Tanuj Bathla (Class of 2017)
Will Ed-Tech continue to surge post pandemic?
Technological Disruption of the Education industry is not a new trend. It’s something that has been happening for years. It goes without saying that this pandemic has accelerated the pace of change, but one does wonder, will the discovery of a vaccine slow down the process? To answer that question we need evaluate the factors that controlled the pace of change prior to the pandemic. We also need to take into consideration that not everyone has been impacted by the pandemic in the same way.
For example, professionals that were working from home suddenly found more spare time and might have started increasing their consumption of online courses to skill up for future employment. Conversely, individuals that were furloughed might look at online courses as a nice thing to have vs. spending on more basic necessities. Younger individuals(sub-18) might have been forced to take classes or tuitions on Zoom or Teams. These are some of the most glaring impacts which are also the most likely to be reversed when things return to ‘normal.’
Given the breadth of the impact, I will focus this article on individuals in the K12 category and discuss what factors dictated change of pace pre-pandemic and what might happen afterwards.
Gatekeepers: This is an interesting word that I came across that was being used to describe parents, teachers and administrators within the education system.
They’re described as gatekeepers because they can control the pace of change and the framework within which children can be educated.
To understand their impact, we need to dig a bit deeper into their persona. Allow me to explain by digressing and sharing an example from a different industry that I was previously working in- Fintech.
Who were the first people to use digital banks, cross-border money transfer firms or Robo-advisors? I’m going to wager that if you go into the core demographic of users for most of these services, the average age group is sub-40.
The same users that were early adopters of technology in financial services(sub-40) are only just starting families and having children. To the previous generation of ‘gatekeepers’ in the Edu space, getting an education by watching videos on YouTube or talking into a tablet may not have been considered as effective as face to face learning. This is one of the reasons why the pace of change was previously slower.
Parents: Having worked in Ed-tech for a few years now and subsequently spoken to several parents, I’ve found that the older generation usually preferred to get their kids educated through human interaction vs. online learning. The generation entering parenthood now probably already sees things very differently. I would imagine that they would have been more open to online learning even pre-COVID since a lot of them probably got some form of a supplementary education through the online medium themselves. My guess is that the next generation of parents will be most trusting of education apps, or even some form of hybrid learning.
Teachers: We saw several teachers in the United States going on strike due to potential health issues. For me, till we don’t have a vaccine or a longer-term solution for COVID, I think ‘Zoom’ classes will be the norm. Once we do have a vaccine though, I believe that teachers and school administrators will have a strong preference to have all classes face to face. The reason for this is not just that younger age groups are harder to control online, but the quality of education can suffer when the size of the classroom is too large.
School is also looked at as a place to get some structure, discipline and to learn social skills. While some players of online gaming might argue that a virtual world is also a great way to make friends and get social skills, I think the schools would have a different opinion. I think one trend we might see post COVID is a stronger focus on the B2B selling aspect as well. We might see more tools being created to support learning in the classroom vs. just learning at home (for those interested in an example, check out Quizlet). If the next generation of teachers sees the benefit of technology they can play a big part in accelerating the adoption.
Infrastructure: This is a point that is not talked about often enough. Traditionally, this was one of the reasons several users had a slower adoption of E-learning. There are two points that we need to consider;
- Devices available to students (Mobiles, Tablets, Laptops)
Devices: There can be no denying that in the last few years, the easy access to cheap mobile phones has made access to education through digital means far simpler. With smartphones now available to students for as low as $50 USD it is no wonder that investors and educators are bullish about the potential of Ed-Tech. Unless supply chains are disrupted in an unforeseen way, I can’t imagine the prices of phones and tablets skyrocketing.
Internet: While there are significantly cheaper and faster internet options available today (just like devices), the reliability can be questionable at times. Apart from the anecdotal evidence that I have collected, a simple google search will show you that internet connectivity is a huge concern for online classes. To conduct lessons remotely one would require an ‘above average’ internet connection in order to stream video and audio. Not only does the internet need to be at a basic reasonable speed, but it also needs to be available without interruption. While the larger cities definitely seem to have done a better job of meeting this requirement, the families that are based in more rural areas are usually the ones who are most at risk due to school shutdowns and might not necessarily have access to the best internet connections. In countries like India and Vietnam with younger populations, the opportunities are tremendous, but while infrastructure is not improved there will always be roadblocks.
Pricing: Another important aspect to consider is the cost of educational services that are available over the digital medium. Not only does this impact students of K12 but individuals that are learning later in life as well. Bit of a shameless plug here, but the company that I currently work for (GotIt) has a product (PhotoStudy) that offers Instant Study Help in Math and Science for as low as $5. Udemy in the last few months has been offering courses for $7. Khan Academy and Byju’s have a tonne of content available online, for free! While pricing might not be the most important consideration for a parent that is looking to provide their child with the best possible education, lower prices do reduce the hurdles that many families face. Additionally, when prices for classes are below USD $20, some parents might grant their children discretionary spending to make those purchasing decisions themselves.
To wrap it up I would like to say this: the pandemic has definitely accelerated the adoption of Ed-Tech, but I personally do believe that individuals that do have adequate resources and access to reliable infrastructure will continue to consume educational content through digital mediums even after the pandemic. In the absence of private and government investment in infrastructure, there might be a growing disparity between urban and rural education standards. Even if students in rural areas can go back to school, the supplemental education tools that are available to students in urban areas will further deepen that knowledge gap. While there is work to be done, the future of Ed-Tech looks bright.
Company: Got-It AI
Job Title: Head of Photostudy Educational Products