We recently hosted a panel at RocketSpace to explore the education innovation landscape. We brought this panel of industry experts together to better understand how this ecosystem is evolving, its impact on education, and how stakeholders can better collaborate to increase their impact. Similarly, we announced the launch of our new accelerator, Pearson Catalyst, our program to increase partnerships between education technology startups and Pearson.
Introducing Pearson Catalyst:
Through Pearson Catalyst, we’ll match startups with Pearson brands to deliver pilot programs. Startups will gain access to Pearson resources, product experts and access to our global connections over the course of the 3 month program. We will be introducing an application process for Pearson Catalyst shortly. In the interim, please visit http://labs.pearson.com/catalyst/ for more information. You can also follow @PearsonCatalyst on twitter for updates and email Future_Tech@pearson.com if you are interested in being considered for Catalyst.
Recap of the Education Innovation Panel Discussion
Diana Stepner, Head of Future Technologies at Pearson, led the panel discussion, which included Rosemary Kendrick of BloomBoard and Innosight Institute; Shauntel Poulson, Associate Partner at NewSchools Venture Fund; Soo Kang from Pearson Foundation; Bob Glushko, Adjunct Professor from UC Berkeley; and Tony Wan, Editor of edSurge.
What comprises the Education Innovation Landscape?
Rosemary created a foundation for the conversation and helped set the stage with her framework for the ecosystem, which consists of (1) tool builders (technologists / entrepreneurs), (2) school builders (Districts, CMOs, RocketShip, KIPP, etc.), (3) financial capital, (4) human capital, and finally (5) infrastructure.
Another important distinction in this conversation is the difference between higher ed and K-12. There are a number of elements like common core that significantly impact K-12 but are less relevant to higher ed. Conversely, there are education technologies like MOOCs that impact the higher education space more than the K-12 space.
Is Education a Walled Garden?
A recent development in the education world is the ability for more people to contribute. Entrepreneurs, individuals, innovators can now more easily create content, tools and new systems that are being utilized by students, teachers, and parents. Tony talked about different platforms for discovery, teachers are finding out about tools and immediately trying and using them with their students.
Improving Your Product Over Time?
Shauntel and Rosemary discussed the importance of continually working with users and making sure that your product is adaptable. You may gain traction initially with one version of the product but realize down the road that there is a certain piece or feature of the product that is most valuable to your customers. Similarly, admins, teachers, and students may all use your product and may have different needs. Therefore, it is important to continually get feedback from users and make sure your product is extendable and adaptable for the different user types while retaining the central vision for your product.
Recommendations for a Company Going to Market Today:
With the panels’ diverse experience, they offered some practical advice for new ed tech companies, including the following: think about business model upfront, find ways around distribution problems by partnering with others, don’t delay the question of how you will get revenue, understand who the buyer is and who the user is (these may be very different audiences in education), make sure you are solving a pain point, make sure you have a unique and differentiated product, think about a dual go to market strategy (through teachers and consumers).
What Role do Educational Institutions Play as We Move Forward?
Panelists spent time talking about the role of institutions and the impact of policy on the education system. The federal government provides data and reports, but it is always several years behind. Therefore, companies and startups can get really useful information from think tanks or engaging with thought leaders, customers and continually engaging with teachers. K-12 is a state business, even though there are federal policies; each state, district, and administrator has different needs, which makes things very frustrating but also creates a lot of opportunities.
Opportunities / Trends in Ed Tech:
Right now there is a lot of money out there and the panel urged entrepreneurs to take advantage of the ability to raise money. There are certain real concerns about an ed tech bubble like over-valuations, incorrect metrics such as sign-ups rather than paying customers, and challenges converting users to paying customers. The panel identified blended learning as a major trend. There is an opportunity to modularize content, it no longer needs to be packaged as it has been in the past. Hubs and incubators like Teach for America, Education Pioneers, and imagine K12 are important for the space as they are creating entry points for educational professionals. Tony also highlighted the trend of solving problems with old school technologies such as figuring out how to use the closet full of old Dell laptops.
Thoughts on innovation in the coming years:
The panel discussion closed with an open forum for all to suggest what they hoped and expected in the coming years, including: increasing graduation rates, providing a louder voice for teachers, teachers joining founding teams of startups, new solutions proving their models are effective, increased parent engagement, education may move more towards the consumer rather than selling to institutions, and finally there was a strong emphasis on understanding the common core and that it will be very beneficial for learning.