Why Edtech Is Overdue for Reinvention
Over the last year, I watched my mother use Zoom to teach classes to fourth graders during a global pandemic. (Any adult who has checked Twitter or email during a Zoom call will understand how impossible it is to get 9-year-olds to focus).
I also observed colleagues who were forced to miss crucial parts of their MBA experience and then scramble to understand what hybrid learning for higher ed looks like. And I watched my younger sister go back and forth on whether to delay her freshman year of university.
COVID-19 didn’t cause these problems—rather it exposed existing holes. Education as it stands isn’t equitable, practices are outdated and under-technologized, and existing systems don’t teach learners in the ways they want. We see opportunities for founders to create solutions that support both K-12 and adult learning.
Looking for new solutions to old challenges
Education isn’t broken—it has been broken. While some might point fingers at the pandemic, COVID-19 merely illuminated the industry’s fractures in harsher, more glaring lights. On a parallel, optimistic path, the pandemic also accelerated tech’s realization that there are massive opportunities to reshape a sector that represents nearly 10% of our country’s GDP.
That’s because even before lockdown, there were fundamental problems about how K-12 students learn and how young adults pursue higher education. And even as students gradually return to classrooms and as some head back to the office, how we think about education and the future of work is poised for an exponential shift. That means there are massive opportunities for the best edtech founders to create innovative, consumer-centric solutions that address where education is pivoting today—and in the years ahead.
Before we dig into those opportunities below, let’s explore how we even got here.
Increasing broadband access, unbundling higher ed, and more
In K-12 education, the pandemic initially forced educators and learners online. This proved to be difficult. However, COVID showed us that hybrid learning can be effective.
Looking ahead, a hybrid model is here to stay. Despite some hurdles, hybrid learning can:
- increase efficiency in teaching (71% of educators say technology has helped empower them in elevating instruction and their capacity as a teacher)
- improve attendance during bad weather days or other future disasters
- help teachers personalize education content
These trends have already transformed the way we learn, upskill for jobs, and pursue careers:
Increasing broadband access: Extended broadband support at the state and federal level, including an inflow of stimulus dollars to schools, and continued embrace of technology within K-12 education has signaled a shift away from traditional education models. Instead, we’re seeing adoption toward models that increasingly position technology (and access to it) as essential to the curriculum, rather than an accessory.
In May 2021, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved more than $7 billion to fund the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program as part of the Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan. The fund allocates $3 billion to subsidize broadband access, and devices for families who meet the income requirement. It also provides funding countrywide for schools and libraries’ online learning needs.
Then there’s pending legislation, like the Affordable Broadband Act that would inject $90 billion for broadband infrastructure support for unserved and underserved communities. As of February 2021, only two-thirds of students had access to broadband internet. The lack of internet access is primarily due to:
- no access to devices
- housing insecurity
- no broadband access
- no affordable access
When accounting for race and socio-economic status, disparities across students’ access to online learning increases. Despite these discrepancies, COVID showed us that hybrid learning is effective when students have access to broadband internet and educators have access to the right tools.
Unbundling higher education: Education is moving toward personalized, strengths-focused teaching versus blank-slate curriculum teaching. We’re seeing a separation between learning and other services typically included in the cost of traditional higher education (housing, athletics, career guidance and placement, for example).
In-demand skills for (currently) nonexistent jobs: The World Economic Forum predicts that 42% of skills required to perform a job will change by 2022. Gen Z, currently age 24, represents the new workforce. This innately curious generation will have jobs that do not currently exist, will change careers, and see upskilling and reskilling as a part of life.
- According to a recent LinkedIn data report, 83% of Gen Zers want to learn skills to perform better in their current role.
- In 2020, Gen Z logged 50% more hours watching online courses than learners from any other generation.
Lifelong learning: Rapidly evolving technology, increased access to information, and the sheer volume of information requires continual reskilling and upskilling. The traditional, linear trajectory of education to the workforce becomes cyclical.
4 edtech categories that we’re following
These shifts are also why I think there is a massive opportunity to innovate in edtech. M13 sees opportunities for the most curious founders to address how we learn and prepare for jobs. We’re particularly interested in connecting with folks building in the following spaces:
Cohort-based learning and increased personalization: No matter where you’re based, it’s now possible to join a class or program with peers who have a similar learning cadence. COVID made us all consumers of education, recognizing the need for new modalities of learning, increased personalization, and asynchronous learning.
In the same ways we can personalize our products, our buying experience, and education, we’re going to continue to look for ways to personalize our learning—whether it be through group learning or through the ability to pick and choose courses to fit our curriculum.
- Startups like Virtually integrate payment processing, attendance tracking, assignments and grading, and student records so educators can host seamless live online courses.
- Outschool offers K-12 students interactive, small group classes for world languages, mathematics, social studies, health and wellness, and more. These classes supplement or act as a discovery tool for subjects outside of the current curriculum.
- Altitude Learning (formerly AltSchool) partners with schools to help facilitate personalized learning pathways for its students.
- Maven is a new platform for cohort-based courses where learners can pick from live, online, and community-driven courses to upskill for careers.
Education that mimics our favorite creator/influencer platforms: We’re living in the creator economy—there are about 50 million content creators worldwide. The next iteration of learners expects to learn in ways that are similar to their favorite forms of entertainment (think TikTok, Snapchat, and YouTube). There is potential for emerging education platforms that blend high-quality content, instruction, and video production to capture digitally native generations.
- For example, Hellosaurus, Numerade, and Disco curate top educators across the country to star in interactive learning and tutoring videos.
- HiEmile offers on-demand high school classes, accredited or not, with high-quality production.
Increased adoption of tech makes room for edutainment: Learning that feels like fun and games keeps students engaged.
- SplashLearn combines personalized learning paths and gamification to help learners.
- Hopscotch and Scratch are platforms that teach students how to code through game design. Roblox (worth $45 billion) has been teaching kids aged 5-12 to code since 2006.
Upskilling/reskilling: We see upskilling and reskilling across industries as essential success factors for the future of work.
- Startups like Nana teach people how to fix home appliances, with the option to participate in its marketplace.
- Main Street is an all-inclusive platform for starting and managing a painting business.
- PathMatch helps students explore careers in healthcare, sales and marketing, UI/UX design, and more. The company guides them through fine-tuning their resumes, finding the best matches for internships and jobs, and preparing for interviews.
At M13, we believe in investing in companies that are built on the technologies that will drive consumer behavior over the next decade. If you’re a founder of an edtech company, or know one, we’d love to hear from you. Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.