By: Soham Dharmadhikary (M&T ‘21)
The notion of a “traditional” classroom is one that has not changed much from generation to generation. Though blackboards transitioned to whiteboards and notebooks are quickly being replaced by laptops and tablets, the typical educational setting seems to hinge upon the physical presence of a teacher spewing out concepts and definitions to students. Yet with the advent of more sophisticated online platforms that seem to provide similar benefits, the question becomes are traditional classroom settings becoming a thing of the past?
In recent times, everything from transportation to retail to currencies seems to face consistent disruptions from technology driven corporations that have radically altered the way we think of how tasks can be accomplished. While the bulk of educationally oriented software has been focused on supplementing teachers and professors, at Penn we are no strangers to the likes of Canvas, Piazza, and Gradescope, there is little reason that this should be the full extent of the potential startups in this space have.
The variety of platforms speaks volumes to the true depth this industry has. Whether it be online resources or mobile applications, the push towards making education simpler and more accessible is evident. With this comes consistent market growth, as demonstrated by the graphic below, which shows the projected LMS (learning management systems) market size for the coming years.
But with the growth of the industry, so too has the trend of consolidation began to creep into this space. As Phil Hill, co-author of “State of Higher Ed LMS Market for US and Canada: Spring Edition” explains in the final lines of his book, “the movement in the market is toward, not away from, the mainstream management systems”. Market share of companies like Blackboard Learn and Canvas continue to grow, while smaller companies, or the “Homegrown LMS’s” as Hill defines them, are either stagnating or shrinking under pressure from some of the more established players.
So while the model of E-learning that is intended to supplement classroom learning has thus far dominated the industry, it seems that the space could host so much more. The relatively recent emergence of Coursera (2012), edX (2012), and Khan Academy (2007) have demonstrated that there is a notable supply and demand for completely online learning modules. These modules, often called Massive Open Online Course (MOOCs), are growing in popularity and frequency across LMS’s and education tech startups.
MOOCs in particular have revealed that some of the biggest markets for these platforms are in developing nations. The top 10 growth rates by country of usage of such platforms is shown below:
In areas where a significant portion of students lack access to adequate education, the prospects of MOOCs seem even more promising, both from an economic and a social standpoint. Such markets and nations could help pave the path for private companies like edX and coursera push back against the dominance of larger players like Instructure, the parent company of Canvas, many of whom have tended to stay in the realm of supplemental tools.
So are we in for a radical shift in the way all classrooms work? Probably not. The market shows that we still highly value the physical presence of a teacher or professor. But success of new emergers illustrate the potential for MOOCs and other online educational modules to more dramatically alter our current paradigm of how learning takes place. And perhaps one day getting a university degree without leaving one’s home will be as normal as ordering shoes on Amazon, but for now we’ll have to make do with Canvas and Piazza.
Soham Dharmadhikary is a Project Manager and Weiss Labs Liaison on the Innovation Fund, and he studies Computer Engineering and Finance. Having previously worked on a driving safety startup, he loves to learn about startups in a variety of fields including energy and education. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling and watching youtube channels like MinutePhysics, Vsauce, and Kurzgesagt.
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