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ISTE 2016 - Evolution Not Revolution

A concise summary of our view of the show would be 'evolution' rather than 'revolution' in terms of developments in the EdTech market. Many of the key themes seen on the show floor were around integrating and implementing technology solutions in a more efficient, joined up and effective way. We have talked before about how the fragmented education ecosystem was causing confusion for end users in our latest blog article, which focuses on the issue of simplicity. Click here to view>>. Walking round the show floor, providers were advertising partnerships and integrations with third party platforms (integration into the Google and Microsoft ecosystems most prevalent). It was noticeable that there were limited product announcements or developments with significant 'wow' factor. 

From an individual exhibitor point of view, Amazon's announcement of the Inspire Open Educational Resource (OER) platform was a major talking point. The entrance (entrance in the sense of this announcement, Amazon does already operate in education) of a heavyweight provider such as Amazon caused much discussion. The industry is desperately in need of scale, especially in terms of content curation and central locations for content discovery so the announcement was broadly welcomed. Whilst currently a non-profit play, as part of the US Department of Education 'GoOpen' initiative, it is clear to see that longer term the platform has the potential to become a powerful one stop shop for curated paid for content. 

The 'Maker Market' has seen significant discussion in the US through 2015/16 and this momentum continued at ISTE with a noticeably large number of demonstrations of robotics and 3D printing solutions especially. In addition, there were multiple conference sessions discussing how best to utilise and implement 'Maker' spaces. It was also noteworthy that many of the 'Maker' stands seemed to be the best attended. As with many new usage trends, the challenge now for producers is to get past the 'innovator' stage of market uptake (i.e. teachers who are happy to create, trial and develop usage themselves) and penetrate mainstream users in order to start to scale volumes. A key challenge to widespread adoption will be ensuring solutions are integrated into state curriculums and specific lesson plans. Providers are starting with this process and many stated that they have developed large numbers of lesson plans. Integration into the various state curriculums is less developed and this will prove a real challenge to market providers. 

Virtual Reality was a key theme on the show floor with numerous demonstrations taking place. Google announced its 'Expeditions' program is now live following an extensive beta testing program that reached more than 1 million students. The platform launches with more than 200 separate 'Expeditions'. Many of the leading publishers were demonstrating content they had created for the program, in addition openly admitting they had further developments in the pipeline. 

The market for classroom collaboration tools has become one of the most overcrowded sections of the EdTech market. I have lost count of the number of solutions I have seen that offer some combination of screen mirroring, screen casting, Q&A functionality and content distribution. There are many specialist providers offering paid for solutions in this space, but with so many free solutions (that admittedly don't typically have the same level of functionality) carving out a clear market position has been hard. 

Google has brought some scale and much needed simplicity to this sector of the market by launching Google Cast for Education. A free Chrome app that allows students and teachers to share screens wirelessly. With Google's wide adoption (more than 10 million users of Google Classroom) and the full integration into the Google ecosystem, Google Cast for Education is likely to be adopted quickly, making it harder for providers seeking to commercialise dedicated collaboration/screen sharing solutions. 

Utilising data to help drive learning outcomes was clearly a big topic at the show. Whilst the utilisation of data is not new, many cite the fact that end users are struggling to understand how to glean insight from data. Part of this issue, is that different parts of the supply chain are collecting disparate data (SIS, LMS, Publishers) and integration between platforms is often not simple. Custom APIs and even CSV data transfers between disparate systems remains common. Interoperability standards are key to ensuring efficient & secure data transfer takes place whilst managing privacy issues. Moving forward, the question of who in the supply chain holds the data is likely to be a key question in supply chain developments. 

On the display side of things, interactive displays are transitioning towards flat panel technology with fewer projection vendors demonstrating. PCAP touch technology is emerging, whilst more expensive it offers significant benefits (accuracy and speed).

Finally, it is worth noting what wasn't at the show. There was almost no presence for wearable devices. A couple of vendors had them on their stands, but with no education usage case (essentially just a consumer demonstration unit). Whilst wearable usage in education has been discussed for some time, the 'killer app' is yet to become clear (certainly in k-12 at least). 

Perhaps understandably due to the nature of the show there was very limited evidence of the Internet of Things, a hot topic amongst the EdTech technological supply chain. Futuresource understands that most of the supply chain focus is on the area of 'Smart Campus' (i.e. smart lighting, security etc) as opposed to the 'Smart Classroom' (utilising sensors, wearables etc) so ISTE is likely the wrong trade show for such demonstrations (more likely initial uptake in Higher Education).

To summarise, KISS (Keep it simple stupid!) seems like an apt phrase to describe the industry status currently. Whilst providers are catching on to this and increasingly preaching the message, the fact remains the supply ecosystem is too fragmented. The industry needs scale providers to develop and increasing adoption of interoperability standards in order to simplify usage for end users. 

About the author

Mike Fisher

About Us

Here at Futuresource Consulting we deliver specialist research and consulting services, providing market forecasts and intelligence reports. Since the 1980s we have supported a range of industry sectors, which has grown to include: CE, Broadcast, Entertainment Content, EdTech and many more.