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. Computers, the internet and CD-ROMs were created for consumer markets, but they have largely influenced teaching and learning. 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 in coursework 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. 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. Braille has ultimately improved equal access to written educational tools that sighted people have.


Headphones revolutionized the classroom experience, adding a sense of entertainment and encouragement 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 displaying multimedia elements, Internet web pages, and allowing for student-teacher collaboration, overhead projectors help teachers prepare LWAAIONA in advance of the school day to maximize the classroom experience.

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 exams and quizzes, giving them more time to focus on students’ needs and allowing schools to allot money toward other resources.

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.

SMART Board invented

The SMART Board added an engaging and visual way for students to grasp information. With the World Wide Web and other online mediums at your fingertips, SMART Boards offered an easy-to-use and interactive way to incorporate more technology in the classroom.


Sparking collaboration, Wikis help learners to take control of generating educational content while collaborating with others. Students are no longer a passive learner listening to their instructor with this form of EdTech. They are working hands-on with information to not only better understand the material but also foster an engaging learning environment for all.


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.


Incorporating YouTube videos into the school day, instructors can vary the way students interact with course material. This free tool offers students access to any information they desire in the form of visual media elements, bringing entertainment as well as new perspectives into classroom subjects.

Amazon’s e-reader & first iPhone

E-readers increase accessibility within course material, offering a range of language choices, dictionary features, and other formatting options based on your preferences. These devices allow students to keep track of their own learning progress while giving them the tools to explore their learning experience independently.

“There’s an app for that” era

After the iPhone was introduced the year before, Apple’s App Store revolutionized a number of industries, including education. Today, there are millions of applications to purchase and download, including educational programs and data centers, games and communication tools for schools to immerse into the new digital age. The “There’s an app for that” era, which was trademarked by Apple in 2010, revolutionized the way we engage with EdTech for teaching and learning both inside and outside the classroom.


The beginning of the 2010s - iPads and Tablets Helping students take control of their educational experience, iPads and tablets keep students engaged outside of the classroom with teacher-student communication platforms and educational apps and games. This on-the-go device has a plethora of information at its disposal for students to learn anywhere, in any format.

Massive Online Open Courses

Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) increased equal access to education worldwide. These programs help academically and economically disadvantaged learners achieve their career and educational goals despite the barriers they face.

Accessibility tools (Blackboard Ally)

Learners are extremely diverse, and accessibility tools like Blackboard Ally meet every learner’s needs in one digital location. The impact is clear: students can complete coursework efficiently and productively while absorbing information in a way that works best for them.

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? 

Education’s Path to Personalization

Reflecting upon other industries today, we see and make use of personalization in all sorts of ways. Industries such as retail, travel, entertainment, and now healthcare, have all shown us how personalized experiences can improve our day-to-day efficiencies, progress, and even happiness We are all well-versed on the joys of discovering new movies and shows to watch because they
were served up to us based on our previous views and preferences. Or we know the ease of shopping online with suggested combinations of purchases that make preparing for a project so much easier. The stakes are even higher with healthcare, as we can now quickly review medical test results and communicate with our personal care team through an online portal.
We’ve seen what data and information can do for many other industries. What can it do for Education? Education, as arguably one of the most important aspects of our lives, has the power to transform a life, to offer new discoveries, and propel communities forward.

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.