Technology has revolutionized our experiences inside and outside the classroom

Just like the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions before, the Digital Revolution has transformed – and continues to transform – life as we know it. Learning in the Information Age is unlike any time before. Let’s explore the past, present and the future of EdTech. 

Technological advancements throughout the years have influenced the learning experience, inside and outside the classroom. Computers, the internet and CD-ROMs were created for consumer markets, but they have largely influenced how learners navigate thier educational path, and how those who support learners in the day-to-day guide them. The emergence of EdTech – hardware and software specifically designed for education – put student success at the core of this wave of innovation.

Throughout the 1990s technology was used to engage students in new ways. As innovative educators began using these new technologies to facilitate learning experiences, they expanded access to education by extending the classroom, removing barriers to accessing materials and creating more inclusive environments. The path to leveraging these technologies was uncharted.




In 1995, I introduced PowerPoint to my students as a part of a creative project. I had scrounged four computers for my classroom, and other teachers thought I was crazy.
Susan Dupre
District Technology Facilitator
St. Mary Parish Public Schools
United States

Learners and educators navigated the new opportunities, as well as the challenges, that these new technologies brought forward. Without a guidebook for how to integrate technology into the learner’s journey, EdTech pioneers led the way through trial, error and endless innovation. 

Using learner success as the North Star, computers entered the classroom and internet connections sewed together learning communities. The first EdTech companies emerged with a focus of helping learners achieve their goals through the use of technology.  




Throughout the 2000s EdTech innovation was faster than ever. By 2009 the “There’s An App for That” era of software development was in full force. Applications emerged to help learners and instructors communicate, manage files, collaborate, access resources and make their lives easier from enrollment through graduation, and beyond. Disparate tools used on shared devices required heavy investment in training and management.

When I started working in EdTech in 2001 the biggest challenge at the time was staff and students were sharing devices. Device availability and functionality is entirely different today.
Claire Gardener
Senior Learning Technologist
University of Derby
United Kingdom

Navigating this era required enthusiasm and idea sharing around the world. Social media ushered in a new era of professional development. Educators found new ways of connecting to share best practices in EdTech through weekly chats, the development of online Professional Learning Networks and tweets ups at in-person conferences. Social media connected the global network of EdTech pioneers through the booming #edchat on Twitter, a twice-weekly live conversation that often trended in the early 2010’s as educators shared best practices for integrating technology into the learner’s experience. The conversation continues today, over 10 years later.



Prior to Louis Braille’s creation of the written Braille system, people with visual impairments were expected to learn through audio formatting. But the learner experience is not universal, and the Braille system allows students to take control of their own experience.


Headphones revolutionized the classroom experience, adding a sense of entertainment and individualized content into the school day. Blocking out distractions, headphones have given learners more opportunity to focus and learn at their own pace.

Overhead projectors

Overhead projectors provided teachers an engaging and organized outlet to display notes and classroom materials. By creating real-time interaction, overhead projectors helped educators keep their learners focused in new ways.

Scantron system

Using Optical Mark Recognition (OMR), Scantron products can scan thousands of sheets per hour. This inexpensive technology decreased the amount of time instructors spent grading, and opened the door to new innovations focused on efficiency.

First portable computer

Laptops and other portable computer devices kickstarted the realm of on-the-go learning that we value so much today. Portable computers increased project-based lessons while introducing computer and digital literacy in the classroom and new organizational resources for both instructors and students.

Commercial graphic calculator

Within mathematics, handheld graphing calculators have helped students understand more of why – rather than how – they are utilizing various mathematical formulas. This new way of teaching and applying EdTech into lessons allowed students to grasp mathematical concepts in deeper ways.


With the rise of the internet and World Wide Web, Hypertext Markup Language revolutionized the way websites and website navigation operates. This system is the basis for how a website is formatted, from images, links, tables, and so on, and made working through the web for educational purposes that much easier.

Interactive Whiteboard

Interactive whiteboards made technology the center of the classroom, displacing traditional blackboards and projectors. Educators leveraged interactive whiteboards to engage their class in one-to-many and peer-to-peer activities.


Wikis allowed learners take more agency over their own learning, both collaborating on wikis as contributors, and using them for information gathering. This digital "hands on" approach to information created an environment where learners could pursue interests inside and outside the classroom, at their own pace.


While the first Learning Management System (LMS) was invented in the 1920s, many modern LMS’s have moved to the cloud. With all the content and information that you need in one location, an LMS can be accessed anywhere while fostering a personalized, easy-to-use learning environment for students and teachers.

Open Education Resources

Open Educational Resources (OERs) provide students free, unlimited access to an array of academic tools, resources and materials. Breaking down unequal resource access across institutions, these tools help improve overall student success and engagement rates.

Video streaming

The ability to stream video onto any internet connected device opened the doors for both synchronous and asynchronous learning to take place in new ways. It also furthered learner agency by putting instructional content at the finger tips of anyone with a mobile device.

eReaders and iPhones

Early personal devices gave way to personalized instruction and the idea that each learner and instructor can work at their own pace, on their own device. It also widened the digital divide, surfacing inequities that still exist today.

“There’s an app for that” era

App stores opened the door to rapid innovation in the EdTech space, with the "There's An App For That" era, taking off in the early 2010's. Issues of access and equity persisted during this time as apps as diverse as the learners themselves hit the virtual app store shelves.


The next wave of personal devices created new avenues for individualizing instruction and communication with learners, educators and administrators who had access to these devices. While disparities continued, the possibilities of providing experiences based on a unique user's digital behavior came to light as more complex devices became common place.

Massive Online Open Courses

Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) increased access to education worldwide. These free, online courses turned higher education on it's ear, removing several barriers to elite education inculding cost and location.

Accessibility tools

Innovation focused on creating more accessible digital content makes learning more accessible for all. Content conversion and web formatting solutions enable more people to consume content in the way that works for them - eBraille, audio, tagged PDF, etcetera.

COVID-19 pandemic sparks unprecedented adoption of digital learning tools

During the COVID-19 pandemic, remote learning forced many teachers and students to engage with a plethora of digital learning tools they’ve never used before. During this time, many learners discovered they can learn better at their own pace, in an alternative environment, and more. Meanwhile, EdTech adapted to meet their mental, social and emotional needs during this unprecedented time, forever changing the way classroom technology is used.

The MOOC movement represented a one-to-many approach with a promise to deliver higher education at scale. Millions of learners enrolled in courses, seeking to learn new skills. However, the one-to-many approach lacked the interactive element of learning and personalized approach needed to keep learners engaged and on track to their goals.  

The most transformative change is that EdTech enables us to set up active learning by supplying interactive tools.
Irfan Kaymaz
Vice Rector
Erzurum Technical University

Throughout this time, access to new technologies began shifting learner expectations both inside and outside the classroom. Learners want to access coursework on the devices in the palm of their hand, and manage the business of being a student with the same ease they experience in other areas of their lives. 

EdTech has evolved dramatically over the past 25 years. It’s shifted from an experimental practice to a must-have for all learning environments thanks to the hard work and endless dedication to learner success from the global education community. So, what’s next? 

The Path to Intelligent Experiences

Intelligent experiences are ones that are informed by data, and created just for that specific user. They can be simple things, like customizing your dashboard based on your preferences, or more complex experiences, like a learner getting a call from a success coach just when they need it.

Before we dig deeper on how this can be realized in education, let’s define the buzz word. Personalization refers tailored functionalities or proactive outreach to a specific user based on data reflecting that specific user’s action history within the institution’s EdTech ecosystem. In a fully personalized environment, each user experience is unique based on their own needs.  

By personalizing the education experience, learners can progress in the manner that best suits them, receiving proactive insights and nudges, and most importantly, queuing a caring adult, instructor, or advisor to provide support when needed. To bring this to education, we have to put aside the idea of shopping carts and patient portals and conceptualize personalized experiences that are unique to education. And this means creating a systems of tools that put education, pedagogy, and learner success at the forefront.  

It is important to take a moment here and say that personalization shouldn’t be creepy. Letting technology take over decisions is not the right approach. Many of us have witnessed examples of data inputs gone wrong. There is a difference between data-informed and data-driven. Most importantly, it is vital that anyone involved in handling data do so in a secure, responsible manner. 

Our vision of personalized experiences fueled by data is one that contextualizes the insights inside the learner’s journey. And we do this with a vigilant responsibility to upholding the highest security and privacy standards. The way in which we harness, aggregate and interpret data is all in service learners, educators and our clients.  

The Continuum of Transformation

Other industries that have moved into personalization started with one-size-fits-all approaches—TV schedules, inventory inside stores, bank branches. With these models, data may have been available in the form of a report that showed trends, but deep insights that could help engage and motivate an individual down their own path simply didn’t exist using the one-to-many model.  

Data is the power. With data, [educators] can make the right decision to enhance their education delivery...and enhance the outcome for the student.
Dr. Ahmed D. Alharthi
Vice Dean of E-Learning and Distance Education for Technical Affairs
Umm Al-Qura University
Saudi Arabia

And as it relates to learning, data should be used to support human-to-human interactions. For learners, these reports support conversations with advisors about course work, challenges, and pathways. For educators, these reports can help identify learners who would benefit from outreach, additional materials or coaching. For administrators, these reports and metrics give way to new activities, confirming strategic objectives, or flagging a problem. Through personalized experiences, these data insights become built-in to the learner’s journey. 

When you’re talking to the right students at the right time, it’s much more powerful than treating the University as one homogenous group.
Carly Foster
Assistant Director of Student Engagement
Northumbria University
United Kingdom

Data-Fueled Personalization Continuum

As we consider the path to personalization, we see the role of data on a continuum.  

Data Supports Learning User experiences are mostly uniform
Data is reported
Users can configure preferences
Insights on trends
Alerts and nudges triggered based on preset rules
Preferences are learned
Alerts and nudges triggered by behaviors and risk calculation
Proactive insights are provided
Data Transforms Learning Each user experience is unique based on need

Historically, educational experiences have been uniform, leveraging a one-to-many approach. There have been advancements along the continuum with EdTech tools that offer data reports, preference configuration and even trends insights. And as we, as a global education community, continue to make progress towards the right side of the continuum, data can truly transform learning through personalized experiences, ones in which each user’s experience is unique based on needs. 




While many of these personalized interactions will happen automatically through more obvious touch points like an alert on a smart phone to turn in an assignment or an indication of risk in a class based on performance, the most advanced interactions will harness data wherever it is available in any system and surface it at the precise moment needed. It will signal the need for intervention from an advisor, parent, or instructor based on algorithms and then allow that experienced expert to reach out in the most informed way possible. It will ensure that learners have efficient pathways, reducing the need for redundant information sharing, paper pushing, and antiquated processes that get in the way of learning. It will streamline the mundane and connect learners with others who can ensure their progress. 

The Result: Learner, Educator and Institutional Success

The result of personalization is no trivial matter. Ultimately, personalization fueled by data leads to the most enduring outcomes possible – enrollment, progression, retention, and graduation. By offering learners a journey that is entirely tuned to their specific preferences, strengths, and needs, we can identify unexpected obstacles and support the learner with the human interactions required at just the right time.  Data in this new era is nearly inconspicuous, providing efficiencies that seem so natural we hardly noticed them appear but cannot imagine living without them. 

Personalization and Security & Privacy

This shift to personalization requires a vigilant responsibility and ongoing commitment to data security and privacy. A set of key principals can guide the way for the global education community.  

Breaking down data silos should always be done on behalf of educators.

Consumer-facing companies collect personal information directly from end users to drive revenue primarily through ads and data monetization strategies. When EdTech companies “break down data silos,” it should be done on behalf of and for clients to help them with insights across their products.

Institutions own their own data.

Personal information is only entrusted to EdTech companies, not owned by them. EdTech has a responsibility to protect it vigilantly and only use it in accordance with all applicable data privacy laws and as agreed with clients.

Data privacy is a fundamental right for all individuals. 

Privacy should be by design in every solution that serves learners, educators and institutions. The highest privacy standards should be adopted by every company that works in this space. 

Student data is never for sale.

Student personal information should never be sold to third parties or data brokers or use or disclose student personal information for targeted advertising purposes.  

Aspire to enable data-informed student success.

Data-driven insights, personalization and data privacy do not have to be incompatible. With privacy by design, they can go hand in hand. Personalized experiences fueled by data means can help every learner achieve their goals today and prepare for tomorrow.