types of instruction. While perfectly suited for distance learning, it’s also a powerful tool for classroom teachers, allowing them to track student performance and adapt their teaching methods to reach students of varying levels. Additional benefits include improved student understanding, increased engagement for tech-savvy learners, and more time for educators to provide small group and one-on-one instruction.


An example of adaptive learning is CogBooks, a cloud-based learning platform which provides educators with real-time reports on student performance. The platform is designed to “define the next generation of education, empowering teachers and institutions like never before.” CogBooks has received rave reviews. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded them a $2 million grant to develop additional adaptive courses for college students. Arizona State University tested the platform in two of their courses, and 80 percent of students gave it positive reviews.


Crowdteaching – Expanding the Reach of Education


One of the beautiful things about edtech is that it makes education more accessible than ever before. Crowdteaching, which allows teachers to create an online curriculum that’s open to anyone with an internet connection, is a prime example of this new educational accessibility. The crowdteaching movement is gaining momentum, as thousands of educators have made high quality content available to online learners around the world – at no cost.


One of the best known examples of crowdteaching is Khan Academy, which offers free online instruction to students of all ages in subjects like math, science, test prep, computing, arts and humanities, and economics. The website “offers practice exercises, instructional videos, and a personalized learning dashboard” to help students study at their own pace. To involve all parties in the process, Khan Academy also offers resources for parents and educators. A separate dashboard allows teachers and parents to see a summary of class performance as well as detailed profiles for individual students.


Although Khan Academy is the most popular platform, it’s far from the only example of crowdteaching. There are countless online resources that are helping students around the world learn about every subject imaginable. For example, Phonar is a free undergraduate photography course. While the in-person class is attended by 20 students, it’s also open to thousands of online learners at the same time. Online students have access to audio-recorded lectures, class assignments, and discussions. So far, more than 10,000 visitors from 107 countries have participated in the course.


As an added bonus, many crowdteaching websites partner with experts to provide specialized content. Khan Academy’s partners include The California Academy of Sciences, MIT, The Museum of Modern Art, and NASA, while Phonar gives students the chance to interact with famous photographers. Without crowdteaching, online learners wouldn’t have access to the educational content provided by these renowned individuals and institutions.


Digital Textbooks – From Expensive Paper Text to Affordable Digital Content


Physical textbooks have been a classroom staple for decades, but the world is shifting away from paper books in favor of digital ones. There are two distinct types of digital texts, e-textbooks and open textbooks. Many textbook publishers offer e-textbooks, which are a digital alternative to traditional printed textbooks. For approximately half the price of traditional textbooks, students can read, highlight, and search digital text on a laptop or tablet.


In contrast to e-textbooks, open textbooks, or open educational resources (OER), are freely distributed online under a copyright license that grants permission to reuse, revise, and redistribute the content. This “some rights reserved” copyright license allows students to do things that are impossible with e-textbooks, including copying, editing, mixing, and sharing – all for free. The appeal is clear. The Educause Center for Analysis and Research found that 71 percent of students in 2013 utilized OER, a 46 percent increase from 2010.


All of these edtech trends – adaptive learning, crowdteaching, and digital textbooks – have distinct advantages for modern learners and educators. Increased customization, accessibility, and affordability are among the most appealing aspects of these educational innovations. It seems that this is only the beginning of a long-awaited education revolution. 


-By Shannon Flynn