Corporate VC Investment in a Post COVID-19 World

Team EdTechX
Jun 1, 2020 · 5 min read

During the EdTechX Online Summit 2020, Vinit Sukhija (Learn Capital), Terry McDonough (SEI Ventures), Pedro Vasconcellos (Pearson Ventures), Shannon Atkeson (IFC Venture Capital) and Morten Anderson (LEGO Ventures) spoke about new potentially permanent behaviours and trends; the EdTech supply chain and business models that will emerge post COVID-19. While the surge in online learning is widely recognised across all geographies and verticals amidst COVID-19, it is only part of the story. Education across the entire value chain from delivery, infrastructure, assessment, financing and supply chain will all be permanently affected by the pandemic.

Morten Anderson noted the ease of adoption for online blended learning. “Learning takes place in different spaces, physical or digital and so there will be a demand for flexibility in the solutions you have to support this”. Technologies that can help support a high quality of teaching and pedagogy will be in a much higher demand post COVID-19 as educators and learners continue to develop the blended approach. Shannon Atkeson also highlighted that blended models will allow reach and inclusion in education at scale. Within emerging markets, where IFC focus their portfolio, there are huge young populations that lack access to basic education however, have the highest interest. The adoption of these digital platforms and tools can help support education in these markets. This also includes adoption by Governments who are leveraging these tools for upskilling and reskilling with a goal to increase human capital and strength in the workforce.

Terry McDonough discussed that it may be too soon to apply permanence to the current situation, and there could potentially be a backlash to online learning as we see the multiple different challenges being raised. Some infrastructures will need to be improved to support permanent online learning later this year. This investment will be both midterm and long term and may not match the demand in the fall, however, is going to have to be made available to build a reserve infrastructure. Universities may have to seek new ways of generating revenue for the next 3–5 years and providing more online/ blended courses could be a part of this. We will see a trend within higher education that more short term offers that are job relevant will be offered.

A common thread between the number of the different trends arising is the role of self-study as Pedro Vasconcellos notes. Relevance and space for self study tools is now growing, with the demand to improve the experience and outcome for the student. The role of technology and the teacher is important in this as well, in order to extract more value and enhance the experience. Technology will enable the teacher to become the coach, one who will not only impart the knowledge but now help the student through the learning process. This can be achieved by providing more data points for analysis and improved outcomes for the student. Some companies at Pearson are now looking to explore this further, focusing also on peer-to-peer support and how data and technology can take this to the next level.

The pandemic created unforeseen circumstances in a lot of markets. The second and third-order effects are still playing out and the impact is not equally felt across all economic points. Shannon Atkeson also suggests those using the free educational platforms being made available during this time could later be priced out as access terminates. This could further the inequality challenges we see. However, if digital markets like this can continue to scale, it could be possible to lower customer costs which will allow further integration of users. The challenge now is to balance what is free and what is put behind a paywall.

From an investment perspective, the pandemic has also caused a pivot in strategy and planning. Terry shared that SEI Ventures is focused on driving financial returns and the impact for their students. Currently, there is more appetite to integrate investments at an early stage into the student learning journey or employee network from the hospitals they serve, in order to help support organic growth. Online learning experiences can mimic face to face and so now the focus is understanding how best to achieve success in this. One particular area of focus now for this is gamifying the learning platforms. Within this, the opportunities are the most exciting as there is also the capability of shaping their road map. This has led to SEI Ventures looking at earlier stages than previously.

Within Pearson, the trend has always generally been to explore 5 years away. However, currently the fast forward button is being pressed and change is happening at a much faster rate. This has led to investment in companies Pearson are already working with as opposed to those that may cross paths with Pearson in 5 years time. There is now an openness to opportunities that are relevant to Pearson right now than in the future. The pandemic has made it evident that challenges in admin, for example, are not as resolved as expected which is creating a renewed interest. There is still room for competition and innovation within this space as Pedro highlights the problem ‘isn’t cracked yet’.

LEGO Ventures follows LEGO’s legacy of learning through play and merging digital play with learning at home. The pandemic has proven that this needs to become even greater. Self directed learning and learning from play have been part of LEGO Venture’s interest from the beginning, however, now this approach is being implemented at a much quicker rate with importance on ensuring the right pedagogies are implemented to create the right experiences and so get proliferated correctly. Technology enhances open ending learning and methodologies and it is important to ensure the connection is intact, with the continued focus of learning through play.

The final message of the panel discussion was to not hold back while the pandemic is here. As Morten highlights ‘this is the chance to take the first step, to see the increase in demand and use it as a jump off point’. Pedro follows on from this by challenging the opportunities available and ‘stretching’ the capabilities by being more creative. Terry highlighted the important role of curriculum and that teaching is never more vital. This is what is most valuable and a clear drive for learning. A high quality curriculum and teaching needs to remain connected to the changes in technology we are currently witnessing. Shannon concludes that the silver linings to this current situation could be the exposure this situation has provided and the potential to mobilise content available to allow everyone to be life long learners, regardless of background.

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