When we think about the field of educational technology, our thoughts typically remain within the traditional arenas. We think about devices in classrooms, online learning tools, supplemental platforms in higher education or corporate learning management systems. But this focus on the traditional ignores a category where edtech has the potential to make an equally massive impact: health and wellness.
Our culture is growing more and more health conscious. Consumers are moving in greater numbers towards purchasing organic foods exclusively, limiting their sugar intake, and buying into popular exercise trends like SoulCycle and PureBarre. Athleisure has become a massively successful retail category, with brands like Lululemon and Athleta skyrocketing as consumers place more value on exercise and caring for their bodies. Articles and whitepapers about the right diet, the best time to exercise (morning? lunch? evening?), the foods that cause cancer or prevent it never seem to cease.
People have an insatiable appetite for knowledge about themselves and their wellness. But today’s consumer is inundated with information about their health, overwhelmed by thousands of often conflicting opinions and insights, leaving them with little idea where to start. First we were told to stay away from carbs. Now we need them. Running is great. Running will kill you. GMOs are the devil. No, they're harmless and essential for the food supply. It’s no wonder consumers are left doubting which experts truly know the subject and what it will take to legitimately create a healthy lifestyle—a challenge that appears nothing short of daunting.
Research indicates that this confusion often leads them to give up on healthy lifestyle choices altogether. Here is the niche where edtech has the power to make a difference. In a sphere oversaturated by advice, edtech has the ability to simplify and teach organized courses on key health and wellness issues, cultivating an inclusive environment for those who want to care for their minds and bodies.
People are willing to put significant amounts of their time, energy and money into learning about their wellness, so long as that learning is sound and thoughtfully organized. We know in affluent societies, where basic needs are easily met, human motivation quickly shifts away from "what I have" to "who I am." The result in American society is a never-ending quest for personal enhancement that can play out across countless axes: health, formal education, informal skills and knowledge, creativity, ethics, values and many more.
As more people begin to take responsibility for their own health in day-to-day life, rather than relying on medical professionals for a once yearly check up, edtech, MOOCs especially, will become the most effective way to provide an education model tailored to each individual situation. Reputable programs and MOOC providers like Coursera and Canvas are beginning to offer more wellness courses on topics like understanding vital signs and how to enact behavioral change. While more of these legitimate, trusted resources are popping up, these early movers in edtech are still facing the challenge of going beyond the surface to truly offer a full range of wellness courses. This presents a huge opportunity for leaders in the space to provide courses that are personally relevant, highly credible and community-based to better consumers' lifestyles.
The inherently personal nature of health also places wellness squarely within the space where edtech can be successful. While there are some widely accepted truths—vegetables are good, too much sugar is bad—most wellness insights should be adjusted for the individual. Some may feel best eating a higher ratio of carbs, while others may choose to primarily forgo them. As we move past these basic scenarios, the implications are even more important. For example, a class on managing stress in practical, tangible ways could attract a wide array of people dealing with wide-ranging levels of stress from all different areas of their lives. Lowering stress levels has a distinct and direct impact on quality of life, but there is no one solution that meets everyone's needs.
The combination of edtech and wellness is the next big step for the edtech world. As leaders in the space explore how to bring health and wellness learning to consumers effectively, the personalized and individual nature of edtech means that innovations have great potential for positive impact. This is not a category that edtech leaders can ignore. It should rise to the top of their priority lists in the near future.