EdTech: a golden opportunity for a changing world

July 2020
Read time: 6 mins


Tony Spillett is a tax partner.

Education is just one of many sectors to be transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now EdTech, which played a vital role throughout lockdown, is attracting more and more investor interest as we start to understand its huge potential to help shape our ‘New Normal’…

Over the past months, right around the world, entire schools, colleges and universities have closed to students, exams have been cancelled and lessons where they have resumed have done so at a distance. With education under lockdown, students have relied on online portals, virtual classrooms and lessons by video.

As of late March 2020, as many as 1.37 billion students were studying and learning from home, according to UNESCO – an extraordinary figure which represents no fewer than 3 out of 4 school-age children worldwide.

But it’s not just schools that are rethinking teaching. Businesses in all areas and industries are having to find new ways to provide training and upskilling for their staff remotely.

As we begin to ease out of lockdown, many are wondering whether the adoption of online learning will continue in a post-pandemic world, and how this shift might impact the way we deliver teaching and training across the globe. And as EdTech takes its place front and centre of our ‘New Normal’, this could also be the ideal moment for EdTech business owners to consider seeking additional investment for growth or even planning their exit.

The emergence of EdTech

Put simply, Education Technology (EdTech) comprises any hardware or software platform or service that can be utilised to help improve the design or delivery of educational activity. It’s a wide-ranging category, encompassing everything from specifically developed apps, such as Duolingo and Udemy that encourage remote learning, to smart boards or tablets that can be used in classrooms, to tools designed to automate elements of candidate application or examination delivery processes.

A growing industry that’s already worth $4 trillion worldwide, EdTech has experienced a surge in demand since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, offering a rich source of potential solutions for the challenges facing teaching and learning.

Every child and parent struggling with remote learning in the past months has needed quick and easy assistance, sending web traffic for online education resources soaring. Meanwhile, many adults stuck at home have been able to take advantage of their free time to discover new skills via apps or online classes. More than one in 10 (14%) of Britons started learning something new during lockdown, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

"In the UK, around 2.3 million higher education students and 10 million school pupils have turned to online learning, relying on software systems such as Duolingo, Cornerstones Education and Target Tracker to facilitate their education."

Even companies like Zoom, though not inherently EdTech, have become integral to the delivery of online education.

Over the course of the pandemic, The Department for Education committed over £100 million to provide devices and access to the internet for vulnerable and disadvantaged children, as well as ensuring every school has access to free technical support to set up Google for Education or Microsoft’s Office 365 Education. The DfE has also facilitated peer-to-peer support between schools and colleges via the EdTech Demonstrator programme.

By disrupting the traditional methods of teaching and providing innovative new platforms and services, the world of EdTech has shown its potential to transform the way education is delivered. And as the world enters a ‘New Normal’, the potential of these technologies to transform education further and for the long term is becoming clearer.

EdTech will continue to revolutionise learning

The practical value of EdTech has increased dramatically over the course of the pandemic. Where online resources were once merely considered a supplement to a good quality education, they have now proved that they have the potential to stand alone. 

Multimedia, gamification and mobile learning apps, along with peer-to-peer learning platforms, have allowed us to access education services wherever we are. Thanks to EdTech, children are able to learn their classes through tablets, adults can attend university lectures via Zoom and professionals are able to complete training programmes online.

EdTech also offers education bodies the ability to widen their audience, reaching out to a new demographic of learners who may not be in a position to access teaching outside their homes. 

"EdTech can make education easier to access, and also make learning more immersive. It attracts and engages students who might otherwise struggle in a classroom."

EdTech can make education easier to access and also make learning more immersive. It attracts and engages students who might otherwise struggle in a classroom, with the added potential to democratise education standards so that the same levels of education can be delivered globally, regardless of socio-economic differentials.

In addition, for schools and businesses alike, the value of EdTech offers a more cost-effective way to deliver teaching, bringing down costs in the learning process such as hardcopies of material and investment in a physical learning space.

Duolingo – a case study in EdTech growth

Co-founded by reCAPTCHA creator Luis von Ahn back in 2011, Duolingo is a popular language learning service that offers 95 courses in 38 different languages. The free-to-use service is known for its colourful website and app that utilises gamification technology to promote easy language learning in bite-sized chunks.

During the coronavirus pandemic, Duolingo enjoyed a significant increase in new sign-ups, with a growth of 108% from March 9 to March 30. In the US, this number was even higher, with the service welcoming 148% new users.

This increase however, is not solely from independent learners. In a recent report by the company, Duolingo highlighted that over 30% of its new learners were using Duolingo for school, while language learning for travel dropped to the third most common reason for learning, with less than 13% of new learners.

What this demonstrates is not only a hunger for language learning, but huge potential in the take-up of EdTech services such as Duolingo even after the pandemic has passed, with schools and education bodies looking to integrate the service into their everyday teaching activities in the classroom.

Another language service, VIP Kid in China, offers online one-to-one personalised English lessons. The company is currently valued at $1.5bn. Meanwhile, Udemy (US), a multi-topic online learning and teaching marketplace, already

A golden opportunity for EdTech owners and investors

The recent expansion of EdTech highlights its potential to sustain profits and its scope for continued growth. EdTech is a hot area for investors right now, and the funding and exit opportunities for EdTech founders and owners look very promising indeed.

Globally, EdTech companies saw VC investment grow by 22% in Q1 2020 – a rate that is expected to have grown even more in Q2. And since 2014, EdTech companies in the UK have raised a total of $857m in venture funding, comprising 41% of all European EdTech investment in 2019. 

‘The UK’s world-leading EdTech sector has used its expertise to develop practical solutions and online learning tools for schools, parents and pupils during this challenging time,’ says UK Digital Minister Caroline Dinenage. ‘The work it is doing right now will pave the way for new technology to help shape the future of education in the UK and around the world.’

We are at a critical tipping point that places the future of industries such as EdTech in a very exciting position. With EdTech services now embedded out of necessity in the lives of teachers, students and developing professionals across the world, the EdTech sector now has a golden opportunity to prove its sticking value, by continuing to develop these technologies and baking its utility and appeal into the very fabric of our teaching and learning future.

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