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The state of EdTech in 2021: Future Tech and Trends

16 March, 2021

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This podcast was originally aired on 16 March, 2021

Dr. Parves Khan

The state of EdTech in 2021: Future Tech and Trends

As part of our Thought Leaders Voice podcast series, we are thrilled to be in a conversation with Dr. Parves Khan on ‘The state of EdTech in 2021: Future Tech and Trends’ as we celebrate international women's day and women's history month.

In the Thought Leaders Voice podcast series, we explore the world of how independent thought leaders bring their ideas to scale within the business world and share powerful, thought-provoking insights with our listeners.

Our objective from this podcast series remains to educate senior-level marketers & thought leaders to help them solve some of the most quizzing marketing questions propping up right now.

This is an independent and self-sponsored series aimed towards enhancing profiles & importance of thought leaders amongst CXOs.

Join the conversation to access actionable advice shared in an incredibly insightful way.

With over 20 years under her belt, Parves is an insight leader with a strong track record of transforming research functions into insight powerhouses. With a passion for bringing data to life, delivering high-quality outputs, driving up team performance, and engaging with stakeholders, Parves effectively creates the actionable insights needed to drive business growth.

Parves brings strong business acumen to the table – She ran her own research consultancy for 6 years, successfully doubling revenue by the second year of her tenure.

After two decades developing research teams - she now makes time to "give something back" by mentoring the next generation of female research leaders through 30% Club and Women in Research.

Key Takeaways

  • Is AI now the biggest "in thing" in the Ed-Tech space?
  • What innovations would be propelled by the fact that organizing Information is now golden, as the focus becomes the new currency in the current education landscape?
  • In the drive to be more ‘data-driven, are we overlooking the power of qualitative judgment?
  • A National Education Union (NEU) report in 2018 warned that two in five (40%) teachers are planning to quit the profession by 2024 due to unbearable workloads and poor work-life balance. Now, with all the catch-up necessitated by the pandemic, excessive workload risks becoming a national crisis unless a solution is found. So, the question is – what will this solution look like?
  • People still see higher education as a major driver of personal progress, meaning higher education has a real opportunity to help people get back to work and become more economically resilient. Thus, how can Universities be the recovery engine for our economy?
  • How do qualitative and quantitative research work together? 
  • What are the ways in which agile market research is revolutionizing how companies get insights today?
  • How do qualitative and quantitative research work together?
  • How empowering can mentoring be for women?

Full Transcript of Podcast with Dr. Parves Khan

Rachael Kinsella: Hello and welcome to the Thought Leaders Voice. I'm Rachel Kinsella, editor at iResearch Services, and your host today. I'm delighted to be joined today as we celebrate international women's day and women's history month by Dr. Parvez Khan, Global research and insight director at Pearson Education. Dr. Khan, a warm welcome. Thank you very much for being here today.

Parvez Khan: Thank you for inviting me.

Rachael Kinsella: If I may, I'd like to give some words of introduction about Dr. Khan and her vast experience in this area. Dr. Khan has over 20 years under her belt as an insight leader with an impressive track record of transforming research functions into insight powerhouses. I love that. With a passion for bringing data to life, team performance, and engaging with stakeholders, she's known for creating the insights needed to drive business growth, which is what resonates with us here at iResearch. At Pearson in her current role, the world's largest education technology company, she leads research to drive and support product innovation across core markets. They're across the UK, Europe, Asia Pacific, and North Africa, helping the company to continually innovate and grow by unlocking the right insights needed to find winning solutions. Prior to Pearson, Dr. Khan headed up the research and insights function at a global digital-first insurance company, devising a new strategy to maximize customer market and competitive data to drive up customer acquisition, retention, and lifetime value. Her research was instrumental in the development and success of a number of new digital insurance products. She's also run her own research consultancy for six years, successfully doubling revenue by the second year. So, after these two very busy decades developing research teams, she still makes time to give back by mentoring the next generation of female research leaders through the 30% Club and Women in Research. Very much look forward to discussing that in more detail with you later, Dr. Khan.

Parvez Khan: That'd be great.

Rachael Kinsella: Hey, well, the topic today is Ed-tech in 2021 and beyond: Current and future trends.

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed teaching and created a rapid and necessary move to adopt digital learning. 2020 also presented us with the unique challenges of hybrid learning and to use the many challenges faculty face currently of student engagement and digital collaboration. One significant development in educational technology in this area that's certainly come to the fore in recent months is the use of artificial intelligence. And we can only see innovation in this area continuing and accelerating. Dr. Khan, do you believe that AI is now the biggest thing in the Ed-tech space?

Parvez Khan: I do. And thank you for that introduction both to, you know, my personal bio and to recent events in terms of online learning. I mean, it's been a phenomenal time. COVID-19 was in many ways the black Swan event that really left the industry thinking it's tech or die basically. So, it's really being a catalyst to accelerate all sorts of innovations and artificial intelligence is one of them. And it's an area I'm particularly interested in.

In terms of it being a big thing. Well, here's the thing, you know, artificial intelligence offers consumers of learning, a level of personalization, engagement, and flexibility that is just not possible without the powers of AI computing. And it offers training providers like Pearson, the ability to scale operations, to reduce costs, to improve learning experiences, and reach a far wider, larger customer base but again just would not be possible without AI computing. So that's why it's the in thing and that's why so many Ed-tech companies are innovating in this particular area.

So, let me give you some examples, particularly in the context of our recent experience with the lockdown and the disruption that's caused to learning. You know, in the near future and you know, I'm talking about a couple of years away, there's no reason why a student would ever need to miss any part of their schooling, whether that's due to the exceptional, like a natural disaster or pandemic, or say, they've just had a sports injury and they're recuperating at home. That's because learning will be available anytime, anywhere, and any how in the event of not being able to get to school, every student will not only be able to tune into live streaming of lessons, enjoying their classmates, but AI technology will also enable those students to have their own online adaptive learning platforms. These platforms will have an intimate knowledge of their learning needs and we'll have assignments ready for them to complete outside of the classroom at home. And we are already using AI algorithms in the classroom in a number of schools across the US and the UK to help teachers tailor learning programs, to meet each student's individual learning. And you know what, as the infrastructure costs come down, particularly giving cloud computing, this type of technology is going to be rolled out much more widely and you know get to that sort of mass-market level.

And there's another thing, you know, say, for example, they're away from school and they can't access their teachers, no problem. You know, they'll have a virtual tutor or an AI tutor on-hand, that's going to help explain things to them. Now ask any parent who struggled to help that teenager with algebra and how tough that can be. I mean, I've got two teenagers and I struggle. They're going to be really super excited about the potential of AI to support their children when they're struggling at home with homework, or even with a test that's coming up. Now on the issue of tests and exams say in the future, a student's got a big exam coming up and they can't get to their school or they can't get to the test center say because we put another lockdown. That's not going to be a problem because their school will be able to offer them online remote prop Trent, or online invigilation, using face recognition, so biometric technologies on their screens, they can use it on their smartphone to authenticate who they are so that they can take their exam wherever they are. So, you could say, you know, that AI has the power to become a great equalizer in education, by, you know, helping more students with learning than is possible without that technology.

Rachael Kinsella: Yes, it goes far beyond personalization and opening up new geographical reach to this adaptive process where they are able to take on board students' particular learning needs and that's got to be a good thing.

Parvez Khan: Yeah, absolutely. I'm super excited about the future.

Rachael Kinsella: And how do you feel that works in a higher education space?

Parvez Khan: Hm. A similarly, I mean they're already working with a number of adaptive learning platforms. And we've got a few, we bought things like revel, which is very immersive technology. I mean, there's virtual reality or augmented reality where students, if they can't get to college, they can learn about things at home and use simulations. You know, so they have to take a trip to Egypt. Well, they can literally do that from their bedroom and learn about all sorts of facts that way.

So many ways I'd say universities are ahead of the game, just because, you know, they've got slightly more resources, you know, at the end of the day, most of us pay to go to university. So, they've got that capital to build whilst education is still primarily state-funded. So, we've got to like work with governments in different countries to encourage them to adopt this type of technology in their school and pay for it.

Rachael Kinsella: That's a really interesting landscape. And it, obviously the pandemic has accelerated everything to get it to this stage, but the potential you can see is endless. And I think harnessing that technology and those abilities is a very exciting opportunity.

Parvez Khan: Absolutely, yeah.

Rachael Kinsella: And do you feel that there's also the other aspect of AI where it can really help educators and students to hone in on the quality content and learning materials that they need and curate what's appropriate for their learning and development?

Parvez Khan: Absolutely. You know, I wrote about this recently. I mean, I think the focus is really the new currency in the current education landscape. What do I mean by that? Well, we are literally drowning in information because we live in a hyper-connected digital world. You know, we've got access to so much stuff, so much content. If you do a Google search these days for learning something, you will get a million search results to your query. Now we're moving in many ways from an information age to an age of overwhelm, and that's not fun. You know, most of us are time-poor, and we want to get the information we need and develop the understanding we need to gain the mastery we need as quickly as possible. Don't we? That's what most of us want to do. So, the future is all about smarter curation of all that learning content out there most of which is freely available in fact. Now AI computing opens possibilities for taking curation to new Heights. What are they examples you know, some of the innovations? We should expect to see emerging over the next few years. Well, it's going to be things like this, for example, news feeding app. We're going to see news-feeding apps, but ones that are focused on education. So, you'll have the opportunity where learning will be primarily consumed on the go on mobile devices, which focuses on surfacing, personalized learning bites, tailored to individual learner needs. AI will also be used in delivering new features and new functionalities, like auto-generated videos or specific subjects, script extraction from media, again, specific subjects that you might want to know more about. Auto translation, you know and other services that in many ways, repurpose learning content for the fast-paced digital world that we all live in now.

Rachael Kinsella: Fantastic and of course, underpinning all of that has got to be the right data, the quality of data timeliness, and carefully curated. Obviously, we're a far more data-driven world out of necessity in this digital age. How do you see the right balance being achieved between the strife for data and the more qualitative aspects and the people and the perspective side?

Parvez Khan: Yeah, that's a really, really good question. I mean, we have become obsessed with being data-driven. You know, they say data is the new oil and it is, and that's absolutely true but I believe being data-driven shouldn't be the final goal. The final goal is being insights driven. And an insight isn't something you can mine, you know, great skills and sequel or Piffer isn't going to help you here. Insights have to be crafted. And that involves taking data points along with your own observations, reflections, qualitative judgments, your own experience to you know, to sort of understand and explain why something is happening the way it is. And my experience from having worked in a number of companies over the past two decades is that, you know, we've become better mine in the data and producing tons and tons of metrics, but we've become poorer I feel that deeply analyzing what all that data really means. Why? What the trouble is that companies, you know, they invest so heavily in data applications and big data infrastructure projects that sometimes they lose sight of the skills needed to actually analyze the data. You know, getting from metrics to insight is a real challenge. And that's what having the right skillset on your team is critical. Like you pointed out it's about the people. And I think every in-house analytics team needs researchers and social scientists, these are people who can serve as data translators and storytellers because these folks are trained and inductive and deductive reasoning, and they can really help you explain things better and they can also help you identify blind spots and bring in fresh perspectives. So, I'm really into having that balance of different types of skills in my team.

Rachael Kinsella: Absolutely. I think as you pointed out, insight is everything and it's far more than just data and it's bringing that to life which is your area of specialization and it's something that we're very passionate about as well. Connected with that, and also connected with the education sector, obviously, we're playing catch up in a number of areas because of the pandemic in developing new tech and in adopting that and rolling it out across education settings across businesses. And there's a lot of the same people quite overwhelmed, as you mentioned, not only with the data and the different information coming through but with workloads, do you see technology is taking a pivotal role in being able to support in these areas where workloads are becoming unbearable?

Parvez Khan: Specific for educators. Absolutely for teachers, I mean, poor teachers. I mean, they literally, haven't had a break for two years with, all the school closures and now they've got this huge challenge of helping a whole generation of young people catch up with mislearning. They already have excessive workloads. We know that from previous research, something like 40% of teachers in the UK were planning before COVID, I mean this might increase but were planning to quit the profession by 2024 due to unbearable workloads and poor work-life balance. So, we do need to look at how do we address this and what the solution might be like?

And at Pearson, we believe the solution lies with labor-saving technologies, which can automate a lot of the work teachers do. Now, a recent McKinsey study found that among primary and secondary school teachers only 49% of their time is spent teaching students. ONLY 49% of their time is spent teaching students. The rest of that time is spent preparing for lessons, marking homework and tasks, attending meetings, and a host of administrative tasks. Now, according to McKinsey, up to 40% of all those other tasks could be automated with technology frees teachers to do what they're trained to do and that's taught.

So, one area where we've been working on is auto-marking of assignments and tests, and that uses AI technology again. Now auto marking of multiple-choice tests and exams is already available. I mean, the technology for simple, yes, no multiple option questions is already happening. But the excitement is really on what future state AI technology offers us in terms of using the possibilities of natural language processing and natural language classification systems to mark long essays, you know, long written work. Not just to assess linguistic dimensions like fluency, vocabulary, usage pronunciation but also to pick up on the context of their sentence, not just the syntax and the subtleties of meaning to provide highly accurate grading. I mean, that's super exciting to be able to do that.

So, we're trialing a number of new applications at Pearson and working with a number of startups to really test out how well this is working and how comfortable teachers will be in relinquishing some of that market over to an AI literally a computer to do all that testing for them and how confident they feel the grades will be. So, and we've had some really exciting results come back. You know, that teachers are really confident about the future, and whilst the accuracy is still an issue, we still got a long way to go. We're seeing a sort of 50% accuracy compared to human marker. And obviously, we want it to be a hundred percent because you want it to be as accurate as a human and humans are flawed. I mean, they make mistakes too. But we've got some way to go, but I think it's a really, really exciting market and we'll really free up teachers to spend a lot more of their time teaching students and not doing lots and lots of boring marketing.

Rachael Kinsella: That's really exciting and hopefully a fantastic solution for all the very overworked teachers and lecturers who, as you say, have so much time taken up with administrative work and not actually teaching and sharing and imparting the knowledge that they're passionate about. Which leads nicely on to actually looking at career futures. You mentioned the shocking statistics about teachers thinking about quitting that they had no option due to the terrible work-life balance and the situation that they've been in through, through COVID. Obviously higher education settings are seen as an area of a benchmark of personal progress and if we're able to free up more time and provide more facilities for online and blended learning using these AI capabilities, then that's also contributing to the economy and growing and in terms of productivity, the growing workforce and the future of that education process. Do you see that higher education can become a real driver for economic growth?

Parvez Khan: I do. I absolutely do. A university degree is still so highly valued globally, you know, not just in the UK and the US globally, it still remains really important, and young have aspirations to go to university. Something like 50% of people under 30 go to university in the UK. But the cost of a three-year undergraduate degree, and it's four years in the States, there they have four-year degrees. And you know, a two-year master degree, it's prohibitive for many people around the world, you know, so if we're really going to be serious about recovery and using higher-level qualifications for future career success for people then universities really need to widen their reach and they have to look at being more adaptable, more flexible, more affordable. You know, students don't look like what they did a decade ago. They're not all entrance straight from high school or six form college. They are increasingly working people. They're people, who've got kids. They are people who've got mortgages to pay. They need courses designed around their busy lives. Now at the same time with post-project courses like MBAs, we're seeing fewer and fewer corporations painful these courses. So, more students are now having to pay themselves.

So, for both these groups, they need to earn whilst they learn. And how do you solve that if you're a university provider? So here enters the world of modular stackable degree programs. So instead of taking a few years out to study, you just take individual modules and you gain credits for them, and you can do that whilst you're working, you know, and you can do that in your own time and collectively those modules, all and the credits that you gain, they all stack up to a forward degree program landing you with a degree’s certificate at the end. And the delivery of that degree involves a mix of blended approaches, both face-to-face instruction and independent online learning. Now, several universities already offering these stackable degree programs, and I expect to see more universities joining the club, but, you know, to really help our economy grow. And we really create the talent pipeline as well as deal with skill gaps within our workforce, more universities need to be offering short courses, soft skill training programs, workforce upskilling programs, as well as more affordable options for the unemployed.

Rachael Kinsella: Absolutely and that flexibility is key. People working, taking care of families, many other priorities around their lives as well as getting an education, but that drive and wanting to further their careers to contribute to the economy further. It's an area that I'm sure many, many education providers will be, be looking at, and hopefully taking up new initiatives in this regard. As you say, the student of today is very different from today's gone by, and again, that reflects an evolving workforce and we have to adapt to accommodate and to be more flexible around that.

Parvez Khan: Absolutely. I mean, you know, students end up with so much that when they go to a university that we really do need to find opportunities where a lot more young people come work and you know, do their course at the same time. So that flexibility is absolutely critical if we going to, you know, really create the talent pipeline, as well as meet these skill gaps. We have got so many skill gaps in our workforce globally, not just in the UK, but globally,

Rachael Kinsella: That actually ties in really nicely to another area that I'm keen to discuss with you which is mentoring. You've seen firsthand how empowering mentoring can be for women through your work with women in research. Certainly, a topic close to my heart as well. Women's pivotal role in the education industry and indeed in the field of research. Can you tell me a bit more about the initiative and what you've been involved in?

Parvez Khan: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, women in research is such a great networking club and I, you know, I encourage all women researchers to join. It's just such an incredible resource. But you know, what led me to mentoring. Why is it needed? I mean, why do we need it in the first place? You know, sadly across the business world, women still remain grossly unrepresented in senior positions with their opportunities to progress thoughted by these unequal power structures between men and women and the research industry is no different. You know, a survey that women in research did last year with men and women working in the research industry you find that income disparities exist between genders, regardless of seniority level, right from junior positions, all the way to the top leadership roles.

The findings also revealed the industry is predominantly female at the junior and mid-level but skews increasingly mailed as you move up the corporate ladder, right? And one of the problems that women told us about is that children and family become like an obstacle for many of them and advance in their career as they don't support by their employers. And that leads to the second problem. Women lose confidence, and then they don't ask for promotions into more senior management roles. They don't ask for those pay raises. So, things just don't change. You know, for me, Rachel, my tough-mindedness took me in good stead and help me break down some of my barriers in my 25 plus years of working, you know, I didn't have mentoring when I started out things like this didn't exist. We had moved 30% club, no women in research mentoring schemes. But I feel, you know, women in leadership positions like myself have a real responsibility to do everything they can to help other women progress in their careers, you know because no one else is going to do it. Do you know? Let's be Frank. And one way to do that is through mentoring. You know mentoring for me is one key lever that we can activate to help other women gain access to opportunities that they might otherwise miss or be better prepared for opportunity is when they come by.

Because you know, what we do is we instill confidence in women. You know, we help them develop their own brand because that's what you got to do a lot of the time you've got to create your own brand and you've got to be visible. We help them do that. You know, that's what mentoring can do, can get that, build that confidence and stop a lot of women having this imposter syndrome, you know, when they feel they're just not good enough or they feel like they're a fraud or stop another problem that we get with women where they feel they can't progress until they're absolutely perfect. You know, let me tell you, I know many men who have winged their way and waffled their way and, you know, just gifted the gap their way to leadership roles. Not because of that skill they have, but because they're really good at selling themselves. So, we need to be better active in that as well. And mentoring to me, it's just about building that confidence in women. And that could be just meeting up with a woman and having these days of virtual coffee, unfortunately, coffee is face-to-face and just having a chat. You know, tell me about your ambitions, your goals, and just help them create a roadmap so that they can achieve those ambitions and goals in their life.

Rachael Kinsella: Absolutely. I think that's so important to me. You picked up on several really important points there. Firstly, how vital building confidence is? I've worked as a mentor for a number of women's networks as well. And you know, if you're having candid conversations sharing experiences networking and introductions and finding opportunities, but the biggest help and the area where most feedback comes back is support and getting out of the impostor syndrome mindset. And building confidence in abilities, ambition creating that roadmap for the career, and how to move forward. Even if it's simple ways of tackling particular challenges within the daily workplace. Whether that's, you know, a big presentation or a big meeting, and suddenly the most experienced of us will be wrapped with doubt and it's helped to stop thinking of it from that perspective and tune out of that.

Parvez Khan: Absolutely. You're so right, Rachel. And you know, you don't have to they're on an official mentoring program or scheme like 30% club or even join women in research, although I'd encourage you to do that, you could just reach out to a senior female leader. You know, I always say, just go and ask. I mean, the worst thing that can happen is not going to say no, but give it a go, just try. I mentor a lot of women in what I call organic mentoring. You know, they just women, I know at work who see me as somebody that they want to learn from and, you know, I make it my business to see them regularly. We meet up sort of every few months and we'll have a chat about things.

And I might be different things. I mean, one woman needed help with a presentation. She was really anxious about it. And I said, look, this is what I do. You know, I always make sure that I've prepared the night before. And I, you know, I used to record my presentations and watch myself back just to make sure I was clear. And you know, it's really squeamish to do that. I mean, it's cringe, isn't it having to be gorgeous off and watch it, but it's very effective. Another woman, she just needs confidence in terms of where she wants to be in her life. You know, she's sort of at that stage of motherhood where she's not clear, you know. Does she invest in time at home with her children or does she invest in more getting both more projects to raise more visibility at work? And, you know, sometimes it's just helping people think through some of those issues in their head. And I encourage all women to do that. And please don't feel if you don't have an official mentoring scheme at work, that's it. You know, just go and reach out to somebody that you admire and ask them, ask them if they'd be your mentor. And I bet they will. I bet they'll find some time for you.

Rachael Kinsella: Absolutely. I think that's a fantastic tip. Obviously, there's various different official schemes available.

Parvez Khan: Can I just say one more thing about that about mentoring?

Rachael Kinsella: Yeah.

Parvez Khan: Don't feel limited to asking another woman to be your mentor. You know, if you're a female researcher, you can get a mentor that's a guy, I mean, you know, men bring great qualities to mentoring as well that you can find very helpful. In the 30% club, which is another mentoring scheme that I'm involved in, that I lead on Art Pearson and half our mentors are men. And sometimes it's easier because there are more senior men and you know, the more men in senior positions, there's more of them. And so, I'd encourage you to go to mind, basically go to somebody you admire and they can help you tremendously in your career goals.

Rachael Kinsella: Absolutely. I think my first mentor was indeed demand and I still hold him up as a massive inspiration in my career. And I've worked with purely as a mentor for purely women's networks but also through the chartered Institute of marketing and other organizations where there have been a real mix thereof male and female mentors on offer. I think we've all got plenty to share. And it is about those fundamental confidence-building points to the conversations, the different ways of thinking of different ways of approaching things so that you get out of your own head. So, it's great to see that work going on and I think it's incredibly important in the research industry. And as you mentioned the growing trend we're starting to see in financial and professional services, there has been a very similar trend to what you mentioned with predominantly women in the junior roles. And then it dropping off as it gets to a point of seniority. We're starting to see that shift more and more in financial services and an increase in professional services. So, it is happening, obviously, it's taking the time.'

Parvez Khan: Yeah, absolutely.

Rachael Kinsella: But you know, initiatives like this and conversations and being very transparent about it experiences and helping people with that roadmap ahead...

Parvez Khan: Absolutely. I think the traditional market research industry, I mean, I think some of the more innovative consultancies that are sort of moving the dial on this, but I think some of the traditional market research agencies are still got a long way to go. I mean the other issue, of course, we should, that we haven't touched on is diversity and inclusion more broadly. You don't see many people in leadership positions in many of these research companies or in the corporate in-house research environment. Again, it tends to be predominantly white. You know, even if you're a single woman these days, you still don't see that many nonwhite faces. So, you know, we've still got somewhere to go. We need to tackle why that's happening, you know because there could be systemic reasons why that's happening and no amount of mantra is going to change that. So, we do really need to sort of do some more really good quality investigation to understand what's going on? What are the barriers and how we can address those barriers and bring those barriers down?

Rachael Kinsella: Yeah. And that's where the research turning into insight comes into its own need. So hopefully we can use that to start driving things forward and making a difference. Thank you so much. I've really enjoyed talking to you today.

Parvez Khan: Oh, thank you so much, Rachel. I've really found a stimulated and interesting. Thank you so much for inviting me. It's been great.

Rachael Kinsella: It's been a real pleasure to have you here and thanks again for sharing all your expertise, your insights, and the hot topics that we need to be keeping on top of and watching out for.

Parvez Khan: Thank you.

 

 

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