How to Position an EdTech Product? This Matrix Will Help You (Part 1)
K12 EdTech has developed into a diverse and complex market, with products for different roles (students, teachers, school leaders, etc.), scenarios (at home or school), age groups, entities (businesses, schools, or families), etc. In the diverse and fast-developing market, it is crucial to have a clear understanding of how to look at EdTech products. Such an understanding would benefit the following groups:
- EdTech entrepreneurs: define what kind of product(s) they want to build and concentrate their limited resources accordingly to lay a solid foundation for their startups;
- Product managers for mature EdTech companies: understand their current positioning and strategically plan the expansion of new product line(s);
- EdTech product users (students, families, and schools): understand what is available on the market, different perspectives of selecting a product, and where they could find a product that fulfills their objectives.
This article aims to provide one angle of looking at the K12 EdTech market, while there could be many available. The companies analyzed here are not limited to a specific country or region, though definitely with a concentration of English-speaking markets. This article attempts to answer the following two questions:
- How to map most K12 EdTech products into a matrix of four groups defined by two axes?
- What characteristics of EdTech products can be summarized in each group?
This EdTech positioning matrix consists of two axes. On one axis, EdTech companies are defined based on whether they provide curriculum-centered or technology-oriented solutions. On another axis, EdTech products are divided based on whether they are built for classroom learning or supplementary education.
Axis One: Content or Technology-Oriented
This axis examines whether the EdTech product builds its competitive edge around educational content or technology tools.
Content-oriented companies are the providers of the entire curriculum or content of the specific subject(s), whether they crowd-source, generate the content in-house, or from a third-party. Though some may also have technology platforms to embed their content resources, technology isn’t their unique selling point. Some examples of the curriculum-oriented company are Khan Academy, IXL, and Brainpop.
Technology-oriented companies are the providers of unique tech solutions for educational scenarios, via a platform, software, or hardware. The purpose could be multifold: to facilitate, execute, engage, plan, or assess. They usually don’t have educational content embedded in them (if they do, the materials are generally created by its users, or for demonstration purposes). Kahoot!, Osmo, and ZipGrade are examples of the technology-oriented EdTech companies.
Axis Two: Primary Mode or Supplementary Education
On another axis, EdTech products are defined by the educational contexts they serve. Primary educational products focus on the process of learning and teaching in conventional education systems (usually school education). Supplementary education either exists outside from the formal education systems to supplement school learning or aims to provide solutions to non-learning activities in the education process, such as homework, assessments, communications, emotional development, or test-prep.
Typical primary educational companies include Pearson, Curriculum Associates (both are paper-based plus digital learning solutions), and Canvas (learning management system for schools). Supplementary products include ClassDojo (parent communication), Phet (learning simulations), Renaissance (diagnostic tests), and Twinkl (lesson planning).
Complete Mapping into Four Quadrants
Based on the above two axes, EdTech products can be divided into four categories:
- Supplementary Content/Curriculum Products
- Supplementary Technology Products
- Primary Technology Products
- Primary Content/Curriculum Products
In the next part, I will summarize the characteristics of EdTech products within each category, and investigate how EdTech companies position themselves for a competitive edge. Due to word limits, this article will only cover the first two types: Supplementary Content/Curriculum Products and Supplementary Technology Products.
Type A: Supplementary Content/Curriculum Products
A menu of products that fall into this area is the following:
They provide learning resources in various formats (games, simulations, videos, quizzes). Unlike textbooks, these resources are not to impart knowledge or skills in the traditional sense, but to complement learning for students’ higher performance or engagement.
Four characteristics can be summarized from these products:
1. Content is the king: one reason for those companies to stand out is the quality of their content — engaging and interactive content suitable for the age (IXL and Khan Academy), tailored and detailed feedback on test questions (Brainpop), and explicit alignment with curriculum standards (Phet).
2. Comprehensive coverage of grades and subjects: various topics and a wide span of grades are covered to make sure users find what they are looking for.
3. Gamified elements are included to encourage learning behaviors: badges, stars, streaks, and coins are the typical “tricks” to motivate learners (Duolingo and Khan Academy are both excellent examples).
4. Minimum focus on content-irrelevant features: these products avoid spreading themselves too thin, but concentrate their resources on their content advantages. It’s hard to notice features like teacher PD, learning analytics, family communication in these products.
Type B: Supplementary Technology Products
A list of products that fall into this area are the following:
At first glance, these companies might seem too diverse to be put together, but a more in-depth look shows us that they embrace a set of common features to distinguish themselves:
1. Strategic focus on one meaningful education scenario: those EdTech products pick one piece of the process in education, be it classroom engagement, or communication with families, or standardized testing. Their technology solution revolves around a particular learning activity and provides a comprehensive, step-by-step solution for that scenario.
2. Lighter is better — not hinting Heineken Light’s controversial (and racist) advert here :) Supplementary technology products are trying to be as light and flexible as possible. Not burdened by content creation, the supplementary technology companies benefit from a lighter organizational structure (smaller team and fewer costs). In the way their solutions are designed, since users are not expected to read for long hours on their screen, the product enjoys more flexibility with different devices. ClassDojo, Kahoot!, ZipGrade — most of the tools are available as mobile applications.
3.Cost-efficient for teachers. Teachers are mainly the buyers and frontline users of such technology tools (some products have pricing plans for schools, but their adoption also goes to teachers at the end of the day), so winning teacher’s heart is a strategic move for these companies. Most of these tools provide free accounts for individual teachers or adopt a freemium pricing model, while revenue is generated from premium features or through other channels.
In this article, I attempt to provide one way of categorizing some of EdTech products in the market. Two axes 1) supplementary vs. primary and 2) content-oriented vs. technology-oriented divide EdTech products into four categories, and in this article, we looked at the characteristics of two categories.
As technology evolves and the influx of talents speeds up, EdTech products are becoming more integrated, and there will appear more products which provide integrated solutions. In the next blog article, I will lay out the rest of the two types, and briefly mention the trend of EdTech products becoming more comprehensive.