Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Rise of the New Edtech

Edtech used to be this sleepy, backwards corner of the technology industry where idealistic entrepreneurs with fantastic ideas and even fantastic products would try to make enterprise sales to impossible educational bureaucracies – I saw this firsthand when I sat on the Wharton Technology Advisory Board, and we were relatively one of the best technology organizations out there - only to burn out or sell for disappointing outcomes in the best cases. 

In recent years though a couple of factors have pushed ed-tech forward to the point where LinkedIn would pay $1.5Bn to acquire

  • broadband market penetration has made high quality digital video widely accessible, which has also in turn created much greater awareness of and interest in short-form, bite-sized content ideal for learning;
  • a sea shift in the jobs market has put in stark relief the failure of the traditional educational system to teach the skills the today’s higher paying, more secure careers demand.
These factors allowed edtech to finally figure out how to do an end-run on the establishment and go straight to the consumer.

Personally, the edtech revolution enabled me to keep the promise that I made to myself, that a decade after I completed my computer science degree and effectively stopped programming, I would relearn to code and master today’s modern web paradigms. After years of procrastination and not knowing where to get started, Udacity and Udemy have gotten me back in the game to the point where I've been able to pass the coding tests that a few startups use for screening engineering hires, and scrape website data for research for a business consulting job I am currently working on.

When I was in VC, I had the negative view of edtech espoused in the first line of this post. Being in New York, especially, the closest I got to edtech was when I was at a loud event and couldn't tell whether someone was trying to say they worked in ed-tech with an 'e' or ad-tech with an 'a'. I'm usually pretty good at predicting market evolution, but I'll be the first to admit that I got this one totally wrong.

I'm excited about what the future of edtech holds, especially as it becomes more influenced by the spread of gamification. I have another, selfish, reason to be into edtech, namely that I'm beginning to approach the parenting years of my life and I think the idea of my kids having more tools for self-learning than I ever had is super cool.

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