Martin McKay, Chief Technology Officer

Ed Tech Trends for 2016

Every year I like to look back at what has happened, look at the changes we have seen in Ed Tech and try to spot some trends that will help us build better tools for teachers and students for the incoming year. It’s that time of year again now, so I have spent the past couple of days looking through the analytics of our 3 million users of Read&Write for Google Chrome™, and the bigger group of students who use Texthelp technologies embedded in products from Pearson, Discovery Education, etc. Here’s my take on things: 

2016 EdTech Trends
Keyboards are back 

OK - it's official - the tablet craze is finished in Edu. Apple’s iPad really made some great strides for a few years, but when it comes right down to it there are a number of issues that prevented the iPad from displacing the Laptop/Notebook:
  • They were not easy devices to share - one device was available for use by exactly one student
  • Tablets are expensive - particularly if you have to buy a separate keyboard, and you could not share
  • The App Deployment infrastructure was more suited to consumers than School IT departments.
  • Without a physical keyboard, they are just no good for long-form writing or editing
I, for one, am not surprised by the trend - I wrote 2 years ago that my kids had access to iPod Touches, Nexus 7 Tablets, and Chromebooks at home (the benefits of having a geeky dad) and they always gravitated to the Chromebooks. If you watch how they use them, the keyboard is the killer feature - searching for funny fail videos on YouTube is just not as nice an experience with a touch screen keyboard.

Chromebooks’ growth will continue

It is beyond doubt that iOS has beaten Android in North American Education. iPad numbers dwarf Android numbers in the USA and Canada, however Google has completely overtaken Apple in terms of devices in Education. The Chromebook has been a rip roaring success - for the reasons that the iPad fell short:
  • Super easy to share among a group of students
  • Inexpensive - around the 200 dollar mark
  • The ecosystem is built for Education first
  • It has a keyboard - so is great for writing… and one more thing…
  • Even if you can’t take the Chromebook home, you can download Chrome for free and access your content from anywhere
To me, it certainly looks like Google’s super-simple Chromebooks are a hit in Edu and are going to continue to grow. From 2013 to 2015, Google’s slice of the Education market has doubled, and Apple’s slice (which is dominated by the iPad) has halved. 

Source: The NPD Group / Distributor Track and Reseller Tracking Services

This doesn't surprise us - we have several million students using our software and we have seen the market share in analytics in one of our products shift from 15% Chrome OS to 73% Chrome OS in three years. That product is a Chrome App, so we expect it to be more popular among Googley districts. We also host Educational Scaffolding Tools for other education publishers like Pearson, Discovery Education, Glynlyon, Education 2020, etc. It is clear that the trend towards Chrome OS and Chrome is not limited to our products.

Open Education Resources

With tight budgets continuing to pinch education spending, and the Common Core Standards reducing the need for different versions of an American History or Biology book in different states, we can see Open Education Resources becoming more popular. 

Content providers like CK12 and Readworks are providing good digital content that teachers can use without a huge price tag. This is making traditional content providers re-think their offerings and provide more technology, and learning analytics as part of their offering.


A few years ago this business model was just not happening in Education. People were afraid that software vendors were commercializing student data. To think that is to misunderstand the Freemium offer. Software vendors who offer Freemium are saying this:

“To build trust in us as a reliable and quality Software As A Service provider, we are going to provide you with this valuable software for free. If you like us and trust us enough, we are confident that you will do business with us in the future."

It is a win/win arrangement. The district gets to experiment with 50% of the software for free, at low to no cost - just the cost of deployment and support. If they:
  • Like the software & find it truly useful
  • Like the service & human response to feedback
  • Trust the vendor
  • Want the premium features 
Then all they need to do is ask the vendor to switch them on - the software is already deployed. Lots of new, high growth, disruptive products are gaining market penetration this way.

Collaboration & Multi Device Lifestyle for Kids - Homework in the Cloud

When I think back even just 5 years ago, homework was being completed and saved to a thumb drive to take home or to take into school. My daughter, Emma, brought home a letter from the school asking her to bring a USB drive to school for homework.

Now she stores her homework in the cloud, and uses a cloud based suite to work on it - from any computer or tablet. She can start it at school - do some more at her grandfather’s house and complete it later at home.

Even teachers who have not embraced the cloud are being dragged in there. Two years ago if Emma forgot to bring home a worksheet it would have been a disaster involving parents, cars, late night drives, etc. Now it’s no biggie - she will IM her classmates and 20 seconds later a kid will have taken a photo of the worksheet and shared it.

Lost homework and thumb drives are a thing of the past, and both Microsoft and Google are allowing kids to collaborate on their homework nowadays with browser based tools kids can use anywhere on any device. 

So what does that tell me?

The Ed Tech tools to look out for in 2016 will: 

  • Make the freemium/premium model work harder for schools 
  • Integrate with Google’s GAFE platform and Google Classroom
  • Work on any device - Mac, Windows, Chromebook, Tablet, Phone
  • Use collaboration to foster some interdependence and teamwork
  • Use the cloud for storage, but be tolerant of poor connectivity
All this is great for students and educators - an easy onramp to simple tools that work at home and school on any device and allow kids to work together. I’m looking forward to Ed Tech in 2016 - it’s going to be an exciting year.


Erin Maccabe 2/26/2017 8:18:22 AM
Insightful article. More and more changes are happening into the digital workplace setup as technology advancement speeds up as well, Cloud computing and SEO as two of the most popular among them. This article and the likes would come in handy when it comes to understanding technology jargon, trends, issues, etc.

Chris Runstedler 1/8/2016 2:33:26 PM
Great summary about tech trends, past and in the future.

Elaine Almquist 1/7/2016 9:01:13 PM
We've seen such growth in the Google extension and Chromebook arenas. I think this is spot on.

Paul Brown 1/7/2016 6:42:28 PM
Great points, Martin. It's true. All of it!




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