As a longtime education entrepreneur and now K12 impact investor in education, I’ve been around long enough to see many trends in education come and go. As political winds change, initiatives are born and then die. Just like everyone else, I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do have a point of view about what we’re likely to see more of in the future. I like to say that forecasts are usually worth what you pay for them, which is little to nothing. So instead of positioning this as a forecast, it’s a set of observations about what’s on the rise in K12 education and what I believe will become a bigger and bigger part of the education technology landscape. With that, here are six observations about what lies ahead for K12 edtech entrepreneurs.
1. More successful ventures will sell through and not to K12 schools and districts.
It’s no secret that many schools and districts are strapped for funds. Funding formulas like the one in my home state of Colorado keep schools and districts from benefiting from the growth in our economy proportional to how others are benefiting. As a result, schools have to do more with less, which opens doors for technologies that can help teachers and administrators do the jobs they have to do more efficiently and effectively.
One way to do this is to offer to schools and districts technologies that cost them little to nothing and tap into sustainable revenues from other sources such as parents. In this B2B2C model, entrepreneurs are selling through and not to schools by selling to parents. I’m excited to see this model in use by companies like Prodigy and Epic Learning, which are scaling rapidly. These startups offer a freemium version of the product which has no cost to teachers and students for school use, but then monetize by selling home subscriptions to parents and/or students who want to unlock premium features. My kids were so excited about using Prodigy that they even paid for their own premium accounts, so they’re doing something right.
2. Consumer-grade technologies will become a greater part of the edtech ecosystem.
Closely related to the first observation is the idea that more and more consumer-grade technologies will make their way into schools. For one, users and buyers within schools are becoming more sophisticated and expect better product experiences from the education technology they acquire.
For another, these same users and buyers are inundated with technologies and don’t have much time to spend learning a new technology. They have less and less patience for tools that require a user manual or long professional development sessions to get up and running.
Successful technologies will need to be so intuitive that one can start using them without much, if any, training. This is a critical aspect of successful consumer technologies today and is becoming a more important part of any edtech offering to a school. So, it’s with good reason that we’ll see more consumer-grade tools in edtech in the future. Tools like Pear Deck, Quizlet, and Kahoot! are examples of what we’ll see more of in the future.
3. Evidence of product efficacy will be in greater demand by educators and administrators.
When I was a VP of Sales serving schools and districts and engaging in conversations with school leaders and teachers, they typically asked for social proof before making decisions. Naturally, they wanted to know who else we worked with who was similar to them and whether or not those clients liked our software. This social proof is still important today, but the ability to show product efficacy is becoming increasingly important. For entrepreneurs, this means that it’s time to present authentic data about how your product works, who it works for, and the recommended dosage for teachers and students, especially if it’s a classroom tool.
The evidence-based requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) will accelerate the movement towards demonstrating product efficacy. This process can become very expensive, with randomized control trials costing $250K or more. Fortunately, there are rapid cycle evaluation tools like LearnPlatform, which make it much easier and more cost-effective to run meaningful product trials. LearnPlatform is a wealth of evidence-based information about thousands of edtech products. If you haven’t made strides towards proving the efficacy of your products, now is the time.
4. Entrepreneurs focused on equity will get more and more traction.
As our nation deals with the consequences of rising income inequality, entrepreneurs focused on equity will experience success. The growing gulf in income is simply unsustainable as more and more people struggle to get by. I’ve long believed education is the greatest tool we have to raise people up and out of poverty and that access to equitable education is only possible with a generation of entrepreneurs focused on creating solutions that raise all learners up. Socially responsible investing is hot right now, so that should mean more access to capital over time for education entrepreneurs focused on equity. Genius Plaza is an example of company that’s combining a focus on equity in K12 with rapid scale.
5. Innovations like AR/VR, artificial intelligence, and big data will find their rightful places in education.
K12 education is not traditionally a sector that adopts new technology quickly, and this pattern also holds true for new innovations such as AR/VR, artificial intelligence, and big data. While these technologies have some level of adoption, it’s too soon to buy into statements that these technologies will “transform” education “very soon” as some have claimed. We’ve heard similar claims before about earlier generations of technology that didn’t pan out. That being said, I’m bullish on these particular technologies finding their rightful place in K12. To me, some of the most promising technologies are those that enable learning experiences that are simply unattainable with existing methods because of cost or time.
Labster is a great example of this. They enable learning experiences for students in virtual labs that can cost $1 million or more to create in an analog version. Too few K12 students have access to expensive labs and equipment to conduct hands-on science experiments, but Labster makes a simulated lab accessible and affordable with the click of a mouse.
6. Tools that facilitate collaboration and teamwork instead of independent use will be preferred.
As broadband has become nearly universal in schools and devices have dropped dramatically in price, more schools are implementing 1:1 computer or tablet environments where each student has a device. The first generation of technologies for these devices were designed for independent use. Students worked with their device and interacted with the technology by themselves. For example, there are numerous literacy and math platforms that enable students to work through content at their own pace and level independently. These tools aren’t going to go away, but their widespread use has educators, and parents concerned that students are spending too much time staring at screens and working alone. With this context in mind, I see growing demand from school leaders for tools that enable collaboration and teamwork with the aide of technology.
ThinkCERCA is an excellent example of a collaborative learning platform in which students work together to learn vital argumentative writing and critical thinking skills. I’m confident we’ll see more and more of these collaborative platforms as educators demand them.
Where do you see the future of K12 edtech going? I’d love to hear your thoughts.