While the influence of technology in education is growing, the reality is it is still an area that has been a slow adopter when it comes to the tech revolution. The most recent figures put the extent to which global education has been digitalised at only 2%. That’s particularly surprising within the context that as a market, it is worth $5 trillion. That’s a massive 8 times the value of the international market for software.
Silicon Valley is far from slow when it comes to spotting valuable markets ripe to be ‘disrupted’ by profitable tech-based products and services. As such, on first glance the lack of tech penetration in education doesn’t seem to make sense. However, there are some unique barriers to entry when it comes to tech adoption in education that go at least some way to explaining this anomaly. For start-ups and other companies in the EdTech sector, it is crucial to understand the unique challenges faced when it comes to selling tech into the education industry. In a recent article for Forbes magazine, Christine Nasserghodsi, Head of Innovation Strategy at GEMS Education, the world’s largest K-12 school network, offers some key advice.
Nasserghodsi’s team is focused on innovation and is often involved in helping EdTech start-ups take their products to market. Throughout the year her team reviews hundreds of EdTech (technology in education) products, sometimes helping set up pilot programmes to assess usability and impact. Nasserghodsi highlights the fact that EdTech appears to be at something of a crossroads. Several companies have recently raised significant investment for EdTech products, while other earlier entrants that looked promising and that they had industry support and traction have closed their doors. Her advice for companies looking to crack the education market with tech must understand the following:
The market is fragmented: though education is a huge market it is a fragmented one and selling tech products into it usually means selling to multiple smaller clients rather than securing deals on a national or regional level.
Schools demand measurables: principals, or whoever is controlling the purse strings need EdTech vendors to provide impact data. This must demonstrate solid outcomes on student performance or school performance that using sometimes expensive tech results in. New products must therefore run pilot projects to produce this data.
Budgets are annual and have an approvals process: even if a buyer loves a product, decisions on new items for school expenditure are usually made several months in advance of a new academic year. So if an EdTech vendor misses that window the best case scenario will often be a delay of up to a year on any eventual order. Approval will also often need to be secured by a school’s board or regional authority so a potential buyer must be enthusiastic enough to put the time and effort into convincing others.
Time is limited: while school budgets are often tight, the finite resource that EdTech vendors often struggle with most is the time of teachers and principles, which is often stretched thinly. EdTech vendors must appreciate this and adopt their products and sales approach accordingly to be successful. The whole process from “review to purchase to implementation” must be as easy and time efficient as possible. Teachers don’t have time to collect data for EdTech companies and secretaries don’t have time to create passwords for hundreds of students!