It’s not like digital education suddenly happened when 2020 rolled around. The steady rise of digital education over the past decade was changing the way kids learn long before COVID-19 raised its ugly head. In April 2020, there were 1.2 billion school children unable to go to school due to school closures across 186 countries. Suddenly, what was already prevalent in many communities — the tools, infrastructure, and software needed for full-scale online digital learning — became a necessity for students to resume their studies in the safety of their own homes.
Even prior to 2020, it wasn’t uncommon for kindergartners in some school districts to be handed a tablet on their first day of school. Kids today almost have to have internet access to attend school — even after the pandemic restrictions ease up. Kids and their parents use either school-issued or personal computers, tablets, and/or smartphones to access school textbooks, attend virtual classrooms, do their assignments, and much more. Ultimately, there has been a complete transformation of how kids go to school, how they learn, and how they interact with technology at school.
There are a lot of moving parts to provide effective digital education. A good chunk of today’s textbooks is either eBooks or more sophisticated content served up on-demand as directed by a student’s lesson plan. But content is only one aspect of what a modern school needs from EdTech. Schools need to integrate IT tools into the classroom to enable an engaging, inclusive, and individualized learning experience. This is only one expectation of what a school system should look for in an EdTech company or platform.
Here are some of the core must-haves for a digital learning platform, broken down into two basic categories — eLearning and Administrative.
E-Learning Table Stakes
Providing the best “classroom” experience for students and teachers
Let’s start with eLearning, focusing on the classroom (or virtual classroom) experience for students and teachers.
eBooks and digital learning content. A key component of eLearning is content, which includes but is not limited to eBooks. For one thing, students today need to be engaged (if not entertained) for the content to be effective. The content must be portable, accessible from anywhere, at any time, and on almost any device, ideally supporting:
- A rich interactive feature-set (think “fun”)
- Multimedia – audio, images, video
- Annotations, highlighting, sticky notes, text markup
- Interactive exercises
- Embedded national and state correlation tracking
Besides the content itself, this requires a document/content management system that can maintain multiple versions and editions of the digital content. The CMS should allow teachers to organize the content into a flexible course and lesson plans, and then deliver them via the internet to a variety of student (and teacher) devices.
Virtual assessments, tests, quizzes. While the teachers may not author the digital content themselves, they do need the ability to create and manage online assessments, tests, and quizzes. And since teachers spend a ton of time grading assignments (aka homework), a solid digital education platform should automate some or all of this tedious task.
Reporting and feedback. Even with automated grading, feedback such as suggestions or further study recommendations should be delivered confidentially to each student. The platform should be able to file the results and feedback and periodically provide student assessments to students’ parents or guardians. It should also have integrations to school, district and state reporting systems (arguably more of an administrative function).
Administrative table stakes
Simplifying teacher and administrator tasks
Now let’s look at more administrative or outside-the-classroom capabilities.
- Virtual classroom management. As any teacher would tell you, not everything they do is directly related to—well, teaching. In the virtual or otherwise digitally enabled classroom, an EdTech platform should enable quick and efficient attendance recording, class scheduling, assignment and course management, and auto-grading.
- Integration with Class Rostering systems. This should provide single sign-on for seamless access multiple back-office systems and provide synchronization of information between them—no manual data re-entry!—for district, school, teacher, student, class and other such education-related entities.
- Seamless integration with
- Student Information Systems (SIS) (such as Google Classroom, Schoology, Canvas) for building student schedules, tracking student attendance, and managing many other student-related data needs in a school.
- CRM systems (such as Salesforce) for provisioning entitlements based on district/school purchase orders.
Scalability and moving to the cloud
As digital learning continues to expand, more schools are pushing their infrastructure (both new and old) to the cloud — it simply means less for the school itself to manage. There's no need for each school or district to have an entire IT team to manage a complex hard-wired network, servers and applications. Today, instead of having proprietary software installed and integrated locally, there are cloud-based tools like Google Classroom which have built-in integrations to other EdTech applications. Plus, the cloud is scalable to meet newer demands as they emerge.
How do you select an EdTech flexible enough to meet your needs?
Sadly, it isn’t always easy to pick an EdTech that provides every piece of the digital education pie and does it well. One of the reasons is that many EdTech had their roots in the physical publishing world. So, while they are well-versed in textbooks — even digital ones — they don’t always have an elegant solution to integrate and provide all the other capabilities required. Oftentimes what they offer isn’t a seamless experience for students, educators, and administrators.
In a future post, we’ll explore some of the EdTech companies that we feel do a great job at providing comprehensive, yet flexible digital education platforms. The key to some of these successful EdTechs is partnering with a solution provider that can extend or refactor their own platforms to seamlessly fulfill many of the capabilities school systems want and need from an EdTech platform. We are proud to say that some of them partner with JBS Custom Software Solutions to do exactly that.
JBS Solutions has years of experience helping EdTechs provide efficient, full-featured, scalable digital education solutions that meet the needs of even the largest and most demanding school system. Contact us for a free half-day assessment to find out how we can help deliver on your business goals while greatly reducing your time to market.
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