While walking my dog this morning, I started to think about, what else, education and technology. It’s my passion and fun to explore even on dog walks. After mulling over the various pitches I got in my inbox last night (everyone wants coverage, same ol’ story), I started to think about differentiating factors. In other words, what makes these edtech startups different? Why should any Edudemic reader actually care about them? What makes them different from all the rest?
Long story short, most edtech startups are the same. From where I’m standing, the biggest verticals in education that startups are tackling are in the form of ‘big data’ and ‘apps’ and ‘online learning.’ All great things but it would appear that everyone and their mother just discovered that there’s gold in them thar edtech hills. While most startups begin with an honorable goal and worthwhile effort, most fail. That’s just the story of startups. We don’t have 4,000 different Facebooks, do we? There’s only one Instagram, Twitter, and Google. There are certainly copycats, spinoffs, and other versions of all these major players … but there’s only one big kahuna for each sector.
Bear with me, I swear I’m not rambling here.
So we’ve established that there is really only one king of certain sectors. For the edtech world, those are easy to quickly rattle off: Edmodo, Twitter, Khan Academy, Evernote, iPads, and a few other big names we talk about all day long on Edudemic.
These big names are doing a swell job at helping education usually making heaps of money at the same time. So, bully for them. But what about the other would-be leaders? The 1,000+ startups that all want a piece of the edtech pie? What does the future look like for them?
I’m glad you asked, dear reader. (Also, thanks for making it down this far in the article. We haven’t even answered the headline for this article so kudos to you!) The future of education technology is not a new app, tool, or teaching method. I love flipping my iPad to IWB my PD as much as the next guy, but it’s not the tech that’s important here.
The first potential future of education technology is most likely to happen. It involves the big names remaining big in their respective industries. Apple, Google, Evernote, etc. Each of these brands will continue to innovate and schools around the world will adopt whatever they roll out. Mind you, not everyone will adopt everything. But it’ll essentially be business as usual. Apple will come out with an iPad 9 and your child’s school will, one year later, say that they’re adopting 900 iPad 9s for K-12. Sounds just like this year … and last year … and the year before. People love their iPads.
So what will happen to the many edtech startups as the big names stay big? Companies like Edmodo and Grockit continue to dominate headlines on TechCrunch, the New York Times, and the like? Well, they continue to nibble at the scraps left by the big names. After all, no one company is ever able to eat 100% of the pie. Look at Apple for example. They try to eat the entire pie and then Google came along to snap up more than half of their pie. That’s the nature of open markets.
So this is basically the ‘business as usual’ option which the education world should be quite accustomed to at this point. After all, you can’t swing an iPhone without hitting a story about the current ‘disruption’ happening in education. But that’s mostly where any change is happening. In the media and in the headlines. Most teachers I’ve spoken with over the past several months describe either a big uphill battle to get any proper technology integration or they just talk about standardized testing. Not exactly a massive disruption, in my opinion.
If we were to see some actual disruption and change in education, it’d start happening very soon. It would take the form of the big players in edtech slowly ceding more and more pieces of the proverbial edtech pie to startups and other organizations. For example, Apple would see their presence in the classroom erode thanks to new tablets like the Amplify Tablet, a custom-built tablet designed for classrooms. I saw quite a few negative comments to the Amplify tablet and actually some pretty angry people at a recent conference talking about how tablets in general are beyond the ‘buzzword’ phase and are simply costing school districts more money than they have. Personally, I think tablets can be very useful and powerful learning tools in the hands of a quality teacher / facilitator.
But whatever your opinion, the important part is that people are talking about non-Apple tablets. They’re talking about a tablet that was built by a much smaller company that could theoretically replace costly iPads. In this option, those upstart options actually take over the spots currently held by Apple and the other big names. Whether it turns into total fragmentation of the edtech market or simply more choices for teachers, admins, and students … it’s a new scenario for the education world. Actual options!
The exciting part about this second option for the future of education technology is that it actually might happen. Emphasis on might. Apple’s market share is eroding and there are many (MANY) startups looking to take just a slice of the Apple education pie. So if you want to be a fortune teller and try to predict if this second option actually happens, here’s how to start reading the tea leaves:
Keep an eye on the new non-Apple and other big name options. For example, if the Amplify tablet takes off even a little bit, that’s likely a harbinger of things to come. On the flip side, if the Amplify tablet and other devices start to dwindle OLPC-style, then we’re likely continuing on business-as-usual for quite some time.
So whatever happens, the smart money is on the big names staying big. But I wouldn’t count out the droves of startups looking to actually disrupt education. That disruption would take the form of actually replacing the big edtech names with others. But it’d be exciting to watch and could mean an improved education experience for all.
Or maybe not. What do I know?