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What awaits Edtech now that the “pandemic” is gone?

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The pandemic has brought about lasting changes in the American education system. It also brought explosion of private investment in edtech.

What exactly this means for future technology in schools is still unknown. The pandemic that many edtech firms have experienced has disappeared, but private capital’s interest in edtech and in shaping the education system remains.

What do venture capitalists think about what will happen next for this sector? And what changes do they want to promote in education?

From that perspective, we recently contacted Matthew Tower, director of Workshop Venture Partners, a small venture capital firm in Massachusetts focused on climate and education. The Tower shares its views in a weekly bulletin called Thoughts Edtechfocusing on transactions in edtech.

It turns out he thinks edtech may be looking for inspiration in other industries.

EdSurge: What big problem are you trying to solve or better understand at edtech?

Matthew Tower: Here are two big issues that I think about a lot.

First, career navigation. It is now very difficult to get good career advice. Career data is usually a delaying indicator, teachers have only as much time and effort that they can spend with a ward, and employers have hidden incentives to try to keep employees with the most affordable pay. I would like to see something where both the customer and the company / service / platform / community have the same positive long-term incentives to see [employees] succeed in your career.

Second, socio-emotional learning. Over the last 10-15 years we have spent a lot on translating technical training into online formats, which has worked especially well for rapid training and senior students. Where we haven’t spent so much time – or not seen so many success stories at home – it’s translating social learning into online formats. In any case, we have gone back, with all the emerging mental health problems that young people face due to the use of social media.

Last year, Edtech received an influx of investment, but some companies are now experiencing difficulties, which has led to sad headlines about layoffs and stock declines. But some people are still set up for space, referring to the desire of large companies to hire on the basis of qualifications rather than degrees. As a venture capitalist in space, what do you now think of edtech in general?

I try not to spend a lot of time worrying about the macro environment we are in because I can’t do much to control it. The education market may change some changes if we stay in the bear market, but there will always be a critical mass of people who want and need to continue their educational journey.

From my specific position, I could teach the founders to be a little more conservative in terms of fundraising and cash forecasting, but their number one goal should still delight customers. If they can do it on a consistent basis, everything else will be easier, no matter how the market goes.

You have expressed sympathy for the “separation” of the university system, the destruction of services that inflate costs but are not necessary for learning. Can you say a little bit about this, and also about what lessons you think the cable industry can give to those who want to unravel the university system?

I’m glad you used “compassion” instead of “persuasion” because I’m still struggling with my position on the subject. When The Wall Street Journal published their article on [Louisiana State University’s] lazy riverit has become a canonical example of university services being overused, and many entrepreneurs have set out to “unleash” the university with faster / cheaper / better options.

However, the biggest individual winners over the past decade with more in education are perhaps SNHU [Southern New Hampshire University] and WGU [Western Governors University]. They both grew to hundreds of thousands [online] students and hundreds of millions in revenue, more than any coding training camp or MOOC.

I. wrote about the cable industry after reading a message from the former CEO of Sky. In it, he talks about the growth of Netflix and other streaming providers who had a similar thesis about “sharing”. There was a similar dynamic when “unbundled” providers made some really important changes in the industry, but cable providers remained surprisingly resilient, especially given the new revenue they now bring in for cable and Internet.

There is a push for a new college ranking model that takes into account graduate salaries. You wrote that it opens up opportunities for gaming in the system. For example: you point to the release of Steph Curry, a Golden State Warriors player, as an overstatement of Davidson’s average salary, where he recently received a degree in sociology. However, there are versions of the model that can resolve this objection statistically (e.g., using the median rather than the mean). What do you think about what you would like to see in college rankings?

So to be clear, I am no think Davidson is playing in the system – they already have pretty good revenue data and I expect they made Steph work pretty hard to get that degree. I think this is a (far-fetched) example of what can happen if we focus too much on some one indicator. Income data is important, but it doesn’t tell everyone.

My real problem with the rating system is that it no longer serves students (if ever). Most “rankers” are companies that have incentives against students. I would like to see a more community-oriented, personalized and student-centered ranking system that helps students find the most suitable for their profile rather than one where universities to compete to defeat each other.

You argued that employers who offer training benefits should allow their employees to use them during the work day. Why?

The main premise is the concept of “poverty of time”, which I learned from Paul Fain Work Shift Bulletin. In short, it means we all have a limited amount of time [we] can be spent on work, family, school, friends, etc. For some privileged people, they may exchange non-working hours for school. But for many (most?) This compromise is incredibly difficult. Thus, they either choose not to use their benefits for training, or try to use them, but end up dropping out of training if the rest of their lives do not go perfectly.

If staff could replace some amount of working time with school, I think we would see completely different results in terms of perseverance and academic success. I think that has not yet broken the nut of how to translate on-the-job training into business success. It sounds great for employees to be able to learn during the day, but until we can demonstrate a steady return on business investment during this time of training, it will be difficult to get companies to scale

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