The ASU GSV Summit always acts as a great set of meteorological instruments used to measure trends across the edtech sector. It gauges hot and cold like a thermometer and which direction the wind is blowing like an anemometer. This year’s conference showed that the tectonic plates of edtech have shifted…seismically.
For the last five years, the number of pre-funding startups in attendance seemed to be growing, alongside an ever increasing number of investors looking for the next Blackboard. Perhaps due to a changing funding climate, or the headwinds from the for-profit college sector, or maybe due to general cyclicality, this year’s prominence of pre-seed startups and investors seemed dramatically reduced. The conference was now dominated by a mix of established and up-and-coming edtech players – the industry and its funding streams consolidating around a small number of effective businesses, and eschewing riskier propositions.
The most interesting takeaway, however, was finding the hot topic of discussoin (other than toward AI/NLP as the buzzword of the day). Traditional education, including schools or software targeting K12 districts and Higher Ed institutions, is clearly out of fashion. Long sales cycles, regulatory complications, future budgetary concerns and changing standards all seem to have spooked investors and startups away.
Now, these stakeholders are running toward workforce development. The topic of the “middle skills economy” seemed omnipresent. Education for non-coders, tools for non-traditional schools and second chance learners, career-pathing for high school graduates and education solutions for the corporate world have all gone from 'uninteresting' and 'non-relavant' to the forefront of discussion. Investors and startups are now interested in making money in education through means other than traditional education – following the political stream of rhetoric away from the traditional K12-Higher Ed construct and more toward a polymorphic model that includes apprenticeship, trade schools, on-the-job learning, corporate funded education, and other evolving models.
The future of education, for the first time in 200 years, may be different from the past in terms of its providers and models.
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