In May of 2021, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said he expected all schools to reopen their doors this fall. It seemed like our massive national experiment in home schooling was just about over.
But there are many signs that changes in education driven by the lock down are likely to continue. Many school districts and states are approving federally and state-funded remote learning options for 2021–2022 and beyond such as in Colorado, Palo Alto, and LA as families demand more flexible schooling options.
Over a year ago I made several predictions about trends in education that would be accelerated by the lock down. Some will fade away as the pandemic subsides, others will not. Like any good forecaster, I got some right, some are still proving out, and I got some wrong:
My batting average aside, the COVID crisis exposed a real need for educational alternatives. This spurred increased investment in edtech startups over the last year with edtech funding reaching a peak in 2021 with $16B invested. H1 2021 is on pace to beat that.
So what’s here to stay? Here are 3 mega trends I think will be with us for the long haul.
1. “Home-schooling” will continue to expand → Flexible K12 Learning
The pandemic saw a dramatic rise in home education — and not just because schools were forced to go virtual.
Homeschooling doubled in the last year. According to an August 2020 Gallup Poll, the percentage of parents who decided to remove their kids from public or private schools and teach them at home grew from 5% to 10%. The change was even more dramatic for groups like Black families, where it quintupled. Even as K-12 schools were offering video instruction to kids trapped at home, these families decided to opt out entirely. This is the largest change in US school choices in recent history.
The shift correlates to an historic increase in the number of women who left the US workforce during the pandemic. Women’s labor participation rates have dropped significantly more than men’s over the same period; now at 56%, they are at their lowest rate since the 1980s.
Many of these women are now caring for and teaching their children at home. Others are banding with neighbors to form learning pods — a form of microschooling where parents get together small groups of 5 to 10 kids and secure a teacher (often a parent). This trend is also being driven by a number of fast-growing startups that enable education from anywhere — like Emile, Prisma, Prenda, and Primer. Here are just a few of the startups that offer parents more schooling choices:
At the height of the pandemic, nearly 40% of parents had chosen alternative schooling options for their children. Not surprisingly, all this activity created room for startup innovation: Edtech startups raised $2.2 billion in venture and private equity capital in 2020–30% more than in 2019.
This trend toward more flexible schooling choices will extend long after the pandemic has subsided, and these startups will play a large role in shaping that future.
2. Parents will grow even more involved
A natural outgrowth of virtual classrooms is an increase in parental involvement. Before the events of the past year, what went on in their kids’ classrooms was a black box for most parents. Not any more. And, as a result, parents are likely to be more involved than ever in their children’s schooling.
A May 2020 survey by Edge Research found that more than 70% of K-12 parents plan to become more engaged with their children’s education over the coming year. Startups like Class Dojo, Bloomz, and ClassTag that work directly with schools will help parents tap into what’s happening when their kids are back in the classroom.
One in four of those families say they are also supplementing their kids’ education with resources they found on their own. There is now a growing ecosystem of startups poised to serve this need, including Outschool*, Cambly, StudyStream, and Caribu.
I believe increased parental engagement will be the norm for K-12 education going forward.
3. Fewer students will go to “traditional” college, more will seek alternative learning
If nothing else, the pandemic lock down proved definitively that the “college experience” can not be duplicated via Zoom. And after a year of remote instruction and virtual keggers, more students have begun to question the value of a traditional undergraduate degree — traditional meaning on campus, done immediately after high school, for 4 years. I say traditional in quotes because already 74% of college learners are considered nontraditional by at least one characteristic. This will only increase.
Since the 1980s, the average cost of a “traditional” four-year college degree has more than doubled, outpacing price increases for virtually every other product, adjusted for inflation. At the same time, wages barely nudged upward. As a result, the cost of higher education has increased 8x faster than the growth in income.
This year that came screeching to a halt. Tuition prices rose at their lowest rate in more than 30 years, as parents and college students pushed back. Many universities have responded to criticism by holding the line on tuition costs or even reducing them for the 2021–22 school year.
Most people tend to think about universities as being recession proof. In downturns, in fact, college attendance often increases. But that’s necessarily true any more. And we’re seeing that now in steeply declining enrollment figures for undergrads across the country.
Thanks to a thriving ecosystem of higher edtech startups, universities are in the process of being “unbundled.” Students can now obtain the things college traditionally offers — learning, research facilities, social activities, athletics, and so on — from different sources, often at better prices.
At the same time, more students may be opting out of higher education entirely. They may find, for example, they can make a better living and enjoy a more fulfilling life by participating in the creator economy or by pursuing non-traditional, alternative learning options such as the following:
Whatever they choose, I’m bullish that the pandemic’s lasting effect will be to cause more university students to pause and ponder their learning options.
Thanks for reading and feel free to reach out anytime if you’re interested in chatting about edtech startups.
*Lightspeed portfolio company