It’s been a while since we did this, but after a year as … interesting … as 2016, we thought we’d have a go at coming up with some predictions for the year ahead. The rules were simple: two predictions each from Nick, Tim, Laurie and Jo. Then in 12 months, we can all look back and wonder just what we were thinking.
1. Automated content creation will be everywhere
We’re already seeing evidence that EdTech companies are beginning to use automatically-generated learning content. For example, Duolingo’s assessment product features cloze activities that are clearly generated from out-of-copyright texts that happen to include a requisite number of target items (see screenshots below).
We also recently saw WeSpeke take over content creation duties on Newsmart – a product for which we at ELTjam used to create content using human writers and editors. WeSpeke will “use its proprietary and patent-pending Natural Language Processing (NLP) technology to create English lessons using world-class content from The Wall Street Journal and other Dow Jones brands.”
In many cases, the technology is nowhere near where it needs to be in order to create the level of content quality that an ELT publisher would expect, but bear in mind that a) it’s just a matter of time until it is and b) how many students actually know or care, especially if a product is free. One way to look at content automation is on a continuum that started with the switch from royalties to fees and ends with the use of algorithms to create learning materials that publishers would have had to pay authors to produce in the past. Bad news if you’re an ELT materials writer not able to retire in the next five years.
2. AI will give 1-2-1 tutors a run for their money
It’s no longer just about adaptive algorithms that are able to make suggestions for you based on your behaviour (Facebook feeds, adaptive learning content). 2017 will see the ascendance of AI-driven products and services that provide a much deeper level of service, particularly in the area of Intelligent Tutor Systems. These are able to replicate the experience of 1-2-1 tutoring and have been shown to give real live tutors a run for their money in terms of their effectiveness. Examples of such systems include Tabtor, Carnegie Learning and Front Row.
We’ve already seen an AI entrant in English language learning in the form of ELSA, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing many more to come.
3. Machine Learning will make automated translation mainstream
A theme already picked up on in Nick and Tim’s predictions, but we’re going to be hearing a lot more about machine learning in 2017 – that is, the ability for software not only to apply complex algorithms (that’s nothing new), but to actually learn in response to incoming data and user interaction and adapt accordingly. Look at how tools like Google Translate have improved in recent years (check out its ability to translate written and spoken language in real-time), then think about the potential of things like Skype Translator. The more these tools are used, the better they get, and we’re going to see exponential improvement. With the full force of the tech ‘big 4’ (Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon) behind this, I think AI-powered real-time translation utilising machine learning might actually start to seem credible by the end of 2017. If that happens, then the impact on ELT won’t be far behind.
4. Mobile will continue eating the world
In this 30-minute presentation, Benedict Evans of Andreessen Horowitz brilliantly captures where we are in the evolution of mobile. As we pass 2.5 billion smartphones on Earth and move towards 5 billion, the case for going ‘mobile first’ has never been stronger. If you combine that growth in device adoption with the huge leaps forward being made in machine learning, you can start to imagine a world of almost ubiquitous device ownership, with those devices carrying out tasks for us that we can only start to imagine now. In other words, this is about far, far more than trying to shoehorn coursebooks onto phone screens. If you’re currently working for an ELT product company that doesn’t have or doesn’t plan to have a mobile first strategy in place, then you might want to find one that does.
5. An ELT publisher will either pull out of ELT or radically change what they do
Every major ELT publisher has had at least one major restructure in the last couple of years, and the changes keep on coming without any sign of anyone finally having ‘cracked it’. ELT is not a core concern for any of the larger businesses that own the major ELT publishers, so there must be a limit to how long the current instability will be allowed to continue.
6. Learner Experience Design will become the sought after skill in education
The increased focus on experience is something that is playing out in a number of domains. An interesting trend to compare this to is the increasing attention being given to the experience of candidates applying for jobs by HR teams. A poor candidate experience can turn off a whole tranche of talent to the prospect of working with you. Richard Branson has taken this to heart and is in fact crafting a fairly lucrative revenue stream out of taking care of the candidate experience for Virgin.
The same is happening (and will continue to happen) for learner experiences. ELT content publishers and creators can no longer assume that delivering language learning products is enough. The success of a product (and therefore the ongoing stability of a company working in the learning space) will increasingly be measured in terms of learner delight and the efficacy of the experience.
7. We will make more of what we already have
As more and more platforms and LMSs are built and left to wither and die due to unrealistic expectations of what could be achieved, we will see educational organisations making more of the tools that have bedded in as technological staples; things that will be with us for the long haul. This will mean more education through Google app suite, Facebook and Whatsapp, email, sms. Nothing groundbreaking or new in using these tools, but I predict that we will shift more towards relying on existing well-used technology rather than racing to build new platforms that try to do the same things, but manage it less well.
8. Harder times for immigrants learning English
As UK government cuts come into effect, and the impact of Brexit becomes more evident, times will be even harder for poorer people here in the UK, especially immigrants. People will feel more comfortable telling immigrants that if they are in ‘our country’ they need to speak ‘our language’ and this will be directly at odds with the fact that funding to support this language development is being cut, as are other benefits and services, making it even harder for immigrants to find the time and resources needed to learn English. This will make social integration even more challenging and further divide an already divided population. I predict that, on the whole, edtech advances will continue to be aimed at wealthy folks who can afford it rather than on effective solutions for supporting EAL needs in UK schools, or functional language and integration programmes for immigrants arriving in English-speaking countries.
Featured image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/manoftaste-de/