When we posted our 2020 predictions on January 1 last year, we–along with the majority of the world–definitely didn’t anticipate the curveball that was (and continues to be) the global COVID-19 pandemic.

2020 has been called a dumpster fire, the worst year in recent memory, and more. Abrupt shifts to virtual and hybrid learning laid bare the vast inequities that exist in the U.S. education system. The move to online learning also made people wonder: Are there practices we can continue when the pandemic abates? What can we take from this when we return to our classrooms? And will we return to our classrooms to teach in the same manner as we did before COVID?

We asked edtech executives, stakeholders, and experts to share some of their thoughts and predictions about where they think edtech is headed in 2021.

Here’s what they had to say:

As many school districts remain virtual or use a hybrid model, teachers are doing everything they can to help students succeed in a distance learning environment, but at some point they will hit a wall and need help. This will create a new demand for online tutoring services and I anticipate and hope that more federal resources are allocated to school districts to offer this 1:1 tutoring to students. This may assist with mitigating learning loss. It will provide more support for students who are struggling in the online environment, it will take some of the burden off of the teachers, and it will help schools support educational equity by creating greater access to services that previously were only available to families that could afford it.
– Dr. Maria Armstrong, Executive Director, Association of Latino Administrators & Superintendents

As the U.S. and globe accelerate toward the use of renewable energy to fuel power grids, there is an acute pressure to build an educated workforce and a knowledgeable public who will understand and support these changes. There exist major gaps in teacher knowledge and the availability of curricular tools to support this type of learning. We need to help educators and students better understand the power grid system, how it impacts them and the changes that are coming, including renewables, storage, and electric vehicles. I anticipate that we will see more resources dedicated to helping students and educators understand the basics of electricity infrastructure so that they can engage in solving our urgent challenges.
– Michael Arquin, Founder, KidWind

Greater focus on social-emotional learning (SEL) is one model of instructing the “whole child” or attending to more than just academic content. With the extreme changes endured by children and families due to responses to the coronavirus pandemic, social-emotional needs have become more prominent than ever. As educators eagerly seek to address worsening academic gaps, experts increasingly acknowledge the importance of high-quality SEL instruction and support to equip students to navigate these uncertain times, as well as to make academic progress. As we look to supporting the “whole adult” that students will become, instruction on life skills becomes more important. We no longer solely prepare students to be college-ready. We seek life-readiness. Today’s educators seek to provide learning experiences that prepare students to be healthy, successful participants in college, career, civics, and home life.
– Anastasia Betts, VP of Curriculum Planning & Design, Age of Learning

The past six months have reaffirmed that engagement is central to student learning, regardless of the instructional environment. The edtech community stepped up to accommodate students and teachers during remote and hybrid learning with an emphasis on core subject areas. However, the struggle will be to expand innovation in core subjects and beyond, including integrating technology into ancillary K-12 areas such as CTE, music, physical education, health, and the arts. Additional attention needs to be given to all types of learners by addressing various learning modalities, intervention paths, and students with Individual Education Plans through technology that is customizable, integrated, and aligned to state standards. This will be imperative to supporting students and teachers alike.
– Dan Cavalli, Chief Sales Officer, Flinn Scientific

“Next year, many traditional education strategies will fade away as educators help students recover from the pandemic’s impact, especially with harder-hit groups like students who learn and think differently. To provide a safe and effective learning environment, educators will reimagine schools to improve accessibility and inclusivity. We’ll also see educators needing to address the mental health crisis by prioritizing individualized and trauma-informed instruction.”
– Bob Cunningham, Executive Director of Learning Development, Understood

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, approximately 49% of K-12 students experienced a mental health condition during their academic career, such as depression, anxiety, or substance use. While districts and schools play a vital role in identifying and supporting students, districts may not be able to fully support the rapidly growing demand for mental health needs based on limited internal resources. How educators respond to this next pandemic –students’ anxiety and stress–will certainly remain a critically important priority for school administrators, counselors and psychologists in 2021.
– Collin Earnst, CEO, LearnWell

This year has highlighted that we don’t want students to stop learning – no matter the circumstance. If we can give students the tools they need to learn how to learn, they’ll be enabled to learn in any setting, especially in a more self-guided way with different teachers. This approach ultimately sets them up for success in whatever environment they find themselves in as learners. For 2021, we’ll begin to see students re-learn how to learn and teach themselves effectively. As students continue to online learn, they will need to focus on how to help adapt to circumstances and be creative in their approaches – which will lead them to a different style of learning that they’re used to.
– Erica Fessia, VP of Field Operations, FIRST

There’s a critical need for more funding for schools, including fair pay for teachers. The policies and infrastructures are in place to deliver. This year’s CARES Act took steps in the right direction, but much more needs to be done. One of the silver linings to come out of the pandemic is that parents and communities now have a renewed respect and appreciation for the invaluable role teachers play in our kids’ education. It’s been challenging for a lot of parents, especially for working parents who are having to balance teaching their kids. But I do believe there’s capacity both at the federal and community levels to impact change and allocate more funding to ultimately help the kids who would benefit from it most. Another focus is literacy, which is the foundation of every subject taught in school. However, in the U.S., nearly two-thirds of students were considered non-proficient readers before the pandemic hit. The “COVID learning slide” that has occurred since March 2020 is only expected to make matters worse. As a wealthy and developed country, there is no reason why we can’t close the literacy gap and help students of all backgrounds and experience become more proficient readers.
– Nick Gaehde, President, Lexia Learning

Though time sometimes feels slower during the pandemic, educators are feeling short on time because so much more is on their plates. Leaders will be looking for new ways to streamline observation to ensure teachers feel supported, connected with colleagues, and aligned on how to have the most impact with students.
– Adam Geller, Founder and CEO, Edthena

Today’s students are struggling more than ever. The current level of student stress and anxiety is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, and this will likely continue throughout the pandemic. So far this school year, we’ve noted a 66 percent increase in student incidents. Most alarmingly, we’ve seen an 83 percent increase in incidents of suicide and self-harm as well as a 135 percent increase in incidents of nudity and sexual content. Regardless of whether students are learning in the classroom, at home, or a combination of the two, students are in need of greater support during this time. Elementary students are not immune to serious student safety issues. Younger students are often overlooked when it comes to these issues because they’re more associated with students in middle and high school. Students need around-the-clock digital protection: It’s clear that a significant number of incidents are happening when educators aren’t actively watching what students are posting online.
– Paget Hetherington, VP of Marketing, Gaggle

Hands-on learning will make a big comeback. We are hopeful that, when the pandemic lifts, we can welcome a return to hands-on, collaborative, creative technology education in 2021. We all know young children learn best when doing and creating with concrete manipulatives. The return of makerspaces and other hands-on environments offers a space where students can cultivate a maker mindset and explore their interests, learn to use innovative tools, and develop collaborative and creative projects with their peers. By integrating screen-free tools, children can design and create in all STEAM subjects by developing a child’s computational thinking.
– Jason Innes, Director of Curriculum, Training, and Product Management, KinderLab Robotics

“We learned in 2020 that the “new normal” for educational facilities will need to look a lot different than the normal we’re used to. Safely getting back to the classroom requires many new precautions, and in 2021, innovations in technology such as digital signage software and content management will play a major role. From signage that presents important updates about social distancing to touchless accessibility of information through mobile access control, to temperature screening at building entrances to ensure peace of mind, more schools will be implementing technologies that will help students, faculty, and families best navigate the post-COVID classroom. Leveraging digital signage and content management platforms will be a tool in supporting schools in doing what they do best: putting education first.”
– Kathy Isaacs, Regional Manager, 22Miles

Understanding students’ social and emotional learning needs has always been integral, but in the world of remote-learning that many of us are living in, it is even more important. I believe there will be a continued push toward bringing SEL to the forefront alongside core academic subjects, and to prioritize providing SEL in a distance learning environment. There is also a growing need for quality SEL data to ensure that educators are serving students’ SEL needs.
– Tara Ketner, Director of Client Success, Aperture Education

As a result of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, teachers nationwide demonstrated a high degree of flexibility in ensuring the continuity of students education. New teaching strategies were introduced, new ways of overcoming students’ lack of devices and connectivity were surfaced, and a host of new technologies were integrated into instruction. I’ve always believed educators are among the most innovative and flexible individuals in the world. However, in 2020, educators took their efforts to another level. In 2021, I believe the spirit of innovation and flexibility within K-12 education will continue to grow. Many of the efforts to maintain students’ continuity of education in 2020–distance learning, flexible schedules, new ways of encouraging “hands-on” learning at distance or with technology, etc.–will be refined and these ideas will become more established practices integrated into in-person learning.
– Scott Kinney, CEO, Discovery Education

How do we empower every teacher to be the most authentic and powerful version of themselves? We must create an environment where every educator can thrive. It is the path to sustained cultural transformation, and it starts with the adult relationships in your building. It is through these relationships where educators find courage, become engaged, confident, and comfortable. Most importantly, it is where they can inspire every student to fulfill their potential.
– Lupita Knittel, President, 7 Mindsets

Reporting dashboards should become more student-focused. Reports in edtech products are often created for teachers or school leaders. They may provide individual scores for a given student as well as aggregated scores at the classroom, school, or district level. These reports may provide recommendations for grouping students or next steps for instruction. For students or parents, however, there is little to help them understand or motivate them to improve their performance. COVID-19 has given students (and sometimes parents) more ownership of learning, and creating or updating student-focused reporting dashboards can better engage students in their own learning, even when they return to the classroom.
– Dr. Katie McClarty, Vice President, Research and Design, Renaissance

Educators are continuing to find ways to engage students as the learning environment continues to change in response to COVID-19. Tools are needed to help create a collaborative and engaging classroom experience whether students are in the classroom or at home. Reliable display solutions will play a key role whether it is providing big, bright images for students in a socially distant classroom or collaborative whiteboard tools for students to participate remotely.
– Jason Meyer, Group Product Manager, Projectors, Epson America, Inc.

Although the K-12 sector was originally an ideal candidate for fixed wireless connectivity, the pandemic has evolved the sector into a larger, more critical wireless connectivity market. As a result, school district IT teams will look to vendors and broadband solution providers to support other use cases in 2021 that go beyond COVID-19, such as school bus security cameras and indoor IoT to help manage building operations (e.g. temperature, lighting). Additionally, as students gradually begin to return to in-person learning, technology will remain an ever-present part of the learning and on-campus experience, as the students and staff on campus use their devices at the same time. Unfortunately, both of these trends place a significant strain on school Wi-Fi, beyond the cases of needing to connect the distance-learning students. In 2021, school districts will look to improve the quality of Wi-Fi connectivity by deploying and using private LTE networks within the 3.5 GHz frequency of the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band. By deploying a private network, school districts will be able to off-load school assets (i.e. security surveillance cameras, digital record keeping, etc.) from Wi-Fi in order to free up more bandwidth and lower Wi-Fi network latency for students and staff use. In turn, this will result in a more seamless virtual and in-person learning and teaching experience, as well as increase the efficiency of campus operations.
– Daniel Quant, Vice President of Strategic Development, MultiTech

Artificial intelligence-based digital assistance drives immediate feedback to students. This allows them to retain information faster, advances curriculum, and lessens the burden on teachers by alleviating the labor-intensive grading and response process. Teachers will continue to embrace AI for analyzing classroom data and grading tools. AI offers insights and analysis of the effectiveness of their instruction and its outcome. AI is able to offer educators invaluable knowledge of understanding what concepts their students are understanding and which ones they are not, on a personalized level. This allows teachers to tailor their instruction based on each student’s individual needs rather than leaving kids behind who don’t benefit from conventional instruction.
– Patrick Quinn, Parenting Expert, Brainly

The pandemic has had – and will continue to have – a deep impact on students’ mental health. Consequently, in 2021 I anticipate an increase in the demand for services and technologies to address this concern. I predict we will see a rise in the number of schools that are adding counselors, providing specific mental health training for staff members, and adopting technologies to help staff identify potential concerns among students. As a result of this, we will see more cloud-based systems to foster better and more timely collaboration, communication and recording of concerns.
– Justin Reilly, CEO, Impero Software

30 edtech predictions for 2021

As we move to a post-pandemic era in 2021, educational institutions will continue to understand that technology-rich education environments are essential when it comes to effective learning for students both in the classroom and remote. Investment in audiovisual tools will continue to grow as higher education institutions recognize that moving forward, a larger portion of their students will be remote. Educators in K-12 and higher education environments will adapt new tools and technologies in 2021 that will make lectures and lessons engaging for students wherever they are physically located.
– Paul Richards, Director of Marketing, PTZOptics and HuddleCamHD

2020 was quite a year, upending education along with everything else. As this tumultuous year winds down, there are a few trends we can expect to see in 2021, including schools adopting a “digital-first” policy for many of their functional operations such as administrative and student support functions. From a more education-oriented perspective, the focus of schools–many of which had a difficult time making the transition to remote teaching–will turn their instructional design principles toward a distance-first model, such that the student experience is excellent whether it is deployed as a fully remote course or an online accompaniment to an in-person course.
– Jeff Rubenstein, VP Product Strategy, Kaltura

COVID-19 highlighted that the digital divide was not exclusive to rural areas, as many families in urban areas cannot afford internet connectivity. In addition to distance-learning, the pandemic also introduced the “Homework Gap”, where even students and teachers doing in-person learning experienced a disadvantage when it comes to homework, grading and other after-school assignments due to a lack of internet access. As some districts have already in 2020, in 2021, school district IT managers and administrators will look to further address the Digital Divide and bring broadband access to all their students and teachers through private LTE networks. By doing so, school districts will be able to provide students and teachers with reliable, lower latency and high-quality connectivity, while simultaneously being able to keep all the data traffic within its own secure IP network. This will provide enhanced connectivity for students and staff to complete work and assignments at home — bridging the Homework Gap, as well as ensure a safe virtual learning environment for all — without the possibility of malicious outside network traffic (e.g. Zoom Meeting hacks, ransomware).
– Ray Sabourin, Business Development Private Wireless Networks US Enterprise, Nokia

2021 will be a year of doubling down on student engagement, counteracting learning loss, and shifting toward easy-to-use, personalized edtech products. Teachers will continue to pull out all the stops to boost student morale, attention, and excitement amid the many challenges of the pandemic. They’ll increasingly rely on tools that help them tap into students’ interests, adapt to their individual learning needs, and surface where each kid needs the most help. Meanwhile, schools will take careful inventory of the needs of their disadvantaged populations, prioritizing solutions that help them close achievement gaps that have widened considerably since COVID began. Districts will increasingly eschew products that are difficult for teachers to use in favor of low-friction ones that have proven an ability to get results. Strategic planning and curriculum adoption will increasingly focus on standards-aligned resources that are best equipped to facilitate learning in the digital age.
– Jeff Scheur, CEO, NoRedInk

Districts will be looking for ways to care for their teachers’ physical and mental well-being to prevent further burnout and teacher churn. One way to do this is to use substitute teachers and classified aides to make teaching jobs more flexible. For example, teachers who need to stay home for a day for mild cold symptoms can teach from home remotely using online technology with the introduction of an in-person aide for a day.
– Mike Teng, CEO and Co-Founder, Swing Education

A meaningful trend that has accelerated this year is the importance of having informed parents as stakeholders—it’s something most educators and edtech companies were already thinking about, but it has even more urgency now. By necessity, parents are getting a lot more involved in their children’s education and have more visibility into their daily school experiences, and educators are depending on the involvement and support of parents to make the learning happen. We’re poised to emerge from this year with a very different kind of informed parent who is asking a lot of questions and wanting to be an active participant in supplementing their child’s education beyond the classroom. Schools have the opportunity to benefit from a much deeper collaboration with parents, something we know is beneficial to every child’s educational experience.”
– Kate Eberle Walker, CEO, PresenceLearning

I anticipate that 2021 will see a continuation of both virtual and hybrid learning at all levels of education. On the positive side, the expansion of digital learning has greatly improved the ways students can access a variety of educational materials. Educators now have more ways to improve their teaching by combining digital resources with traditional methods of learning.
– Thomas Webber, Chairman, Super Duper Publications

Supporting remote learning, in part through tech-enabled learning tools, will continue to be a top priority in the beginning of 2021. This will include schools continuing to find ways to provide all students with access to technology and developing creative solutions to close the digital divide. As the year progresses and more students return to in-person learning, these same technologies will need to adapt to be utilized by educators in new ways to maintain their relevance in today’s education. This will be coupled with an emergence of new hands-on tools to support learning objectives, such as a renewed focus on after high school readiness.
– John Wheeler, CEO, Vernier Software & Technology

Schools and districts will increasingly focus on ensuring they are providing equitable learning experiences to all students. They will be looking for culturally-relevant and anti-racist content and instructional materials, data-driven instructional solutions, and partners who understand the unique needs of their district. In addition to creating a framework for what they want and expect in materials moving forward, this will likely include educators reviewing current resources to see if they not only meet standards, but reflect the personal and cultural experiences of their students. Thoughtful publishers will dedicate significant effort to developing high-quality curriculum and instructional resources that ensure this equitable learning experience for all students.
– Sabrina Williams, Chief Inclusion Officer, Curriculum Associates

We expect that some elements of video classrooms will continue, but don’t anticipate that remote learning will become the new normal. As we’ve seen over these past months, platforms evolve and iterate to fit better within classroom workflows. These platforms will also continue to innovate for better effectiveness, efficiency, and ease of use. We believe that embedded assessment will take on even more importance due to hybrid classroom environments. And we expect to see even more integration of supplemental programs into comprehensive core solutions. The near future will bring the greatest equity gain in years when it comes to device access and connectivity. Providers can assume that 24/7, 1:1 access is already a reality for most users, and soon will be a reality for all. This will unlock the potential for better, deeper, and more enriching edtech experiences for students, educators, and families, and will also place greater emphasis on the need for accessibility.
– Brett Woudenberg, CEO, MIND Research Institute

Laura Ascione
About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Editorial Director, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura