2021 Edtech Outlook: Where we’ve been and where we’re going

Mercedes Bent
Lightspeed Venture Partners
4 min readFeb 8, 2021

This is Part I of my 2021 Edtech Outlook. Part II here.

The most tumultuous year in edtech history (2020) has come to a close. Earlier in 2020 I wrote about what I expected would change due to covid and we ended up investing in a number of new edtech companies at Lightspeed including Outschool and Forage. This year has made me love edtech even more. Education is the great equalizer, and I love fighting for the underdog.

In this post I wanted to share some of the trends I’m looking forward to in 2021 and how they’re informed by trends we’ve seen over the last few decades in edtech.

First, we’ll start with some history…

Edtech has changed a lot over the last few decades. From test prep centers, job boards and online colleges to tutoring platforms, coding bootcamps and MOOCs, edtech trends change every few decades.

This is a quick trip down memory lane of some of the edtech trends and startups who enabled them. Understanding these trends helps us understand where we might be going.

Here are the 5 trends I’m watching and where our portfolio might be heading…

  1. Social & community-driven learning experiences — Consumers are hungry for a truly social learning experience. Imagine Masterclass with a robust small-group learning community built on top of it, or a live, cohorted messaging service build on top of Duolingo, or a service where you could meet fellow Udemy learners learning the same topic and chart accountability learning paths together. I believe popular edutainment companies with strong single-player experiences have missed a huge opportunity to capitalize on social learning. The real power of social learning lies in the fact that teaching is one of the learnings methods that drives the greatest retention. The last decade gave us MOOCs, now we need community and embedded learning experiences in social. Companies working on solutions in peer to peer and social learning include Kritik, Microverse, Noon Academy, Brainly, and GetSetUp.
  2. From B2C to B2B — Forget “land and expand,” hello “land and brand” — Recently we’ve seen several large B2C education companies capitalize on their hard-earned consumer brands by launching enterprise offerings. Their strong brands allow them to quickly scale throughout the enterprise and launch their offerings with a large “installed base” of existing users. Traditional Saas expansion playbooks talk about “land and expand” but step aside traditional saas GTM advice — consumer mega-brands are quickly building 8- and 9-figure ARRs by landing and branding. The last decade laid the groundwork for “land and brand” to become commonplace. Shoutout to Coursera, Udemy, Codeacemy and many more proving out this model.
  3. Verticalized Education Live Learning / Hybrid Software — We saw several startups raise large seeds this summer building live video software specialized for education such as Engageli and ClassEDU. ClassEDU’s model of building on top of zoom is particularly interesting. I wonder if similar players will emerge built on top of other top educational software platforms such as Google Classroom / Hangouts and Microsoft Teams. The last few decades of big collaboration tech in edtech (Apple, Google) makes this possible.
  4. Consumer K12 models that address the growing Parent Wallet Share for K12 Supplemental learning -These solutions appeal to parents by driving engagement, edutainment, and removing the black box about what happens in school. They look like Tiktok for K12 learners, live online marketplaces, and character-driven educational offerings. Parents and other stakeholders want to be informed and involved. This is the biggest shift since in consumer buying behavior in edtech the last few decades. Companies enabling this include Outschool, Remind, ClassDojo, Caribu, Mystery, Brainpop, ABCMouse, Zigazoo and more.
  5. Microschools — One of the most fundamental edtech changes has been to rethink the very structure of our schools. While I assumed homeschooling would rise during the pandemic I didn’t anticipate the coining of new terms such as “pandemic pods” or “learning bubbles” — These groups fit somewhere between homeschooling and charter / private schools with their small-group focus. We’ve seen charters schools popularized over the last few decades. Now a new generation of startups are at. the forefront of this movement including Prenda, Primer, Prisma, ilk, Colearn Club and more.

If you’re a founder building an edtech company please get in touch, I’d love to know what you’re building and talk shop. mbent@lsvp.com