The online education market was already on an impressive growth track before the coronavirus pandemic forced students all over the world to begin learning from home. In 2019, for example, the sector had reeled in more than $18 billion worth of investment last year — up more than $2 billion since 2018.
A recent World Economic Forum analysis suggested that online learning platforms increase information retention, and pondered whether some changes caused by COVID-19 might be here to stay. Wang Tao — who leads cloud and education teams at Chinese tech giant Tencent — certainly thinks so.
“I believe that the integration of information technology in education will be further accelerated and that online education will eventually become an integral component of school education,” he told the World Economic Forum.
Of course, bird’s-eye view analyses are one thing — the scene from the classroom is quite another. So what does education look like as schools double down on edtech investment? A survey of Bay Area-built edtech platforms on the market right now shows how data analytics, credential consolidation, subscription streaming and other capabilities pioneered by tech companies are changing the education experience for teachers and students alike.
Break Down Those Barriers
Not all students or school districts have access to the same resources, and any education provider adopting education technology must consider accessibility, cost and equity as part of its business model. For example, Khan Academy’s online library of standards-aligned learning programs and personalization tools for teachers is free for students and educators alike. The non-profit organization is one of the most widely used edtech platforms in the world, with its resources now translated into more than 40 languages.
Studies are suggesting that free edtech tools are helping kids from disadvantaged backgrounds make progress. In one experiment, researchers at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst’s Early Academic Development Lab found that kids in high-poverty families who used the Khan Academy Kids App made significant literacy gains. The study also found that parents could improve their own teaching skills by observing their children’s use of the app.
“They’re targeting the right letter recognition, sound correspondence, all those things,” Lab Director David Arnold told Education Week. “It did a good job of capturing kids' interests, and...it did a good job of scaffolding, so it wasn’t too easy but it wasn’t over kids’ heads.”
As learning materials, lessons and classroom exercises move online, edtech companies are learning to tailor educational material to the needs of individual students. Such personalization is exemplified by the San Mateo-based IXL Learning platform, which provides teachers a real-time gauge of their students’ proficiency in math and language.
The platform is built on more than 8,000 adaptive skills and fueled by data generated by weekly diagnostic quizzes. The technology can then identify skills that require more work and create an action plan to fill those gaps.
Beyond those diagnostic tests, teachers can also track how students are progressing through regular classwork in real time through analytics dashboards, calling out individuals who might be distracted or need help.
Bringing It All Under One Roof
With the accelerated adoption of digital learning tools, students and teachers are running into a headache familiar to many white collar workers: an out-of-control list of logins for an array of platforms across multiple devices.
San Francisco-based Clever offers students and teachers a single portal to access all their digital learning tools. Teachers can test new platforms and exchange notes on the results. Some 60 percent of U.S. schools use the service, which is free for school districts — the company makes its money from the edtech platforms hosted on its platform, rather than from educators themselves.
In a sign of Clever’s growing tech clout, the eight year-old company recently hired Eric Krugler, a 16-year Apple veteran and founding member of iCloud’s leadership team, as its vice president of engineering.
“At Clever, I found a combination of scale, innovation and a company purpose that's so compelling to me personally,” Krugler said in a statement. “The Clever engineering team tackles hard problems in an elegant way so that technology in the classroom can truly help teachers and kids achieve more than ever.”
Learn From The Best
It’s one thing to learn basic literacy skills from your teacher and their learning software of choice. It’s quite another to learn the finer points of creative writing from the likes of Margaret Atwood or David Sedaris, or cover the basics of scientific thinking from Neil deGrasse Tyson, or practice your groundstrokes with Serena Williams.
Private lessons with the world’s best used to be a privilege reserved for the wealthy few. However, for a monthly subscription fee, San Francisco-based MasterClass can now beam world authorities on any given subject straight into a user’s laptop. The concept has caught on — last May, the company raised $100 million in funding, bringing its total investment to $236 million.
The product itself has drawn comparisons to the user experience and technology principles that underpin products like Netflix and events like TED Talks.
“The breadth of things that you have to be able to work on and operate across is fairly large, and I think broader than most other Silicon Valley tech companies,” Chief Operating Officer Mark Williamson recently told Built In. “It’s almost like there there’s all the challenges of running a tech business, on top of all the challenges of running a content-driven business.”