Last March, Zoom, the ubiquitous online conferencing platform, became a staple of daily life for many students and educators as learning shifted online. Millions downloaded it—and first learned of it—back in early 2020, when lockdowns forced billions of students online, and at least 100,000 schools onto Zoom.
But as the company itself will tell you, it didn’t spring up overnight. Zoom is actually a decade old, and the first conferences launched in 2012, limited to a mere 15 participants. While post-pandemic growth has slowed as schools resume in-person learning, the company is still flush with cash, reporting over $1 billion in revenue in the second quarter of 2021.
Education has of course been a key growth area for the company, and it’s been busy over the past year hiring former educators and those with years of experience in edtech. Their goal, it seems, is to realize the potential of hybrid learning over the long term, envisioning a world where schools teach partly in-person and partly online—and preferably on Zoom.
This week at Zoom’s annual conference, Zoomtopia, a trio of education-focused Zoom employees (er, Zoomers?) speculated wildly about what hybrid Zoom learning might look like 10 years from now, given the warp speed advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning expected. Below are highlights of their grandiose, if sometimes vague, vision for the future of learning on Zoom.
AI-powered translation is already in the works
In June, Zoom announced the acquisition of German AI startup Kites, which is developing real-time text-to-speech translation that can appear as captions on video conferences. In a separate session at the Zoom conference, its founders, Alex Waibel and Sebastian Stüker, detailed the remarkable strides they have already made, overcoming formidable challenges like translating idioms in an instant.
The applications for schools are readily apparent, from teaching foreign language classes to helping English language learners and engaging parents or students who might want to talk directly to an educator.
“You’re able to bring people who may not always be comfortable coming to campus because of a language barrier, and instead you can do that remotely,” said Tain Barzso, Zoom’s product lead for education. “We’re able to break those visual and auditory and linguistic boundaries and things like real time translation really just scratch the surface.”
Some innovation might not be from Zoom itself
Class, a startup from Blackboard cofounder Michael Chasen, has already launched a product that adds more classroom management and instruction features to Zoom (and has raised $46 million in the process). In the future, there may be many such companies piggybacking off Zoom’s popularity.
That’s mainly because Zoom’s open software developer kit—or SDK—lets third-party companies build their own apps—and existing apps include icebreaker games and even a Kahoot integration. “You can use Zoom as a platform almost as your building blocks,” Barzso said. Further afield, he suggests that footage from a drone could be beamed into Zoom screens so that all participants could view or even control the action.
Look for more augmented and virtual reality integrations
Google has been in the virtual field trip game for years, through its inexpensive cardboard headsets that use ordinary smartphones. Down the line, Zoom sees its platform as offering 360-degree tours of museums or job sites like film sets—and perhaps integrating with more sophisticated virtual reality headsets.
Virtual reality may not make it into every classroom in 10 years, but specialized use for job training is not out of the question. In the future, advanced goggles may be paired with haptic suits, which allow the wearer to feel sensations like touch or vibration. Barzso has already seen nascent uses of this technology to bring lessons from top medical schools to students in Rwanda, he said: “Trans-global medical education is incredibly powerful and I think we have a lot of opportunity with video, haptics and virtual reality.”
Personalization and … humanification?
Zoom very much sees itself as one day innovating on personalized learning in a substantial way, although beyond breakout rooms and instant translation services, they have few concrete ideas in mind. Mostly, the company says it will be working to add more choices to how teachers can present materials and how students can display mastery to teachers in realtime. They’re bullish on Kahoot-like gamification features and new ways of assessing students, too. (No, privacy concerns and online proctoring didn’t come up.)
Barzso also said that he’s been doing a lot of thinking about how to humanize the platform, and recreate or approximate in-person interactions as much as possible.
“I think that illustrates where we are going: from that emergency teaching mode into now really moving forward into a true online education community,” he said. “I think what that means for the future is recapturing that time in between meetings. It’s capturing that time when you’re outside of classes. How do you recreate more natural occurrences: the hallway conversation, sitting on the grass at lunch and talking. What are other ways we can bring people together?”