The educational technologies sector has become a $13 billion industry, with a growing list of start-ups and big companies vying for school district funds. At the same time, a lot of school districts are having trouble keeping up with fast-moving changes.
This trend may have something to do with news that the Los Angeles Unified School District wants some of its money back, after halting a plan estimated to be worth more than a billion dollars to buy iPads loaded with educational software from Pearson. LAUSD officials complain that the combo of Pearson’s software and Apple’s iPad has simply not delivered on its promise.
While there is a lot of money and growth in the educational technology sector, LAUSD’s travails are signs of what education consultant Allison Bailey of Boston Consulting Group calls the “pitfalls” of fast change. Bailey says part of the problem is that while school districts have been spending money on new technologies, many haven’t planned for additional resources needed to train teachers and implement technologies in the classroom.
A lot of teachers are tech savvy, Bailey says, just like many students, but “in order for things to be rolled out and fully implemented, we need all teachers to feel comfortable and to understand practically how to get…(the) best use out of technology.”
There are other hurdles for districts, too. New technologies are often unproven by their very nature, so it also makes it hard for districts to figure out what will be useful for them and how to evaluate a product before purchase, Bailey says.
“Because of the flood of offerings that are emerging in the market,” she says, “it’s a lot for school districts to actually think through and manage on their own.” She says the kind of data that districts will need to make informed decisions will come in the years ahead, as technologies are used and assessed.
Michael Moe, CEO of GSV Capital, says of the $400 million he manages, he’s invested about 30 percent into educational technology firms. He describes the current trend as less of a flood, and more of an “explosion.”
“Today, increasingly, every teacher has a smartphone,” he says. “Mainly, every school in America is connected.”
That has created the right conditions for a lot of start-ups to want to enter into the educational technology arena, Moe says. Venture capital firms have been pouring a lot of money into education technology. Moe’s firm runs a summit for ed tech start-ups, which included about 30 firms five years ago. In the latest summit, says Moe, there were nearly 300 companies.
Big firms are also in the game. Google, Microsoft and Apple are all trying to grab a share of the ed tech market, as are big educational publishers, such as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Pearson. Stephen Baker of NDP Group, a market research firm, says two-thirds of Google’s 2014 sales of Chromebook notebooks went to organizations, “and the market assumes that almost all of that has been into education.”
Baker says of the accelerating ed tech trend, “What we’ve definitely seen in the last two to three years is a real explosion of personal devices available … for students in big educational institutions.”
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