A few weeks ago now I asked for usage stats from any edtech companies who would be happy to share. I said that I wanted to show that learning IS happening at home, to combat some of the stories in the media, and from certain high profile Lords, which seem to think that all is lost while schools are "closed" to the majority of pupils. I apologise this blog has taken a while to write in the end as I got ill but that is by the by really as the time has given me chance to really try and reflect on what is happening with education at home during a global pandemic.
There will likely be a number of caveats in this blog and firstly, I want no-one to confuse the idea that learning is happening at home with the idea that every child is learning at home. I think we will all know that the picture we see via the stats in this blog will be reflective of a big picture but will not shine a light into any specific homes. It is highly likely, I believe, that in some homes students are doing more work, longer work, harder work, more intense work, than they would ever be expected to do in school, especially given the 1:1 nature of home learning. In some homes there will be students who are doing no work. But what is evident is certainly that there are huge numbers of schools at least attempting to provide work, and a huge number of students and parents getting that work into the home as well as some not bothering for whatever reason. As someone who came from absolute poverty and a childhood full of ACEs I will not, and would ask that noone else does either, deduce anything about the "type" of home or "type" of student that difference shows either. That is something for individual case by case investigation which is not appropriate in this discussion. (I am getting off my personal soapbox again now!)
Later in the blog I will share some very interesting stats I have been sent but first will put in place my own thoughts and feelings through this. I am not a data analyst by trade and there are likely some very clever people reading this who could make much more clever deductions from the data but I am taking this to a place I believe based on the stats plus my own chats with many parents and teachers, as well as applying what I know about school roll out and take up of edtech in any normal time too.
The next big big caveat is that this is all edtech stats. And only some edtechs are included though I suspect all are seeing similar figures. I know for a fact that loads of schools are sending paper worksheets home. Chris Dyson of Parklands School in Leeds has stated on Twitter that 85% of his pupils would not have access to online learning. So any school with numbers like that are likely to provide work in ways we cannot gather evidence on. We can only assume, for the purposes of this blog, that there are many similar schools providing home learning via printables where possible or at least pointing parents towards them. Some schools will also be providing not much work where they firmly believe that the most important thing right now is the wellbeing of parents and pupils so will not want to add home schooling stress into the mix. They will not be sat doing nothing in those cases but be taking care of food parcels and calls home and sending fun ideas for family activities. They fully expect to pick up learning full throttle once children are safely back to school.
There are also many parents who will be finding things themselves via Google searches and the like or buying books when they go to the supermarket or downloading apps to devices which may not actually fall into the usual edtech space but are parents doing their best to find what their children may engage with.
What we will never ever be able to quantify really is the quality of the chosen home learning. This is my final big caveat before we get into the data. If every school did the same thing - all did live lessons, for example - we may hope to gain some insight into the effectiveness of live online lessons. However, what we would actually be getting is a kind of performance management view of how good each teacher is at delivering live lessons. The reality is, also, that not every school is doing the same thing. In fact at no other point in history are schools likely to ever have been so different (And that really is saying something!) Schools with similar cohorts even down the same street will suddenly be making decisions based on their own tech capabilities and confidence, coupled with online access of their families, rather than simply picking the schemes and pedagogies they think will provide the best learning outcomes. A school who desperately wants to offer 6 hours a day of live lessons but has no idea where to start is likely to have chosen either a) not to bother or b) to do it anyway and muddle through. In scenario b) that will have very varying levels of impact and we cannot really provide a reliable test for that. A school which is really confident and has all the tech (private schools have often been mentioned as having this capacity or making sure they have it) are providing loads of live lessons but they will not be comparing it to other methods within their own school so again we cannot reliably test the impact of that as a comparison to other methods.
Within each school when students are back we will no doubt start to see gaps. Within that there will be a multitude of reasons to pick through. No-one will be doing it to figure out which was the best edtech. That just is not, and should not be, the focus. They will simply be picking up gaps in learning as fast as possible and moving those students on. Providing booster classes, grief counselling, food parcels, and numerous other things which schools do all the time. Some will tell us their choice of edtech was absolutely brilliant and totally worked for us. Others will tell us their choice was awful and the tech is a load of rubbish. They will often both be talking about the same tech. This is the nature of edtech on the whole anyway. Edtech sits on the periphery of education and relies entirely on the school to implement it whilst trying to ensure that is as smooth as possible. Where it succeeds it is brilliant and where it fails it is an expensive pain in the a***,
I have seen articles and blogs asking for a revolution of the tech. I.e. where is edtech in all this? Why are you not all creating amazing new tools? They are suggesting loads of ideas of tools which could be made and developed. And it's quite funny really as I am yet to see a suggestion for a tool which doesn't already exist but they don't know about it. Because the revolution in edtech is happening right now. The revolution needed was not at point of development but at point of use. Finally most schools are using it, and not just as an after thought for the occasional bit of homework or a special project in July for Year 6. And that is what the following stats, I think, are mostly showing us. Later, when the dust settles, and when the edtech industry has licked its own wounds financially, we can look at what impact all this use has longer term. For now let's just look at what is happening.
Firstly this graph from Google Trends shows the sudden uptick in people Googling the search term "home learning." Another caveat here - I have chosen to use this term as it seemed to have the most use across social media and parents I know in the early days of lockdown.
This second graph, however, fascinated me. People have been searching for Google Classroom specifically way more than for home learning overall. This surprised me a bit but is actually really heart warming. Because while I feel many parents have searched "home learning" and many teachers did at the start of lockdown to find the free stuff edtechs are giving away etc, it seems the teachers MUST be pointing parents and students to the specific tool. I did this comparison with a number of tools i.e. Microsoft Teams and Zoom. The comparison of Zoom with Google Classroom and Teams shows Google Classroom lowest down. But when I looked at that in just the Jobs and Education category, Google Classroom jumped to the top. And this is likely because Teams and Zoom have been the choices for loads of businesses and also just personal lockdown activities such as quiz teams etc using Zooms for fun evenings. Whereas Google Classroom is only available for educational establishments. So even with the filter back to All categories we see this huge uptick in searches. The gap in April is the Easter holidays, of course, but even then it is being used way more than it is during holidays at other times. Which shows learning has continued a bit through holidays too.
Next here are some stats from the edtech companies who have been kind enough to share with me. Thank you to all. Please please read these stats with generosity. I know some companies and individuals are using publicly available stats to try and get "one up" on others but again we must not do comparisons of that type from tool to tool. It really isn't the point and there are so many reasons why one edtech will see higher jumps than others. I tackle some of these in the blog but others will not be part of this discussion. Now is the time to collaborate not compete for the benefit of all schools and edtech as a whole. (*puts soapbox away again*)
I asked companies to share, where possible, their stats from April 2019 and from April 2020. Although this covers Easter holidays in both cases it was the first full month of school closures and also seeing learning happening even with the holidays there I find very interesting too. I suspect in many homes they have continued a bit through holidays as a) they may not be able to have the children in usual holiday clubs if they are working parents and b) for some semblance of normalcy and routine.
First of all some stats from itslearning (whose remote learning starter kit you can find here):
"Regarding itslearning in April 2020 compared to April 2019:
•there was a 463% increase in the number of tests created in our platform
•there was a 450% increase in the number of 1:1 instant messages sent within our platform
•there was a 343% increase in the number of Assignments created in our platform
•There was a 189% increase in the number of Plans added in our platform
•There was a 155% increase in the number of concurrent users of our platform"
What is wonderful about the itslearning stats is the 1:1 instant messages sent. This shows that not only are students getting an increased amount of learning to do at home but they are also still accessing that personalised teacher support where needed, or being able to chat to friends. That might not all represent learning but does show connections being open and available. Vital work at this time.
Night ZooKeeper shared with us that they have seen a 600% increase in usage. Their creative literacy platform has historically mostly been used at home so a 600% usage increase now is really significant.
Third Space Learning told me that downloads of resources from their site are up 400% and reads of the blogs are up 140% - which shows that there is an appetite for downloadables too and people (likely teachers and parents) are reading more about teaching maths at home - as this is historically an area parents need help with as approaches to maths teaching have changed over the decades so parents often feel less confident with it.
Satchel (previously Show My Homework) shared the following comprehensive stats with us:
"Although our user numbers have increased year on year, we have seen unprecedented user numbers during the pandemic going into the summer term.
In addition to increased user numbers, when we look at the same group of schools, we have seen an increase in distance learning across the board in distance learning tasks set. When looking at the first two weeks of the half term (pre closures) vs the last two weeks of the half term (during closures), I thought I'd share some of the key stats for core subjects, and a stand out stat that we discovered in PE
Maths: 163% increase in tasks set at the end of the half term compared to the beginning of the half term
Science: 178% increase in tasks set at the end of the half term compared to the beginning of the half term
English: 208% increase in tasks set at the end of the half term compared to the beginning of the half term
PE: 636% increase in tasks set at the end of the half term compared to the beginning of the half term"
I also find the PE stat really interesting. Also really understandable. It is likely that maths, science and English would all have been commonly set as homework before so the % increase is reflective of an already very well used platform which we know is popular in many secondary schools. So the likely actual numbers are even more impressive at any given time. But teachers likely would not usually be sending PE homework! So this is a totally new use of the platform for many schools and teachers. This use will likely drop massively again when students are fully back to school but I would love to know how many PE teachers will start to set homework in this way more often in future.
epraise shared some interesting stats with us and have also written their own blog about the change in how their platform is being used in this time which is worth a read here
"- Messages +~2000%
- File downloads +~650%
- File uploads + ~1300%
- Classnotes (inc. homework) + ~350%
Perhaps unsurprisingly, despite the huge increase in online learning, the monitoring of achievement and behaviour has actually decreased - the first week of lockdown they both fell off a cliff, though this has picked up again as teachers have got used to all the things that are going on.
Just in case it's interesting for the blog, our infrastructure costs are currently running at about +180%."
I am not at all surprised by the increase in running costs, an issue I raised in a previous blog, and this is a worrying trend at the moment as it means edtech companies have been unable to furlough staff as they are coping with their highest user numbers ever, but with so much being available free they are shouldering a lot of burden too. I hope this does repay their loyalty over time as these stats show platforms being used more than ever and that means more teachers will be more confident using tech going forward. All of us in edtech know what a huge impact teacher confidence has in the take up of tech in school.
Our next interesting stat comes from TechSmith who make screencasting video creation software which is ideal for creating tutorials and teaching videos but has not always been particularly a pure edtech product, although they do have a market there of course, as many businesses use the software to make their product training for customers and also staff training videos etc. But here are their stats during lockdown which shows an impact both in education and in training at home for all companies using their software:
“TechSmith has experienced more than an 800% YoY increase in content consumption, and more than a 1,600% YoY increase in engagement features like adding in-video quizzes across our cloud portfolio that is optimized to help Camtasia and Snagit education customers effectively share content.”
This is fascinating due to the engagement features particularly. What may have been passive videos previously are now more likely to have quizzes, i.e. mini assessments, added in. I hope this trend continues too as in-built little assessments improve training in all industries.
Purple Mash have shared their stats with us too:
"April 2019: 8 million hits
April 2020: 44 million hits
March 2020 had 24 million hits. "
So we can see that again a very popular site anyway is seeing a huge increase in usage. I also know from seeing what they are doing on social media that their staff have been constantly developing and adapting through that time too and with so many parents now using it they are inundated on their Facebook group with questions and are answering them pretty much 24/7! I hope that gives them loyalty which continues, as with all edtechs who are working flat out right now.
A few more things I have been told but more anecdotally or snapshots such as the below quotes which are all worth including:
"Our blogs aimed at parents supporting from home are being read more than ever."
This one is fascinating and brilliant - I wonder how many parents are upskilling themselves at home whether the school is pointing them to it or not? Speaking to mums in our local Whatsapp group (caveat - dads are invited too but none of them have joined yet!) I know many who have no teaching background at all who have really taken to home education and one of them has such brilliant ideas I have asked her to write some down so I can blog them for teachers and other parents as I think they are great for home learning!
"I have no stats for you but my son is now a reader which he was not in March"
Again we must not underestimate the impact of having 1:1 teaching for a child at home. These are not educator parents just interested and engaged ones who are doing their best. I suspect they are not alone. We cannot assume that parents are not doing a brilliant job. Again there will be pockets but they are individual cases to be dealt with. Most parents are doing all they can for their children with love and dedication.
"Hey! Our #Spanish reading comprehension digital platform double-sized the number of users during April. #ELL #DualLanguageChat" - Beereaders
This stat is great but also got me wondering about languages in general from an EAL and an MFL perspective. I wonder how many children will have another language under their belts after this? I suspect some children who are EAL will be struggling to access content from many edtech providers (work to be done on accessibility in general in edtech as this is also the case for many pupils with SEND) but may be progressing in their home language through parental help. All that will still increase grey matter and should not be ignored as good progress.
"I haven't any full stats right now but at the end of March there was a 16x increase in usage"
As well as this one, there will be companies who are not able to gather comparable stats as they are too new or had a huge change this year anyway.
So many more companies shared with me their information and sorry I could not get everything into this (already very long) blog but I am grateful to everyone who input even a nugget of info.
Also one last piece of information.
At last check Oak National Academy had delivered 8 million online lessons. This was a couple of weeks ago so likely lots more since. This initiative was set up within 2 weeks to deliver a national curriculum. BBC Bitesize also created a daily lessons area to support a more national approach to home learning during the pandemic. Lots of other people have also set up their own initiatives during lockdown but these two had government support and a bit more advertising! There are pockets of brilliance across edtech and beyond in all of this and many have no comparable stats to before as they were all created purely to help now.
No there is no consistent national picture. No there is not going to be learning happening in every home. But frankly, and I mean this realistically not meanly, there are also classrooms in which whole cohorts or some individuals make little to no progress at any time. What we may see and hear about anecdotally later are children who blossomed in home education. Those who, away from the pressures of the classroom and the gaze of their peers, found their feet and progressed and recovered from previous trauma of bullying or anything else going on. We must look for where damage has been done by this pandemic. Of course we must. But we must also look for where it has been good for some children. And where we could make changes to the education system we have at every level, not just in tech or exams or whatever else changes due to this year. We need to watch this cohort all the way into adulthood even if just through stories to see what we can learn from lockdown education.
Jodie Lopez is an ex-primary teacher who won multiple awards for her use of technology in the classroom. Since leaving the classroom she has worked for multiple education technology businesses, from the multinationals to the one-person start-ups. She uses her teaching experience and her previous life in sales and customer service to help companies to bridge the gap between edtech businesses and the classroom.