Thinking through the next decade in EdTech — Part I: eSports & Gamification

Earlier this year, I was prompted to give my high-level thoughts on the potential impact tech-driven disruption could have as it comes to effective education. EdTech’s acceleration is well underway, but in the grand scheme of it all, it’s still early and there is still plenty of work to be done. This post is an extension of those thoughts and the first of a series. You can read the original post here.

While this isn’t meant to be political, it’d be grossly negligent if I failed to mention that the adoption of technology alone won’t be a panacea for the largest issues plaguing the education sector. It must be coupled with policy. Without it, the districts that stand to gain the most from said adoption would have the least access to it due to financial limitations that would hinder effective implementation. As an African American male and product of public schools, I recognize how that influences my point of view as it pertains to this topic and that there may be blind spots that adversely affect my perspective.

As it comes to “effective education”, it’s relative to whom you ask. We mustn’t see effective and successful as being interchangeable. A successfully educated student, by current societal standards, passes state-mandated tests, graduates, maybe goes off to college or trade school and then begins their trial by fire to learn what it means to be a functioning member of society. By my definition, an effectively educated student, however, would graduate with that functioning knowledge as well as a basic problem-solving framework to guide any further educational journey to learn what’s necessary to tackle large-scale problems that they’re passionate about.

I was recently introduced to a Twitter thread reflecting on an education experiment from the late sixties/early seventies called Project Follow Through. (You can view the research in full here if you’re into that sort of thing.)Usually, I’d not give such a dated study much additional thought, but seeing as though, compared to other industries, the educational infrastructure and methodologies haven’t changed much, those findings are still very relevant in the present day. [TL:DR] The experiment revealed that direct instruction, or what I see as a 1:1 or 1:few approach, was the most effective teaching method to produce exceptional outcomes. But because it went against the popular, more conventional teaching methods at the time, the results were buried, and expanding the funding never happened. I suspect this isn’t a surprise to most who have chosen Academia as their profession. The results, not the fact that they were buried, although that’s no surprise either.

In the K-12 space, specifically, the adoption of thoughtfully developed technology solutions will lead to improved academic outcomes by extending the classroom as well as teacher capacity and strengthening the ecosystem supporting those outcomes. At the classroom level, thoughtfully developed technology solutions aren’t meant to wholly supplant the need for physical instruction but to be an extension of and create a hybrid learning environment conducive to the sustainable intellectual growth of all students. Through exponentially expanding a teacher’s capacity to address student needs at an individual level, more customizable, student-centric learning experiences can be developed allowing for concepts to be taught in ways that align with student interests. It can also make it easier to cluster students and deliver tailored instruction based on their level of understanding, providing additional attention where necessary, and allowing for more room to explore when applicable. For clarity purposes, providing instruction at a student’s relative level of understanding doesn’t translate to teaching them something “when they’re ready”, it’s adapting a given curriculum to be most effective to that student’s needs. There a ton of biases (that warrant a whole other post) that come into play if relying on teachers to objectively evaluate a student’s capacity to learn, and thus basing what they teach on said evaluation.

These solutions can also extend the classroom by dissolving pseudo-barriers, decentralizing access to the highest quality of educational resources as they can now be made available across district lines. While nothing can ever replace face to face teacher-pupil interaction, nor should we ever look to, the right tech will play a pivotal role in deepening those bonds.

In addition to improving the overall learning environment, thoughtfully developed tech will strengthen the ecosystem supporting improved student outcomes. In action, this looks like streamlined communications and engagement between parents, teachers, administrators, and community members. Strengthening the ecosystem also looks like providing more robust data management and visualization solutions that empower decision-makers to make more informed decisions that are in the best interest of the academic needs of all their students. Companies like PossipScript, and LiftEd are providing solutions here.

When I think about what the next decade will look like for the education landscape, there are a few driving forces that come to mind, for this post, we’ll focus on just one, Gamification and the continued growth of eSports.

eSports & Gamification

With virtual learning here to stay, whether that be fully remote or through hybrid instruction models, Institutional publishers should be looking for new avenues of licensing and repurposing content to better engage a primarily forced learner base. Enter gamification. Currently most popular in early education, think learning games used to keep toddlers at bay, but utilization within the K12 space is growing. Companies like Boddle, who are building an adaptive learning platform with gamified course catalogs, offer a glimpse into what this looks like in action. As the EdTech arms race continues, we’ll see more companies using gamification to differentiate themselves from other platforms, not only for K12 but adult/lifelong learners as well.

Throughout Academia, eSports adoption has seen 30% year over year growth, consistently for almost a decade. According to research from VEA, at the K12 level, there are right around 4K schools with eSports programs or offerings and around 2K at the university level. Presenting still a tremendous market opportunity in the space. The largest barriers to adoption are the knowledge gaps between the stigma that’s associated with being a “Gamer” and the benefits of what embracing this industry means. Looking beyond gameplay, embracing such programs could be the interest entry point that provides a catalyst for a new generation of STEAM enthusiasts. Bootcamps and code schools or academic programs built around game design and development could create a new model for independent studios and a direct pipeline to the innovators who’ll one day push the industry forward.

Bridging that knowledge gap is no easy feat, though. Despite the threefold impact that bringing on an eSports program could have not only for the school(s) themselves but the surrounding community at large, most programs at the K12 level are being funded by outside grants or private donations, herein lies another unique opportunity.

Unless you’re IMG Academy, Norths Shore, St. Joseph’s Prep or the like, sponsorship is still extremely localized and analog. Those wall banners and fence signs are still being renewed via check from year to year. There’s room for innovation here, for traditional programs and these blossoming eSports programs which bring a bevy of new sponsorship opportunities literally overnight. To give a visual from a 50 thousand foot view, picture a marketplace where local, regional, and national brands can discover and fund sponsorship requests and opportunities from K12 athletic programs all across the country.

If you’re building any solutions here, reach out, I want to help you get the backing you need to dominate in the space.

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