The Future is Happening Now: Accelerating into a New World of Edtech Part I

Early Childhood Education and K12

This was first posted on Medium. This is the first of two posts on the future of education after the onset of Covid-19

You’ve read the numbers — 90% of the world’s school population is learning from home. Edtech companies are seeing 3–10x the normal surges in usage. The coronovarius has advanced us toward the future of learning, by at least 2–3 years based on user signup numbers for digital platforms, and by even more years based on institutional mindset shifts about technology adoption.

As an edtech enthusiast, I constantly wonder — as COVID recedes, what new habits will stick, and what will revert to the status quo?

Covid accelerated trends that were already shaping the future. The future of K12 is a world of personalized learning. A world where each student is challenged with materials that are customized to their strengths, needs and interests in a manner that maximizes their potential. This vision requires the digitization of K12 (unless we are to move to a world with a 1:1 teacher to student ratio!). To be clear, edtech works best to supplement teachers not replace them.

K12’s technology adoption has lagged the broader market. The last decade laid the foundation. School broadband penetration increased from 5% in 2010 to 88% in 2016 and device penetration from 23% in 2012 to 74% in 2018. Other advancements included digitizing school records, creating a single-sign-on mechanism (Clever, LSVP portfolio company), digital parent-school communication channels (Remind), and gamified core-aligned content (DreamBoxMystery) etc.

K12 has lagged the broader market’s adoption of technology due to underfunding, cyclical technology adoption cycles once per year in the summer in line with budget / grant cycles, and inertia.

Covid is a different type of accelerant. Namely, it forces people out of their old behavior by necessity. Schools were forced mid-school year to adopt technology. Parents who weren’t accustomed to paying for supplemental education found options.

Covid as a change catalyst has impacted inertia, cyclicality and created higher willingness to pay for a new buyer. The reality around edtech adoption has irreparably changed. There is no going back.

So now that we’ve accelerated, what might the next few years hold for edtech? Here are some musings on the next 1–2 years*:

The Future is Happening Now: My 2020–2021 Edtech Predictions

Please note, some of these points were first reported in Techcrunch, this is an extended take

Early Childhood Education

  1. Toddler screen time and content will be sticky — Parents who adopted consumer learning tools like Age of Learning’s ABC Mouse and introduced screen time to toddlers at a younger age will likely “set and keep” these annual subscriptions given some are libraries of content that are half the price of Netflix. Roughly 40% of 3 year olds attend preschool so I expect the 60% who do not attend to consume free or paid early childhood content at higher levels.
  2. There will be more calls for Universal Childcare, Child Tax Credits and Childcare Regulation Reform — Today over 70% of mothers work and the average cost of childcare is $11k (also the average annual pay gap). Covid has intensified our collective awareness of the need for quality childcare. Universal child care has been proposed twice before in the United States and two presidential nominees recently proposed it. I expect we will see pushes for more regulation reform to ease the ongoing burden.

K-12

  1. Competency-Based Ed in K12 will Solve Learning Loss — Due to coronavirus, absenteeism has skyrocketed in the last month with some districts seeing 33% of students sporadically logging in. Compounding this is up to 20–25% of households that lack internet access. While 80% of households have a laptop, with parents working from home, there are less to go around. Widespread learning loss may be saved by competency based learning which gives students credit for what they know, whether or not they sat through class. School districts are exploring waivers from traditional Carnegie hours and state departments of education are encouraging schools to submit proposals reflecting this.
  2. Parent engagement in K12 will continue to increase — Parent engagement has been rising over the last 3 decades from 77% in the 90s to 90% today (parent attends at least one meeting). All parents are getting an inside look on what happens in school during coronavirus. I expect parents to remain more involved. This will be a very good thing — parent engagement has one of the biggest effects on student grades. Levels vary based on socioeconomic status. With some of the black box removed, parents will crave more resources like Class Dojo or Bloomz to fill them in on what’s happening.
  3. Homeschooling population will double — 10% of US parents want to homeschool their children but only 3% do. After this criss, I think we will see 5–6% of parents and children (teenagers) choosing homeschool. Parents now have exposure to tools like Outschool. 1 in 3 teens are bored and highly stressed in high school. Like college, going to school brings a social network. For homeschooling to truly thrive, there will need to be a robust social alternative. This may mean high schoolers with built-in social alternatives such as esports enthusiasts might be earlier adopters.
  4. Tutoring & Supplemental Content may see a sustained lift for wealthier parents — Tutoring prices may also come down as more competition drives down costs. Families with more discretionary income are making up for less personal attention and support in school by paying for more tutoring and supplemental content. Tutoring companies are up 300–400% from normal levels. Library models and lower cost annual subscriptions will retain better than pay per hour / month models.
  5. Education platforms will become Big for Adtech — Ad dollars go where the eyeballs go. Historically, that has been radio, newspapers, TV, social media, entertainment, and out of home advertising. This has been tried in EdTech but not succeeded because the eyeballs weren’t there. For the first time in history, nearly every parent and teacher is engaging with a digital learning platform on a daily basis. US EdTech startups are seeing social network-like engagement at great scale (tens of millions of users). That’s a lot of eyeballs. Ad dollars will follow. While there is COPPA and FERPA to adhere to, solutions targeted at parents/teachers may thrive.
  6. Beyond the LMS (Learning Management System) — Someone will develop a truly blended learning platform that is intended for both fully online learning and can be flexible enough to support offline LMS needs. It will likely allow for developer API integrations, have embedded exercise, grading, and feedback functionality, ability for a teacher to jump into breakout groups, multimedia instruction formats, short, chunkable attention-span grabbing modules, pre-recorded video with instructor front-facing video technology such as what BYJU’S (LSVP portfolio company) and 2U use, messaging features, and important files on record for parents. Many online educational advocates are urging reporters to draw a distinction between remote learning and online learning because they know the current scramble has resulted in a suboptimal learning experience that is turning some off of distance learning altogether. Schools are rewriting grant proposals (some deadlines are pushing back) for the 2020–2021 year to be prepared to go hybrid.

Things That Will Not Stick

  1. Preschools teaching toddlers online (many are doing to avoid refunds on tuition).
  2. Virtual babysitting — Care.com started offering virtual babysitting and a group of Broadway actors created a new company around this. Sadly I don’t think it’s here to stay.
  3. Remote teaching — Remote teaching is a pale comparison to robust online learning. See the need in point #8 above. I don’t expect some technoutopian version of school where everyone is being taught online, sitting in their home learning in VR headsets to happen anytime soon. The burden on parents is too high, and the social function that schools perform (lunches, babysitting while parents work, etc) is too crucial.
  4. Increased Calls for Moving to the Full Year School Model — These will likely have little impact. We are seeing leaders call for an extended school year to combat learning loss and prevent flunking as much as 20–30% of students. Currently 10% of US schools are year-round. Despite this, I do not expect these calls to have a meaningful impact given teachers are already burnt out and powerful teacher unions may protest. To solve learning loss, competency-based learning may work (see point #3).

Final Thoughts

One of the saddest aspects of Covid’s effect on education is that it exacerbates existing inequalities. Many poorer students rely on public school for meals, device and internet access. School districts are funded by local taxes so may have less to spend on public education in coming years. High-need students with special needs, behavioral problems, or difficult home environments will suffer with less personal attention and support.

Schools are innovating by turning buses into wifi hotspots and deploying them in their communities. 36% of parents have already skipped or reduced a meal so their kids can eat. We will need to be especially mindful of these students and their families when designing the new path forward.

I’m ready for personalized learning. We’re still a long way from equitable outcomes for all children but I hope that this crisis, for all the calamity it’s brought, will at least give us more options for how students learn.

If you’re building a company that will serve the future described above, think I’m wrong, or have a different opinion about what will happen, school me (pun intended). You can reach me at mbent@lsvp.com

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