In an era in which the world is experiencing rapid growth and the evolution of a multitude of advanced technologies, education remains a priority on the public and private agenda. In this constantly changing and digitally dense context, hundreds of millions of data points including comments, conversations, and various types of multimedia content are shared on the topic of education each day. In collaboration with Fundación Telefonica, Alto Analytics has conducted an advanced analysis of the global digital public sphere conversation around education in order to better and more holistically understand the digital debate around tendencies in education.

By applying several advanced network analysis techniques and approaches, this study aims to map the global public digital conversation around education in general, with a specific emphasis on the relationship of the conversation around education as it relates to technology and innovation. To achieve this, Alto’s team of data scientists analyzed over 10.5 million results, including 2.5 million pieces of shared content generated by over 3.5 million authors. The analysis captures conversations and content without geographic restriction produced in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. Moreover, five key regions are identified within which the results of the analysis contextualized: North America, Latin America (LATAM), Europe, Asia-Pacific, and Africa and the Middle East. The period of analysis covers the conversation generated from May 1st, 2019 to July 30th, 2019.

This analysis intends to address the following key research questions:

  1. What is the nature of the dialogue around learning, teaching, and the transformation of educational curricula?
  2. What role does adaptive and personalized learning have in the public digital conversation?
  3. How are conversations related to artificial intelligence and education contextualized within the public digital conversation?
  4. In what context are conversations about lifelong learning and other similar concepts introduced into the discourse on education?

Below is a brief summary of the key insights derived from the extensive analysis detailed in this article.

  1. A substantial volume of the conversation around education is related to the new skills and competencies required for the changing requirements in the world of work. In all regions, STEM skills are the most mentioned, including consistent mentions of and references to learning algorithms (machine learning, deep learning, reinforcement learning, etc.), coding and development (for computers and mobile apps), cybersecurity (often associated to blockchain), data science, and artificial intelligence (AI).
  2. Mental health stands out for being mentioned as a field that should be included in the learning curriculum from as early as primary education. “Soft skills” like creativity, collaboration, adaptability, critical thinking, interpersonal skills, time management, active listening, learning capacity, leadership, teamwork, entrepreneurship, and resilience are discussed within the context of the demand for these skills in the future world of professional work.
  3. Specifically in Europe and North America, the concepts of adaptive and personalized learning emerge as prominent narratives in the conversation. These concepts tend to be discussed in association with technological tools, such as applications that might facilitate new models and methods of learning. The idea of “rethinking” the traditional educational frameworks and the introduction of both new models of learning and the technologies that will enable these new paradigms are discussed. 
  4. The idea that technology will “learn” at the same time as the student learns, identifying needs and demands, automating some tasks, and enhancing e-learning and personalized learning is a conversation that has been identified within this context. Artificial Intelligence is mentioned much more as an area that must be learned for future professional development, rather than as an educational tool.
  5. The necessity of being continuously updated with new skills and the habits and models engendered by lifelong learning is a topic of conversation that is principally mentioned in Europe and North America. The concept of “unlearning”, or an ability to update and improve on old mental models by processing new information and skills, is associated with “lifelong learning”.

To explore the principal insights of the research further, we encourage you to check out this website designed and developed by the Alto team which allows you to engage with the analysis in a detailed and interactive fashion. A brief visual demo of the site is shown immediately below.

Principal Metrics – Education in the Public Digital Sphere

In assessing the volume of activity produced in each region, North America stands out as the most active with 4.2 million comments published by 1.3 million users over the period of analysis. The North America region is followed by Latin America and Europe with around 2.2 million comments each produced by 805.600 and 717.500 authors, respectively. In Asia-Pacific, 1.4 million results were produced by 456.000 authors, while in Africa and the Middle East, 736.000 publications were produced by about 244.000 authors. The graph below illustrates the distribution of the volume of activity per region based on both results and authors.

Regional Narratives Analysis

In the following section, we dive deeper into the conversation generated in each of the five key regions. For each region, we detail a network analysis based on the content of the respective public digital conversation in each region to capture the principal themes and narratives which emerge in the general discourse. In this case, the nodes represent keywords and the edges connecting different themes signify the use of different (connected) terms within the body of the same text – the greater the size of the node, the greater frequency of use of this term in the conversation. As the edges represent connectedness within a narrative, represented by the difference in coloration across the visualization, the greater thickness of the edges indicates a higher frequency of joint use in the body of identified texts. The group of connected terms that make up this network alongside the analysis of various clusters of terms demonstrates the principle narratives and thematic areas in the conversation on education. For each respective regional analysis, the included network contains the most frequently used 1000 terms that emerged organically in the public digital conversation.

Key Narratives Around Education: North America

Based on the 1000 key terms analyzed in the public digital conversation in North America, the following six narratives are identified:

  1. Education & Learning: funding, budgeting, and school safety in the USA and Canada.
  2. Innovation in Education: technologies and tools for quality education, blended and e-learning, and emphasis on technology as a tool rather than an end.
  3. Tech Education: Tech skills and tech education online for big data, AI, and other fields through learning resources and platforms.
  4. STEM for the Future: STEM skills are emphasized for future career success in association with lifelong learning as well as new skills such as machine learning, AI, and programming.
  5. Politics & Education in Canada: Discussions around education and LGBTQ rights in Alberta as well as protests against planned cuts to research budgets.
  6. Blockchain and Startups: Blockchain, startups, and tech for entrepreneurship with a focus on artificial intelligence.

In synthesizing the principal conclusions drawn from the analysis of the conversation in North America, the following key insights stand out:

• There is a substantial narrative covering both the individual and structural importance of education and its prioritization on the social and political agenda in the United States. Several public figures advocate for the importance of education, including Barrack Obama.

• Mental wellness in the curriculum emerges as a relevant discussion, driven substantially by the social and political discourse on gun violence.

• The importance of inclusion for women in STEM fields and the advantages of offering discounted education for seniors is associated with lifelong learning.

• Education through online platforms and apps is frequently mentioned, covering advantages such as price, a gamified experience, accessibility, and personalization of education. The main subjects are STEM, with a focus on developer skills in the field of AI, Machine & Deep Learning, Data Science and Blockchain.

• Canada’s voice is considerably smaller, where funds for education and research are being cut due to legislative and policy actions.

Key Narratives Around Education: Europe

Based on the 1000 key terms analyzed in the public digital conversation in Europe, the following five narratives are identified:

  1. General Education: Continuous unlearning, lifelong learning, soft skills, creativity, and project-based learning are discussed in the context of new learning approaches.
  2. Edtech and Edchat: Gamification, new pedagogical models, augmented and virtual reality (AR, VR), e-learning and other tech-focused approaches to personalize learning through technology.
  3. AI, ML & Deep Learning: Educating resilient skills that are less prone to replacement by automation such as critical thinking, teamwork, interpersonal skills, leadership, and entrepreneurship. Lifelong learning and a curriculum focused on humanities are discussed.
  4. STEM and Digital Education: The importance of STEM education for the future economy and women’s role in STEM fields is emphasized.
  5. Learning Disabilities: Discussion in the UK around investing in support for individuals with learning disabilities.

In synthesizing the principal conclusions drawn from the analysis of the conversation in Europe, the following insights stand out:

• Key conversations include structural changes in learning methodologies for more practical-based learning, reprioritizing the importance of pedagogical knowledge and re-evaluating traditional exams as a basic learning criterion. Many conversations promote new methodologies, such as “Technical Brainstorming for Creativity”, project-based learning, learning gamification, 3D techniques, and the use of multimedia.
• The development of “soft” skills, such as critical thinking, teamwork, interpersonal skills, leadership, in addition to continuous learning and lifelong learning for new education are highlighted.
• AI or machine learning techniques can help rethink public institutions and the “bulking tasks for students and teachers” model. To achieve this, it is necessary to encourage student participation in addition to adopting learning-to-learning approaches such as project-based and challenge-based learning at the “K-12” level.

Key Narratives Around Education: Latin America

The 1000 most used terms in Latin America in the conversation around education reflect the following 9 narratives:

  1. Education in LATAM: Development of digital education, the improvement of the infrastructures that favor Internet access, training in the use of information and communications technologies (ICTs), and the provision of technological resources in the classroom.
  2. Brazilian Protests Against Budget Cuts: Massive protests in Brazil against Bolsonaro’s budget cuts in science and education.
  3. Venezuela Politics and Education: The CLAE (Congreso Latinoamericano de Estudiantes) voice their key challenges to the student movement.
  4. Education & Technology: Publications of scientific content related to research and discussion around blockchain applications in the educational field facilitating the implementation of educational platforms.
  5. Mexico SNTE: Focused on the strengthening of education and the rights of education professionals by the national education union in Mexico.
  6. AI, ML, & Deep Learning: Content related to AI, deep learning and machine learning, considered a central axis of technological development in the future.
  7. Ecuador and Education: Educational programs of Ecuador’s government, highlighting STEM workshops for students/teachers and the “Digital Agenda” program for the integration of ICTs and education.
  8. Politics/Education in Chile & Honduras: Protests, demonstrations, and strikes in Chile and Honduras against privatization of education and excessive debt.
  9. Argentina Sex Ed & Reproductive Rights: National campaign for the right to legal, safe, and free abortion in Argentina which includes demands for comprehensive sex education as a preventive strategy

In synthesizing the principal conclusions drawn from the analysis of the conversation in Latin America, the following key insights are noted:

• Robotics, AI, deep learning, machine learning, IoT, big data, data science, and other emerging skill areas are of central importance in the conversation on the future of education. These technologies are considered essential to prepare new generations for the future impact of artificial intelligence on society and the workforce.
• Creativity, critical and innovative thinking, effective collaboration, empathy, sociability, and adaptability are key skills to develop in the era of AI, so it is recommended that traditional pedagogical models be replaced by others that best suit the new needs. There is an emphasis on the need to develop these skills to maintain a competitive global workforce in a changing world.
• Latin America’s most influential actors in the educational debate are tied closely to the political sphere. Populations from Brazil, Honduras, Chile, and Argentina are in confrontation against different educational reforms and budget cuts that are seen to threaten the advancement of education, and in particular, technology and science curriculums.

Key Narratives Around Education: Asia-Pacific

The 1000 most used terms in Asia-Pacific in the digital conversation on education yield the following narratives:

  1. Education General: Conversations around STEM in primary education. Discussions around the importance of science, technology, and language skills as well as women’s education and sustainability education. Mental health and wellness are also highlighted.
  2. Tech Education: New skills such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, programming, blockchain, and robotics are discussed.
  3. STEM and Digital Education: STEM education programs and initiatives around India and Australia with a specific focus on the involvement of women in the STEM fields.
  4. Education Activists in India: General political debate about the importance of investing in and improving education.
  5. Australian Investment in Education: Political debate around public education and cuts, free education access, and privatization.

The following insights can be derived from an analysis of the key thematic areas in Asia-Pacific:

• A high volume of conversation is generated from India and Australia. Much of the debate is related to primary education, while new teaching methods and STEM education at the primary level are key conversations in Australia and India.
• There is a substantial emphasis on women’s education with a focus on STEM fields in India.
• In India, there is an interest in integrating technological equipment into the classrooms and there is a frequent discussion on the importance of education for India’s economic development.
• There is a strong impulse on STEM education for primary and higher education and a push towards big data and data science. Learning algorithms including deep learning, machine learning, coding and programming, AI, and cybersecurity – especially blockchain technology – are among the most mentioned skills.
• Blogs and free tutorials for skills development are frequently shared.

Key Narratives Around Education: Africa & the Middle East

From the 1000 most used terms in the public digital conversation on education in the Africa & Middle East region, the following narratives are identified:

  1. Learning and Educational Opportunities: Access in the context of free and quality education as a UN Sustainable Development Goal, alternative educational approaches for increased access, and entrepreneurship and scholarships to support access to education.
  2. STEM & EdTech: The impact of educational technologies and STEM on education, learning, and teaching. The growth of tech ecosystems in Nigeria is a key conversation as well.
  3. Universal Access to Education: Discussion on technology and social media applied to education as a tool to learn more quickly and efficiently. This conversation also includes the need for universal educational access to promote increased economic development.
  4. Education for Business and Employment: Content published about professional education applied to business as part of youth development for increased career prospects.
  5. Female Education: The narrative explains the importance of women’s rights and empowerment for the future development of Africa, specifically highlighting women’s health education.
  6. South African Education Proposal: Conversations around the Economic Freedom Fighters political party educational proposal in the 2019 South African elections.

The following insights can be distilled from an analysis of the key thematic areas in the Africa & Middle East region:

• Support for lower-cost, free, and/or higher quality education is a key area of discussion. Users bring attention to serious social and educational challenges such as limited access to quality primary education and prohibitively high costs for public university education
• Technology – and specifically social networks – as an educational resource is valued for providing increased access to online learning platforms and resources.
• Alternative learning is emphasized, with reference to certificate programs and apprenticeships for jobs that do not require a university degree.
• Children’s rights in the context of education and women’s access to education are identified as necessary areas of investment and focus for regional growth.

Distinct Communities of Users Participate in the Public Digital Conversation Around Education

Alto’s analysts used Alto Analyzer, Alto’s proprietary cloud-based analytics platform, to build and identify the largest communities of users interacting in connection with the public digital conversation around education in order to perform a topological analysis of the propagation of messages. This resulted in a unimodal network of authors (giant component, edges being interactions). To determine the different communities and visually represent the resulting network, Alto’s data scientists applied clustering algorithms, like the Louvain Method for community detection, for example. The following data visualization represents the nine most relevant communities identified which are comprised of 4.2 million users and their 11.1 million interactions.

In each distinct community, several different themes serve as central points of conversation within the broader context of education as outlined below:

  1. US Political – Left (24.1% of users) Pro-Democrat and anti-Republican discourse around violence in schools, cuts in education funding, and public criticism of the U.S. Department of Education and the Secretary of Education.
  2. UK Political (17% of users) Liberal, anti-Conservative discourse around government spending on education, laws related to education, high educational costs, and student debt.
  3. Education & Innovation (13% of users) Discussions around pedagogy, classroom education, learning apps, the importance of learning, and growth metrics for education.
  4. Brazil | LATAM (9.7% of users) Debate in the Portuguese language around political discussions on education, cuts in education funding, criticisms of the Bolsonaro government, and calls to mobilization and protest in support of education and funding.
  5. Technology (9.4% of users) Discussions around emerging areas such as machine learning, deep learning, as well as programming, and the educational platforms where these skills can be developed. The integration of AI in the classroom is also discussed.
  6. US Political – Right (8.4% of users) Pro-Republican, Anti-Democrat discourse around national (U.S.) educational infrastructure, violence and safety in schools, and the politicization of education.
  7. Learning Disabilities (6.5% of users) Community discussing the challenges and difficulties of individuals living with learning disabilities, specific disabilities such as autism or Down syndrome, life expectancy, and human rights within the context of education.
  8. Canada Education General (6.2% of users) Debate around classroom education, the importance of research, and cuts in education funding in Canada. There are several critiques of the Ministry of Education within the conversation.
  9. Nigeria | Africa (5.2% of users) Discussion around educational platforms for increased access to learning, the importance of education for individuals’ future, education funding and infrastructure, and free and accessible education.

Key Influential Profiles in Community of Focus

To focus further on the key objective of this research, which includes gaining a more comprehensive understanding of the global public digital conversation on education with a focus on technology and education, Alto’s analysts took a look at the most influential types of profiles in the Education and Innovation community in order to identify key profiles driving the conversation. Key influencers who have a significant impact on the digital conversation include experts, educators, companies, and media who drive the online conversation by offering opinions, insights, initiatives, and solutions at the intersection of education and technology. Of these, the three categories that lead the conversation are Teachers and Experts (45% of the top 100 most influential profiles) including, speakers, writers, and influential teachers or education experts. There is a concerted focus on the broader field or sector of education amongst these influential profiles, and most of these individuals comment from the perspective of working in the field of education either currently or in the past. The second most influential type of profile in this community is Companies (26% of the top 100 most influential profiles), which includes various companies and their respective educational foundations. Many companies related to the STEM fields, like Microsoft and Google, and others more focused explicitly on education, like ISTE can be found in this group. The third most common type of influential profile is both general and specialized Media (8% of the top 100 most influential profiles) who cover a diverse range of news and stories related to education.

Key Takeaways: Revisiting the Key Research Questions

As highlighted through an extensive analysis of messages and content in the public digital sphere, the topic of education is varied and dynamic with several regional differences markedly characterizing the nature of the public digital conversation in each respective geographical region. In revisiting the key research questions outlined at the outset of the research, we summarize the key takeaways based on the results of the analysis explained throughout this article.

What is the nature of the dialogue on learning and teaching as it relates to a transformation of educational curriculums?

• A substantial volume of the conversation around education is related to the new skills and competencies required for the changing requirements in the world of work. In all regions, STEM skills are the most mentioned – these include learning algorithms (machine learning, deep learning, reinforcement learning, etc.), coding and development (for computers and mobile apps), cybersecurity (often associated to blockchain), data science, and artificial intelligence.

• Mental health stands out for being mentioned as a field that should be included in the learning curriculum from as early as primary education. This has been discussed most specifically in North America, Europe, and the Asia & Pacific regions. To a lesser extent, soft skills are also mentioned, particularly in Europe and North America. Skills like creativity, collaboration, adaptability, critical thinking, interpersonal skills, time management, active listening, learning capacity, leadership, teamwork, entrepreneurship, and resilience are discussed within the context of the demand that will be placed on these skills amidst a changing nature of professional work.

What is the role of conversations and content on adaptive and personalized learning?

• Specifically in Europe and North America, the concepts of adaptive and personalized learning emerge as significant narratives in the conversation. These concepts tend to be discussed in association with technological tools, such as applications that might facilitate new models and methods of learning. The necessity to “rethink” the traditional educational methodologies is discussed within the context of the introduction of both new models of learning and the technologies that will help enable these new learning paradigms.

Do conversations around artificial intelligence emerge in the public sphere digital conversations around education?
• Mentions of AI applied to education are not abundant. They are mostly made in general terms, pointing out that AI will change education, but not emphasizing the current application of these claims. Europe is the region where there are the most mentions in this context.
• The idea that technology will “learn” at the same time as the student learns, identifying needs and demands, automating some tasks, and enhancing e-learning and personalized learning is a conversation that has been identified within this context.
• Artificial Intelligence is mentioned much more as an area that must be learned, rather than as an educational tool.
In what context is lifelong learning, and other similar concepts, being discussed?
• The necessity of being continuously updated with new skills and the habits and models engendered by lifelong learning is a topic of conversation that is principally mentioned in Europe and North America. The concept of “unlearning”, or an ability to update and improve on old mental models by processing new information and skills, is associated with “lifelong learning”.

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