Learning to embrace EdTech in the early years

Rose Luckin Professor of Learner Centred Design

By Rose Luckin, Professor of Learner Centred Design and Director, EDUCATE London

If technology has not made it into your pre-school setting yet, then it soon will. It’s not just about the whiteboard and the lone computer in the corner of the room. In the future, all children will be learning with hand-held devices, loaded with numerous learning applications.

Technology is rapidly changing the way that teachers teach, and children learn, and this is as true of pre-school settings and nurseries, as it is of any other sector in the education system.

As a pre-school, nursery or childminder practitioner (or the parent of a young child) you can’t have failed to notice how the youngsters in your care relate to technology. Instinctively they know how to swipe to the left to look at pictures in the picture gallery of your phone or where to find the store to install the latest game. It’s amazing to watch. It just doesn’t seem to faze them, does it?

We won't be replaced by robots

This lack of fear is something we need to harness. Not only is knowledge of technology vital in itself, but how we use it to learn requires better understanding by educators and parents.

Much of the discussion about the use of educational technology (EdTech) centres on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and whether it will one day replace human practitioners.

People find this concept both intriguing, and frightening. If you believe, as I do, that education is about more than just the mechanics of learning then we need not worry about robots taking the jobs of educators any time soon.

While a machine can keep going and won’t feel ill or tired as we humans do, young children will always need the caring, nurturing input of the adults who care for them, and who understand their needs as no robot ever will.

Learning to harness the potential of technology

But this advanced technology is here to stay so we must decide what to do with it.

From learning to tell the time, to grasping the basics of reading and maths, technology can help bring these aspects of learning to life, making it motivating and exciting, and allowing children to experiment on their own as well as with their early years teachers.

Educational technology has enormous potential and, yes, that can be scary.  But we control the machines and tell them what to do, not the other way round.

At the EDUCATE project, we are creating opportunities and conditions for entrepreneurs and innovators to develop educational technology (EdTech) that is useful and fit for purpose. We help them to turn their brilliant ideas and concepts into something real and tangible, revolutionising how practitioners work in their settings, and how children learn.

Our cohorts so far have done amazing work on developing technology in early years literacy, numeracy, the learning of English by EAL learners, personalised approaches linking teaching to a child’s needs and helping you, the professionals, with assessment and tracking progress – leaving you with more contact time to spend with the children in your care.

We are open to your expertise

Our programme is based at the UCL’s Institute of Education and, with our partners, we offer practical and business advice, clinics and training on how to conduct research into ‘what works’ and how to utilise and understand existing research evidence. We believe this aspect of our work is unique among EdTech programmes and it underpins everything we do – we see little point in developing these products if you don’t think they’re fit for purpose.

This is where we need your help and expertise as pre-school practitioners.

We want to hear from you if you’re a potential entrepreneur with an idea for a EdTech product or service that can be applied to a pre-school or early years setting. Perhaps you’re an entrepreneur in the making and have already developed a EdTech idea which is being used with the youngsters in your nursery or pre-school.

We would also like to team up with you if you’re willing to trial some of the ideas our cohorts are working on, in your setting. Among our current programme participants, for example, we have companies working on products relating to the teaching to phonics, as well as games aimed at parents to prepare children for starting school.

By trialling their ideas, you would be playing an important, pioneering role in shaping the development of EdTech and its use in early years.

  • To find out more about the EDUCATE project or to discuss your idea, please email us at educate@ucl.ac.uk.
  • EDUCATE is hosting a week-long conference into EdTech in June and we would like early years and teaching professionals to join us on our practitioner day. Find out more at London Festival of Learning,