GAFAM in Education: 7 Lessons from 2017

When we talk about the future of education, we must acknowledge the pivotal role played by the tech giants that are operating in the space. With this in mind, we took a look at what Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft did in 2017 in order to decipher elements of their strategy that could be useful to understand moving forward. Here are the 7 things you need to know about what happened in the world of education with regard to GAFAM in 2017.

1) The GAFAM are obsessed with K12.

The K12 market is worth $3 trillion globally. And yet, while these numbers are huge, the biggest reason for the GAFAM’s involvement in the space may actually be familiarizing children with their products in order to create brand loyalty and lifelong customers. K12 is the only market in which each of the GAFAM are making plays.

2) Google dominates the K12 device market in the US whereas Microsoft reigns supreme globally.

Techcrunch’s excellent history of the evolution of the device market from iMac -> netbook -> iPad -> netbook 2.0 contextualizes the ascension of Google’s Chromebooks (currently in 58% of US schools as compared to 22% for Microsoft and 19% for Apple). In brief, the factors are:

  • low price
  • functional & intuitive hardware
  • software that is developed with teachers in mind, easy to update, and deployable at scale. cloud-storage that allows any student to access their GSuite files (Sheets, Docs, Slides, etc.) from any device at any time
  • integration with in-demand 3rd-party programs like the Adobe Creative Cloud

Globally, however, the picture is much different, with Microsoft maintaining a commanding lead on the strength of its product and brand.

3) Apple and Microsoft are adjusting to Google’s Chromebook offer.

Apple and Microsoft both have Classroom software that provide intriguing services for teachers. In Apple Classroom, for example, teachers have the ability to see and to push content to every student’s screen from their own screen.

In addition, Apple announced its new iPad at $329 — comparable to the price of most Chromebooks — as well as updates to Apple Classroom. The strategy seems to have worked, as Apple’s shipping surged while Google’s stalled following the price change. Microsoft’s Surface devices are, in fact, almost direct replicas of the Chromebook, produced by many of the same manufacturers and priced at an absurdly low $189. In addition, Microsoft announced Intune for Education, a device management software that integrates with the productivity suite (Word, Powerpoint, Excel, etc.) as well as the newly unveiled Minecraft for Education. Additionally, Microsoft’s strong global presence gives it a chance to compete worldwide as more schools are equipped with wifi infrastructure.

4) Amazon (finally) launched TenMarks.

In 2013, Amazon acquired TenMarks, at the time a math instructional software. They have since expanded its scope past math and into writing and, earlier this year, finally launched the product. TenMarks comes with several key teacher resources (writing prompts, lesson plans, rubrics, etc.) and, perhaps most intriguingly, a digital Writing Coach. This assistant functions by giving students real-time suggestions about everything from individual word-choice to overall essay structure. TenMarks is sold on a subscription basis at both a teacher and school-level.

5) Amazon (again) launched Inspire.

Amazon first launch of Inspire, a marketplace for teachers to share instructional content, was a disaster. Within one day, teachers began sending complaints that others were reposting their content without permission and the platform had to be taken offline. According to the New York Times, Inspire had no mechanism in place for detecting copyright infringement. After a year of invitation-only private beta, the site reopened. Initially, the sharing feature was not included but a recent report from EdSurge reveals that Amazon sneakily re-introduced the feature without announcement in late summer 2017. The platform holds 13,000 content listings for math, 7,000 listings for English and Language Arts, and 3,500 for History and Social Studies.

6) Facebook released Messenger for Kids… and it may be part of a greater mentorship initiative for the platform.

While Messenger for Kids is not explicitly made for education, the potential is clear. The product allows for parents to approve each and every contact that their child has on the app. As such, it represents an intriguing possibility to be used as a communication tool between teachers, parents, and students. It is possible that this will be a testing ground for Facebook’s rumored move into facilitating mentorship among users.

7) New technological frontiers: VR/AR

Google opened its Expeditions VR app, which allows students to immerse themselves in 3D representations to places in spacetime from the Taj Mahal to the Colosseum to the places in historical figures’s lives, for Android users. It also showcased educational uses for Google Earth for VR including guided museum tours and lesson plans for such field trips.

Microsoft added 3D presentation capabilities to its educational suite which had one educator saying: “That is a game changer, it gives students more opportunities to work in ways they never could before.”

On the hardware side, Facebook released Oculus Go — a wireless VR headset that, in a massive shift for the technology, is wireless. TIME Magazine named it one of its inventions of the year.

Aside from the battle over device adoption in the K12 market, there are few surprises surrounding the GAFAM’s interest areas in education. The other areas of development for GAFAM (adaptive learning, content-sharing, parent-child-teacher communication, VR/AR) map well to the general trends in the edtech space. We look forward to seeing where and how these big players will move in the future.