Toy lab

EdTech: Playing and learning between worlds

As if by magic, the letters that the children are putting together on the table are tumbling across the tablet screen. This smooth transition between real life and the digital world gives the spelling game Words a special appeal. Words is part of the learning game world Osmo, a system from the US company Tangible Play. Even the company name itself embodies the philosophy of creating a seamless transition between analogue playing and digital gaming.

The Osmo games run on a tablet whose camera captures the playing field in front of the screen via a clip-on reflector. Artificial intelligence is then used for the digital fusion and interaction. Jérôme Scholler founded Tangible Play in 2013 together with Pramod Sharma. He says: "We can create immersive gaming experiences that don't alienate the user within a screen, but rather make use of the screen as what it is: an object in our physical world".

Toy factory of the future

The building set giant Fischertechnik has also put a well-balanced connection between classic game and digital world in the centre of a new product. In this case, however, the target group does not include children of pre-school and primary school age, but trainees and students. This summer, the construction toy brand by the dowel manufacturing company based near the Black Forest in Germany launched the Lernfabrik 4.0 24V. The set can be used to build miniatures of equipment as it is used in logistics or manufacturing in modern industrial plants. The special thing about the robots, machining centre and high-bay warehouses: The models work with exactly the same programmable logic controllers (PLC) as they are used in real factories.

This technology is now even being used by BMW, among others: The German premium car manufacturer maintains a foundry for light metals at its plant in Landshut, where more than four million castings are produced each year. For that to work, efficient processes are extremely important. The Fischertechnik factory model can be connected to a real PLC control system and used to display even complex processes during the so-called virtual commissioning (VC) of new plant programming. Just like in the real BMW factory, the model includes a sorting line, a milling cell and a high-bay warehouse, and heat treatment is also simulated.

EdTech and the new normal

Digital learning games are not a new phenomenon in the industry. But they have received a great deal of attention this year. The restrictions on educational offers for children and adolescents due to Covid 19 have made digital learning the new norm, from kindergarten all the way to school. All of a sudden, both the user group of the respective products and the general interest in the topic of Educational Technology (EdTech) grew exponentially.

As the two examples above show, the range is extensive. It stretches from individual game options for children well below primary school age over to systems that support joint learning at school even without being present in the classroom. The whole sector is booming. According to the creators of the Californian start-up trade show TechCrunch Disrupt, which in 2020, like many other events, took place only virtually "EdTech's reputation has grown significantly during the coronavirus pandemic, as millions of students had to switch to distance learning practically overnight."

New impulses for the sector are naturally also coming in from the German market. One example is Scobees from Cologne. The start-up supports pupils in self-determined, digital learning. Despite the considerable inhibition thresholds that exist for the use of such technology in German schools, Scobees has already been able to cooperate with several classes in its development.

Digital curriculum

In this point, Tangible Play is already far along with Osmo. Today, the educational game is used “in more than 30,000 classrooms", according to the company, which not only addresses private customers but also educational institutions. For these, for example, there are different class sets which are optimised according to age groups. The variety of the individual games in the cosmos of Osmo should be a good fit for this. This is because these include applications that are dedicated to the classic school subjects - such as mathematics, spelling, physics, geography, art and programming. In autumn 2020, Osmo was nominated for the German Children's Software Award TOMMI in the categories "Electronic Toys" and "Special Award Kindergarten & Preschool".

The future of EdTech

The dynamic development since spring 2020 will shape the future of the industry. Lalage Clay, Director of Education & Talent at London and Partners, the British capital's international business development agency, already sees digital educational technology as a significant economic factor. In September 2020, London and Partners published the study Future of Learning: 2020-2025.

A central insight: "Hybrid learning realities" will continue to increase. As examples, the study cites the combination of digital content with real experiences, but also mentions the opportunities of artificial intelligence. This extends all the way to software that detects the mood of the learners and then adapts the content of the learning games accordingly.

The UK EdTech sector is currently one of the fastest growing in Europe, says Lalage. It comprises more than 1,000 companies that offer their products and services to users across all age groups. But the range of products is also growing in a similar way in many other countries around the world. This is because the transitions from educational games for children and adolescents over to serious games and game-based learning for adult users are often fluid.

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