The hybrid model: How technology is shaping the future of education

As CEO of Amanat, Dr. Hamade defines and implements the firm’s investment strategy. To date, he has driven the growth of Amanat’s portfolio to include seven assets (three in healthcare and four in education), representing a total investment of over AED 2B. As a member of the boards and executive committees of Amanat’s investee companies, Dr. Hamade also drives growth and value creation initiatives across the portfolio. Prior to Amanat, Dr. Hamade served as Chief Investment Officer of VPS Healthcare, a group comprising over 20 hospitals and 100 medical centers across the UAE, Oman, and India.

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Education has been transformed by technology in recent years, and this change was only accelerated by COVID-19. Like many other aspects of life that have had to adapt and evolve in response to the pandemic, the old school model now seems somewhat dated.

Home-schooling once thought of as a fringe concept for alternative-minded families, has become increasingly accessible for families thanks to the widespread use of consumer tech, with many parents and children of all backgrounds choosing to continue remote learning after lockdowns were lifted.

As education systems were forced to comply with social distancing regulations, many schools came to appreciate the multiple efficiencies that can be gained from remote learning models. But challenges have also been numerous and teething problems remain, such as keeping children engaged and accountable, and schools continue to work around these.

Investors are trying to look ahead of these developments and figure out where the market is heading. Will we continue on the same trajectory, with new technologies enabling learning to become more and more remote? Or will we retract back to the classroom as reliable tools to protect against COVID-19 become widely available, and the opportunity cost of removing face-to-face interaction for students becomes more apparent?

A hybrid education model 

A likely option is a hybrid model that celebrates the new efficiencies introduced by the pandemic while retaining the most valuable aspects of the old school model – such as social interaction with classmates and teachers and regular physical activity. A hybrid model will likely rely on emerging technologies that help shift traditional learning towards more personalized and adaptable models.

In recent months we have been focusing our attention on opportunities that provide a foundation for such a transition. Last month we announced a $5M investment in the US-based EdTech company BEGiN, which specializes in the education of children between the ages of two and eight, using personalized learning products to help build a love of learning. BEGiN is the company behind the popular and innovative early learning programme HOMER, which offers a learn-to-read program for young kids.

Customized learning tools are critical in a world where an overwhelming quantity of information available can make it hard for users to manage their time effectively and focus. Edcast, a digital learning platform founded at Stanford University, uses AI to help learners access the most useful and relevant content for them. The company has customers including Fortune 500 companies and multinational organizations.

Other models, like Brainly, are targeting high-school and middle-school students. Brainly offers an AI-powered knowledge database focused on homework and study help to over 300M unique monthly users, as well as access to a peer-to-peer learning community. The platform allows students to post questions around certain study subjects and problems, which are then answered by fellow members of the Brainly community or by a team of in-house experts.

Today we see value in emerging, tech-driven models that provide educators and healthcare providers with the tools needed to tailor their operations to place greater focus on customer needs. In education, this means tailoring the subjects offered to individual preference, teaching lessons at levels based on ability rather than age, and structuring more efficient use of academic learning time to enable students to devote more time towards development in other areas.

Benefits of customized learning

Looking at these benefits one by one, let’s first focus on the choice of subjects being taught. Online models enable us to shape education based on interest and benefit, rather than on what is most economical for a learning facility to offer on-premise. For example, online course providers such as Udemy or Coursera can pool interest around the world to offer emerging subjects such as coding or niche language lessons to virtual classrooms, which would be challenging to facilitate in a school situated in a community that saw interest in the subject from only a handful of students.

This flexibility also helps adapt the speed and level at which students learn at. A child in grade eight that is performing at grade nine level in Maths and Science shouldn’t be held back just because of their age. Learning isn’t linear, and we can’t expect students to progress at exactly the same speed. Although most schools offer different ‘sets’ or progression levels for subjects, customized learning models provide children with even greater opportunity to accelerate in subjects that they excel in, potentially even cutting down the time period it takes to secure a qualification or increasing the number of subjects that they can study simultaneously.

Lastly, more efficient use of learning time enables students to devote more time towards development in other, non-academic areas, such as music and physical education, as well as build other important life skills and receive career guidance.

With so much uncertainty across the world, only time will tell which direction the education sector heads in over the next few years. But what we can be sure of is that technology will play an increasingly important role in the way learning is structured, and we can expect to see a wave of EdTech businesses entering the market to address inefficiencies and enhance the quality of education.

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