Technology in education is not new by any means, but the industry referred to as edtech still has that new car smell, a sheen that hasn't quite worn off yet. Still in its infancy compared to most industries, this space is far from saturated and there are dozens of innovations to look out for.
The coming years promise to be full of new companies, dramatic news cycles, unicorns, and IPOs. All of that can be said with a high degree of certainty simply because of the enormous volumes of investor dollars being pumped into startups in this space. EdTechXGlobal and IBIS Capital released a study earlier this year that projects a 17% growth rate for the industry through 2020, ultimately surpassing $252 billion in market value.
All of that money and growth is bound to attract high quality innovations as well as overnight failures. Entrepreneurs looking to get involved need to recognize which is which, and can better calibrate their judgement by spotting the trends with the best growth potential and staying power.
These are three edtech trends that entrepreneurs should watch:
1. Digitized Test Prep
Standardized tests are the gateway to better education opportunities. Because they are so important, there is an enormous industry of book publishers and tutors dedicated to helping students prep for test day. But until recently, that test prep has been done with unwieldy books and archaic practice methods.
"Test preparation has been dominated by massive books that are expensive and difficult for students to use," asserts Edan Shahar, a thought leader in test preparation and the founder and CEO of Test Innovators. "By having students practice in digital formats, we can track data on their performance, track improvement over time, and zero in on very specific issues that they can improve. In fact, by leveraging artificial intelligence, we can actively customize an individual student's training curriculum to improve in areas where they are weakest."
This is a giant leap forward in many respects. Today's students are arguably more comfortable interacting with screens than with pen and paper as it is, so digitizing their test preparation is at least customized to their learning preferences. But the ability to analyze data in a digital environment gives educators tools they have never had before.
2. Community-Based Learning
Tutors are an invaluable resource for students, providing customized instruction and one-on-one attention. But tutors are not always available, like during late night study sessions or over the weekend. That leaves students stuck on difficult math problems when there should be information and guidance readily available to them. Of course there is Google, but it has its limitations.
"Google does a really good job of doing that with general questions, but we want to be the platform that helps out with very specific question help - where you need explanations tailored to you," Studypool founder and CEO Richard Werbe tells TechCrunch. "We're starting now with academia."
The concept is crowdsourced, on-demand tutoring. Younger generations familiar with this model in other industries are more likely to seek out education solutions that use this approach. Microtutoring, as it is being called, is just the tip of the iceberg of community-based education.
3. Tools for Students With Learning Differences
We are only just beginning to understand how much those with learning differences can actually accomplish with enough support. This is an area where edtech can make an enormous impact.
"Many people with ASD are visual thinkers," writes Kristie Brown Lofland for the University of Indiana Resource Center for Autism. "According to Temple Grandin, author, speaker, and an individual with ASD, pictures are their first language, and words are their second language. As concrete, literal, visual thinkers, individuals with autism can process information better when they are looking at pictures or words to help them visualize information. Technology just makes visual images more accessible to the individual with ASD. Computer graphics capture and maintain their attention."
Technology programs designed for individuals with ASD are in high demand, and desperately needed. Entrepreneurs do have the opportunity to change lives, which is something that is not talked about enough. Edtech innovators should keep that top of mind.
These verticals are areas where startups have room to run, and where innovations can have an immediate impact. Entrepreneurs looking to venture into edtech should investigate problems that need solving in these spaces.