Reflections on 2020 as a Disruptive Year and Questions for the Future

Jan 28, 2021

by David Goodman, President & CEO of Six Red Marbles

A year ago, we at SRM were looking forward to continuing to lead the way for innovative solutions.  We were really excited about AI and XR for personalized learning, some of the new technologies set to take center stage. Another big industry prediction was that there would be more of a focus on social-emotional learning (SEL).

Then, of course, COVID-19 struck, and everyone’s plans, including our own, went out the window.

Abrupt Pivots and Students Left Behind

Students of all ages were suddenly learning from home, and schools were focused on logistics, infrastructure, and safety. The digital divide became unavoidable: “The Federal Communications Commission estimates that about 21 million Americans lack broadband access, with an independent research group indicating the actual number is twice as high.” Testing was impacted; “as of March 31, the U.S. Department of Education had granted waivers to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Bureau of Indian Education.

Young student with long hair looking up at a chalkboard

Both K–12 and higher ed institutions had to decide whether and how to open in-person in the fall. Colleges and universities were rapidly forced to take remote education more seriously. With our deep roots in learning experience design and online education, we responded to the crisis with Faculty Success, a resource for faculty transitioning to teaching online.

We still don’t know the extent of how all of this has affected student learning or how long it will take to recover, but early reports show significant impacts. “Students lost the equivalent of three months of learning in mathematics and one-and-a-half months of learning in reading. The learning loss was especially acute in schools that predominantly serve students of color.

How Our Focus Changed and Stayed the Same

Despite the sudden pivot to remote learning, SEL did remain a focus—and has been more important than ever in the middle of an unprecedented crisis. We’re excited to be working with MindUP to launch their digital solutions, which will reach a greater number of educators, parents, and children, giving them the vital skills they need to support children’s social and emotional competencies, brain fitness, and overall well-being.

However, while the need for edtech has grown, the focus on personalized learning appears to have been put on hold. Will AR/VR and e-sports be back post-pandemic? XR holds a lot of potential for remote learning, but it wasn’t quite ready in time for the COVID-19 pivot.

What Does This Mean for the Future of U.S. Education?

Looking ahead, 2021 promises even more change. The FLOTUS is a teacher, so there is the expectation that the new administration will prioritize education. With many school districts struggling with the strains COVID-19 is placing on already-burdened systems, incoming Education Secretary nominee Miguel Cardona needs to hit the ground running.

There are some important questions that we are asking as we plan for a post-COVID life.

  • As the pandemic recedes and things start to return to normal, how many of the adaptations made this year will stay? Will more students expect to study remotely?
  • With many states suspending standardized testing, will there be an opportunity to explore alternate means of assessment? The College Board has already announced that it is discontinuing subject tests and the SAT essay.
  • Has any of this proven the K–12 virtual experience to be viable?

It has been a tumultuous year, and while we are looking forward to a return to simple joys such as traveling, we are also eager to see how education moves forward from the disruption.

Stay safe.

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