Investment in education continues to see unprecedented growth due to the increased focus from governments, individuals and corporates and is expected to reach USD $10 Trillion by 2030, according to a report released last month by the Global education market intelligence firm, HolonIQ. Much of this growth will be driven by technology to address the gaping gap in the digitization of education, currently at a mere 3% of the overall expenditure on education, set to reach a whopping $342B by 2025, well surpassing $7.5B this year alone.
Advanced technologies like artificial intelligence and virtual reality are embedding themselves into education delivery and learning processes, attracting venture capitalist interest. More than 100+ education companies are projected to have a market cap greater than $1B by 2025. Even so, data tells us that about 500 million students will be left behind, of which a large part is special needs students unless immediate, transformative steps are put in place.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there is a massive push for special needs learning, creating a billion-plus dollar market opportunity for special needs learning products. A survey by the Software and Information Industry Association indicates that special education products yielded the highest revenues and growth year after year.
Addressing the learning gap requires meeting students where they are. Surprisingly, special education aid does not require drastic changes, but just innovative uses of the usual, everyday tools for education — obviating the need to single out any students.
Here are 6 creative ways in which companies are bridging the education gap for special needs students.
Hip-hop and sneakers
Yellowbrick, a company that creates digital learning experiences relevant in the real world uses Sneaker Culture and hip-hop in their Sneaker Essentials course to help students learn lessons in math, design, language, business, and marketing. Drawing from Dr. Shango Blake’s success with incorporating black culture to boost learning in the late 90s/early 2000s, YellowBrick’s incorporation of youth culture into learning experiences has seen a boost in learning participation, especially in the special needs population.
SkoogMusic taps into the appeal of music to engage kids through the Skoog- a customizable electronic musical instrument that allows children to play any instrument on their own devices. Skoog provides tactile stimulation to special needs children, drawing them into musical experimentation in association with other apps like Garageband, and helps remove any of the physical limitations associated with the playing of a musical instrument for disabled kids.
STEM and active play
Unruly Studios helps students learn coding by incorporating what children love the most- physical play! Students can create their own fun and unique games using the Unruly block coding app on a tablet or Chromebook and then engage with Unruly Splats, the unique programmable devices that light up and make sounds when they are stomped on, addressing two of the biggest needs for students today- a need for active physical play and STEM learning. Unruly Studios’ STEM learning tool is especially great for special needs kids because the tool is completely open and adaptable, making it naturally inclusive.
Edtech companies have embraced the medium of play for topics that were conventionally deemed serious- Math, Science and even languages. Drops, an innovative language-learning app helps build a vocabulary of new languages through innovative word games and puzzles. Their recent release of ‘Droplets’ is tailor-made for children with a fully parent-controlled interface and helps children learn from over 35 languages through some fun, fast-paced drawing games. Special needs children benefit from the visual learning interface and the focus on learning vocabulary through simple mnemonic images instead of memorizing grammar rules.
ObjectiveEd, a company dedicated to digital education for students with disabilities designs and adapts its lesson delivery based on the students’ needs. The program picks an initial set of skills for learning based on the students’ IEP plan, after which the student is presented with games to teach and fine-tune the chosen skills, constantly evaluating the student’s progress and engagement to readjust the delivery of lessons. The platform also provides an integrated dashboard for teachers and parents to monitor the student’s progress.
zSpace, a company specializing in virtual reality and 3D visualization, brings immersive experiences to the student to cement learning. ZSpace attracts students on the ability to do 4 things that would otherwise be huge obstacles to learning – things that would be considered Dangerous, Impossible, Counterproductive and Expensive, forming an apt mnemonic- DICE- for the learning experiences. There’s no surprise that special kids learn faster and better due to increased engagement that comes with immersion, but zSpace has also taken care to design the virtual reality glasses to promote collaboration rather than isolation – a big plus for special needs learning.
Given the well-established fact that one-on-one focused tutoring boosts learning, finding the right tutor at the right time for learning focus is of paramount importance. However, finding highly-credentialed experts to provide quality time to students with special needs can be a challenge, given that such focused mentoring time is limited to after-school hours. Add the hassles of commute and long waiting lists, and the task suddenly seems impossibly arduous.
Varsity Tutors solves this problem by providing an advanced technology platform to bring experts and students together for dedicated, personalized instruction. The platform allows students to connect with tutors anytime, anywhere and brings not only a video interface between the student and the tutor but supplements it with interactive tools and collaborative on-screen workspaces that facilitate live, interactive learning.
Study.com, the resource hub with online courses used by over 30 million students helps meet the needs of the special needs student through adaptive learning. The sheer breadth and depth of the content delivered through micro-lessons in 4-6 minute spans with close-captioning features help grab and keep the attention of the learner. The ability to transfer credits to a college to pursue further educational goals presents a huge advantage for special needs students who tend to be self-paced learners with niche interests.