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Robotics in Education - Fad or Serious Trend

The 'Maker Market' is one of the hottest trends in the EdTech sector. Maker days are springing up everywhere and schools are increasingly creating maker spaces. The White House announced a 'National Week of Making', inviting people to hold events around the US which celebrates problem-solving and supporting new opportunities for creativity and ingenuity. The use of robotics, especially tied to coding, is developing and a key part of the 'maker' trend. Walking the halls at the recent ISTE trade show in Denver our team perception was that many of the stands from the traditional industry leaders seemed to be quieter than usual whilst the big crowds were flocking to 'maker' demonstrations. 

We've seen this many times before in EdTech, trends come and go and many prove to be just short term fads. Whilst new technologies are picked up by the most innovative, they often founder when it comes to penetrating 'mainstream' classrooms and therefore gaining significant and sustainable scale. Digital tools have helped to reinvigorate the teaching of traditional STEM subjects in schools (science, technology, engineering, maths). Statistically, boys are much more likely to study traditional STEM subjects (and more likely to work in STEM related sectors) but the use of robotics has the potential to help address longer term gender gap issues within education. At present though, robotics solutions are often utilised in after school /extra curricula classes. To gain long term acceptance, robotics need to be integrated into the curriculum for use in the classroom. 

Talking to vendors offering robotics solutions at ISTE, it was clear that many were emphasising the lesson plans they had created, to help teachers get to grips with the concepts of how robotics can be utilised for learning. Whilst the most innovative tend to be happy to experiment and learn for themselves, the mainstream typically need more support. So, example lesson plans with step-by-step instructions are needed. Some providers reported that they were working with (or had employed) teachers to help design lesson plans and case studies and the implementation of this is likely to be key to long term adoption. Walking the ISTE show floor however, it felt like there were almost too many new providers entering the 'maker market' and the complexity of integrating with curriculum could help to separate serious players from the rest. 

The use of robotics has the potential to become a long term trend in education, helping to improve interest in STEM subjects and closing gender gaps. The challenge for providers will be to achieve the scale necessary, so that investment is made in teacher training and lesson plans which are linked to the curriculum. With the extremely fragmented nature of the curriculum, this is likely to be a demanding challenge and may be a long term roadblock to widespread adoption.

About the author

Phil Maddocks

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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.