With last week’s announcement on the launch of Edtech UK, a new strategic body created to support and accelerate the growth of the UK’s education technology sector in the UK and across the globe, it’s evident that edtech has come of age.
Edtech has become one of the fastest growing tech sectors in Britain, with more than 1,000 startups across the country and 200 based in London. A new report from London & Partners, the official promotional company for London, and Edtech UK, estimates the global education technology sector is worth £45bn in 2015. UK schools spend more than £900 million a year on education technology, and with the new computing curriculum the UK is becoming one of the worlds major education technology hubs.
We had the pleasure of interviewing Audrey Jarre, co-Founder of the Edtech World Tour, earlier this week to gain a deeper insight into the emerging edtech trends in the UK and globally. The Edtech World tour is a research project spans nine countries globally to look at edtech adoption trends across the globe and promotes global perspectives on edtech fuelled by local insights.
Hi Audrey! Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. I really love the mission behind this project and can’t wait to hear more about the insights you’ve had so far. Can you tell us a little more about the Edtech World Tour? What inspired you found this initiative?
Thanks for your interest! Svenia and I met in business school, where we were surrounded by a large crowd of aspiring entrepreneurs that weren’t taking on the full opportunities opened by the education market. I studied humanities through my undergraduate degree and Svenia had just graduated in public policy, so we thought the problem was as much of people staying confined in their geographical comfort zone as well as functional expertise. There are astonishing people out there, yet what makes an ecosystem is the existence of bridges between those experts and the investment of entities - whether they be actual staff or resources allocated to clusters - to enable interdisciplinary collaboration between siloed worlds.
The Edtech World Tour, as you mentioned, is a research project through nine countries to research on edtech adoption trends around the globe. The idea came about last summer and we spent a year fundraising and designing the project while living in Berlin (for Svenia), New York, London (for Audrey), and Paris, before finally setting sail for the field study mid-October.
We thus got a first glimpse of what the project would look like by conducting a wide range of interviews in those cities and attending local events of various scales such as Edtech Europe, La French Touch de l’Education, Online Educa Berlin and various startup weekends. These allowed us to understand what Europe was up to before going to explore best practices elsewhere. We’re planning to go to the Bay Area, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, India, South Korea & South Africa. You’re catching us at the very beginning of our trip!
It is quite an intense schedule as we are in constant equilibrium between interviews, school visits, writing articles and planning for the next steps, but we have learned to manage the hectic pace and keep some time available to meet new people who are not in the edtech sphere and get their fresh perspective on those changes in education, too.
What do you see as the major European educational challenges today?
Most people would say the challenges for the European edtech is that the market is thoroughly fragmented – in terms of culture, languages and administrative barriers - and under-capitalised. I think scaling can be difficult in Europe for those reasons and local insights are therefore necessary to understand markets before even thinking about exporting your product. A variety of new incubators, edtech coworking spaces and funds are taking shape – such as NUMA and ed21, Edspace, Emerge labs, Versari partners and EduCapital, to name a few - but we’re still quite far from the width of the Silicon Valley ecosystem, where the number of players makes for a very noisy yet thrilling landscape.
The success of an ecosystem can be improved by fostering exchange of knowledge and participation. Edtech is an industry where there is a need for competition more than a need for “scale” just yet. Indeed, at a time when we are refining our practices and pedagogies, it is important for a diverse set of tools to emerge for us to assess their genuine impact on learning outcomes. Organisations like NESTA are doing a terrific job in that respect.
Why do you think it’s taken longer for the education industry to move from a more traditional approach to teaching and learning to one that’s technology-driven?
There’s an inherent and scary nobility around education. When entrepreneurs use the word “disruption” one would rather look for something you can build on. Sometimes the technology narrative isn’t taking into account the specificities of the powerful experience of learning. The gap between the realms of education and t
echnologies can be bridged if we learn a bit more about both components. Startup founders must understand how their product falls within the dynamic of how a school operates but also have a deep understanding of cognitive processes that is constantly growing.
What works, or the value and effectiveness of digital innovations in education isn’t easy to evaluate globally besides very local metrics, thus making it harder to scale.
What has been the most surprising insight you’ve come across so far?
I think the myth of a siloed sector where technologists and educators don’t talk to each other is becoming hackneyed in the Bay Area, where great incubators and accelerators - Colab, GSVlabs, Imagine K12, to name a few - have educators in residence, mentors and a network of school where they can conduct testing. In the land of lean startup, it’s reassuring to see edtech looking at actual practices, the appropriate question now is not if those people are talking, it is whether or not those people are having the right conversations.
From an edtech perspective, how does the UK compare to other parts of the world?
Learning technology is far from being a new concept in the UK. In the last five years, schools have spent over £1bn on digital technology but the demonstrable evidence of success in improving education outcomes remains little. On October 21st we saw the launch of Edtech UK, a body created to empower the UK market to build its £45bn market share. This new body was set up to promote and accelerate the sector and is supported and led by major industry leaders, including the Education Foundation think-tank duo Ian Fordham and Ty Goddard. I think you can help make an ecosystem thrive by allocating resources and creating structures. That’s the way I perceive the success of the Valley: it has successfully channelled growth by shedding light upon best practices. I believe market competition drives better ideas and innovations.
How do you strengthen a pipeline for Edtech investment? Capital is key, but I think there is a heavy storytelling component to it that must not be overlooked. That is also what we’re trying to do, at our own pace, and under different latitudes!
I imagine you must have encountered tons of edtech startups in your travels so far. Which do you see as the leading innovators in this area?
In France, 360Learning is making waves in the LMS space and was the French edtech startup with the biggest growth in 2014, helping over 500 companies in their digital transformation processes in a social and collaborative mindset.
LiveMentor is an online tutoring marketplace that makes it super easy to connect in an online lesson space with a great mentor and they just raised over $1M in France last month - Svenia has been a stellar German mentor with them for a while and they were the first people to open up to us when we started the project: Alexandre Dana, their CEO & co-founder, was the first person I had coffee with to talk about this crazy project - he deserves a shout out!
We’re only getting started with the tour, but I have had a chance to meet with a few stellar startups in the UK: Kahoot! is a great game-based digital learning platform and were recognized as one of the e-Learning companies that have shown the most significant innovation and growth over the last year by Edtech Europe. They’re really friendly, are doing heavy pushes on the community side of thing and have recently opened an office in the US: watch this space!
I’m also a big fan of the London-based Tutorfair - a platform that does social good by offering tutoring to those who can’t afford it whilst also being a great marketplace; Teachpitch, which was recently selected by WISE for their accelerator and putting teachers at the centre of their business; and Kokoroe, a new entrant led by a power women trio in Paris!
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