An Introduction to the LearnTech Industry
Along with health, environment, energy and transportation, education is a top area of innovation for the next two decades. The demand for education solutions is at all-time high. Investment in education is a priority for every country. The Web, streaming video, mobile devices, and social networks have the potential to significantly improve existing education systems. Today, many people are getting excited about LearnTech opportunities. This guide provides the high-level overview of the industry. We answer the following five questions:
- What needs does education satisfy?
- Where do money come from?
- What technology ideas are at the play?
- What is changing in education?
- What are the most promising directions of innovation?
Let us review the main education benefits from the learner’s perspective:
- Career guidance. Learners need to understand themselves, discover their best talents, get inspired and motivated, set career goals, receive feedback and emotional support along the way.
- Literacy and academic fundamentals. Math, critical thinking, reading, writing, communication skills, learning skill, foreign languages, driving, computer and web literacy, health literacy, basic civic education.
- Personal education. Character building, parenting, cooking, home and garden, cosmetics, style, time management, creativity, dancing, music, personal finance, fitness, yoga, happiness and well being.
- Edutainment (entertaining education). Learning can be an alternative entertainment option to TV shows, night clubs or movies. Many people enjoy learning out of curiosity and personal interests. Space exploration, brain science, science of sleep, history, geography, nature, and crafts are typical topics in this area.
- Employability. There is a growing gap between academic education and employability requirements. Learners need state-of-the-art skills and knowledge in order to be productive in their future jobs. This category also include product/tool education: Microsoft products, accounting software, hair products, Photoshop.
- Networking. Connections made in schools (classes, labs, sports teams, fraternities, dorms).
- Professional development. All industry-specific knowledge and skill that are needed to get from an entry-level job to being world-class specialist.
- Business education. Industry-independent knowledge and skills: project management, team building, marketing, human resources, sales, accounting, entrepreneurship, corporate culture, and business development.
- Promoted education. Consumer education about new products. Education for social change: environment protection, green living, preventive healthcare, civil society, anti-corruption. Patriotic education.
- Forced education. Safety and compliance training, corporate orientation, standardized tests, traffic schools.
Governments and philanthropic organizations use the growth of human capital as the value metric for education systems. Human capital is the cumulative ability to produce economic value. In turn, industry often uses the concept of talent pipeline. Talent pipeline is an outlook for prospective candidates at all career stages: students, interns, entry-level employees, middle management, top management. Corporations are interested to grow the total qualified pool at every level.
Learners and parents are paying for private schools, test preparation, colleges, employability training, personal education, and edutainment. In many cases, student loans are used to borrow money needed for education. Governments are supporting public school and universities, national tests, development of standards. Industry put money in supporting industry-relevant classes and research groups in universities, onboarding and professional development programs, as well as customer education. Philanthropy is focused on education for disadvantaged groups, innovative and unproven approaches to education, scholarships for talented students and school endowments. Learners, government, industry and philanthropy are four primary sources of money in LearnTech. These dollars enter the system and go to schools, universities, training programs, and book publishers. Education providers form a market of education tools and supplies. Education industry is largely sales-driven. Most purchases and contracts are big and take long time to close. As a result, LearnTech industry is moving rather slowly and, in many cases, education solutions are far from perfect end-user experience.
We introduced 10 education benefits and 5 sources of money. Now, you can use this 10×5 table to classify any LearnTech solution. Every cell in the table has its own competition and dictates its own rules for sales and product development.
Education technology market
Online degrees, schools and test prep. A number of startups are positioned as primary education providers. There are online high-schools (Keystone School), colleges (University of Phoenix, Kaplan University, The Open University, University of People), certification programs (Alison.com), enterprise training programs (GlobalEnglish.com), art schools (AudioVisualAcademy.com), and test preparation programs (TopTestPrep, GrockIt, Knewton, RevolutionPrep, TutorJam, BrightStorm). Another line of work is to allow brick and mortar institutions to teach online. iQAcademy helps high-schools to offer online classes, 2tor and Altius Education do that for universities, Arizona State University created an extensive online programs. Finally, there are innovative offline programs like YCombinator, Singularity University, and Tetuan Valley.
Learning management. Educational institutions need software to manage applications, grades (GradeMate), class ratings and reviews (Courserank, acquired by Chegg), schedules, tests, textbooks and student-teacher messaging. There is also need for content management (Sakai Project, Moodle). Another important area is analytics and reporting systems (SchoolNet.com). Learning management systems are now present in every market: schools, universities, corporate education and training centers. Notable examples include Blackboard, Koofers, ePals, MyEdu.com, edu20.org, LearnBoost, and GlobalScholar. Solutions for corporate learning include LearningZen, Learn.com + Taleo.com, eLearning Brothers, and Mindflash.
Content. There is a lot of innovation in production, distribution, licensing, monetization, search and recommendation of educational content. TED.com, Big Think, 99 Percent, Pop!Tech, GEL Conference and Charlie Rose Show are notable for video recordings of technology and business leaders. Academic Earth, Videlectures.net, and ResearchChannel.org do the same for science community. Salman Khan of KhanAcademy.org recorded over 1000 instructional videos covering almost all school curriculum. MIT OpenCourseWare and Stanfrod eCorner are leading examples of free online content from top universities. Tools for publishing (and charging for) online educational content include TeachersPayTeachers, Faculte.com, uDemy.com, Videolla.com, LearnOutLoud and LeapingBrain.com. Youtube.EDU and iTunes U are general purpose content distribution hubs. OERCommons.org is a search engine for open-licensed content. Sites like About.com, HubPages, Instructibles, AssociatedContent and eHow collect practical advice on everyday topics. Using technology ideas behind Wikipedia, everyone can create its own wiki (using platforms like PBWorks or Wikia.com). Wikified educational content can be found at Curriki.org and Wikiversity.org. Content libraries are created for career inspiration (dailyendeavor.com, TryEngineering.org), high schools (neok12.com, aventalearning.com), case studies (StudyNet), and lecture notes (GradeGuru). Flat World Knowledge publishes digital-free textbooks, while Chegg is a textbook rental service. InkLing is following “iTunes for iPad-optimized digital book” model and adds social features to it. Rosetta Stone publishes interactive language courses on DVDs.
Networks and marketplaces. There are a number of places to search for tutor and training listings: TeachStreet, BetterFly, TutorSource, School Of Everything, Skillshare, GuruVantage. TheoryAndPractice.ru is a very popular place for edutainment event announcements. CraftEdu.com is marketplace for paid/free online video and live training. Student Of Fortune is a marketplace for homework help. GulliverGo is a listing hub for educational travel. Noodle.org is your guide for choosing college. General purpose employment websites have sections for jobs for students and internship search. JobSpice.com helps students to create their online resume.
Live training and tutoring. General purpose tools like Justin.tv, Ustream, and LiveStream can be used for streaming lectures and conferences. Supercoolschool and EduFire.com provide specialized live teaching tools. Myngle.com (languages) and TutorVista (high-school help) are tutor-student networks for live education. Sugata Mitra introduced the concept of “Granny in the Cloud” - senior volunteers who encourage kids to study using skype video calls.
Quizlet.com provides tools for fun flashcard-based learning. There is a growing number of mobile learning apps including notes (StudyBlue, Widescript), law bar exam preparation (BarMax
, costs $999), and driving test preparation (uHavePassed). Other tools include career orientation tests and educational games.
Collaborative learning. Services like UnClasses.org, OpenStudy.com and FinalsClub.org allow learners to form groups and study together. GrockIt provides chat between students, teachers and parents. Quora.com and StackExchange are modern question and answering platforms for professional topics. Mootup allows collaborative essay writing. There is a large number of education communities such as LiveMocha (language learning) and EduBlogs.com (teacher community).
Funding and payments. Sites like Enzi.org and GradeFund help students to get crowdfunded loans and to sell shares of their future salaries.
Hardware for education. One Laptop Per Child is a non-profit project to design a cheap laptop optimized for students in developing countries. Kno is a new tablet computer following “Kindle of textbooks” approach. Notable computerized classroom solutions include TimeToKnow and SOLE project.
Trends in education
Education industry is changing with astonishing speed. In order to succeed one need to plan for education landscape of tomorrow. Here are the main trends:
- Non-academic education. Although degree-driven education is on the rise as well, the growth in personal education, business education, corporate training, employability training, test preparation and edutainment is much stronger. There are also less established players in these areas.
- Self-learning. Much more learning is now self-motivated, happens on demand and is not driven by degree requirements. Learning is a lifetime activity. Learning skills, not knowledge determines professional success.
- New forms. Education units get shorter and more modular, ”knowledge snacks” get popular. Online video, slides and text gain share from textbooks. Knowledge lifespan gets shorter.
- Learning by doing. There is much bigger focus on practice now. Internships and a project portfolio (not a transcript!) determine employability.
- Everyone is a teacher. We learn from best practices blogs, from Q&A sites, from professional experts at conferences. Peer support, group learning and corporate mentorship programs replace teacher feedback. Students teach students. Many CEOs give lectures at business schools.
- Industry involvement. At the moment industry is largely dissatisfied with education system. Graduates are not ready to be strong contributors from day one. Industry makes a lot of efforts to fix the problem: it sponsors industry-minded teachers, offers internship programs, influences curriculum, builds corporate universities.
- New business models. Education prices are out of control. There is high demand for quality low-cost and free education. The government spending is largely inefficient. Education philanthropy is in search of capital-efficient business models. Discovery of new business models of education is one of the largest challenges in the industry.
- New credentials. Degree-driven education can be disrupted if alternative credentials will be accepted by job market. We start to see this happening when your code at GitHub and open source contributions, Behance profile, StackOverFlow and HackerNews reputations, Quora answers or TopCoder ranking are used in hiring.
Educational content seems to be a natural target. Online video is still a virgin territory comparing to textbook business. Demand for new types of education (edutainment, personal education, business education) is not meeting enough supply, especially in developing countries. Another direction is translations and knowledge transfer from industry hubs (e.g. movie business in Hollywood) to the rest of the world.
Internships and student projects. As practice becomes the core of education, we need more contests, internships and hackathons to invlove student in real-world projects.
Career guidance. Students make suboptimal choices all the time. They get mac jobs instead of industry internships, overestimate the values of degrees, do not combine academic education with employability training, follow outdated curriculum and go to shrinking business sectors. These problems should be addressed by the right mix of mentorship, talent discovery, professional orientation, role models, and recommendation systems.
Financial platform. Sales-driven nature of education market is a major roadblock of innovation. We need transparent, fast and efficient marketplaces for moving money from learners/government/industry/philanthropy/institutions to solution providers. E.g. Kickstarter model can be used to finance the development of new online courses.
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