Research by GSV Advisors shows a sharp increase in investments in education companies almost doubling between 2007 and 2011 to $930 million. Data from the National Venture Capital Association shows that investment in ed-tech companies has almost tripled between 2002 and 2011.
It’s no surprise that the number of ed-tech startup companies has grown exponentially and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future.
The market is flooded with these startups and clearly, there is a great deal of interest from venture capital firms.
Many ed-tech startups typically build their product because one of the founders had a particular issue in college that they think can be addressed with a new technology or by building an education version of an existing technology.
For instance, a founder might think “I used to forget to bring my chemistry book to class so why don’t I develop a cool app that automatically texts students right before a class where they need a book?” (Please note that I did not base this example on a real startup; however, I wouldn’t be surprised if such a product existed). Other ed-tech startups have an idea they think should result in improved student outcomes and they run with it.
I hate to break it to you…
This may come as a surprise to ed-tech companies, but you’re not going to invent the next big thing by shooting in the dark. Without knowing the research on how students learn and develop as well as the literature on how technology affects student outcomes, the chances of your startup magically creating student success are almost nonexistent.
Indeed, it’s not the technology that generates learning, but the ways in which the technology are used.
Ed-tech startups rarely, if ever, talk with educators about designing their product. You’d be surprised at the number of emails I get asking me to comment on a product after it has been conceptualized, built, and tested. I have dubbed these messages “tell us how cool our product is” emails.
Startups in other fields don’t behave this way. Imagine a genomics startup that didn’t talk to medical researchers and/or didn’t base their products on research in the biotech field. Such a company would never exist, let alone be funded by a venture capital firm.
Yet, in this new boom investors are more than happy to fund an ed-tech startup whose employees have never bothered to read a single piece of educational research. My fellow academic rebel Audrey Watters famously commented about a $2.5 million investment in Codecademy, “Wow, bullshit badging and shitty pedagogy wins the day in ed-tech investing.”
Educators and researchers who know about how students learn know that there is nothing special about Codecademy. The flashing lights and pretty buttons fool the venture capital firms and foundations that invest in these kinds of startups. Since funders also know next to nothing about how students learn, of course these ideas sound amazing.
Where’s the data?
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