In 2012, the MIT Technology Review posed the following question: “What’s been the single biggest innovation in education [in the last 200 years]?” At the time, most people couldn’t come up with a single answer. Today, however, MIT’s question might not stump as many people.
Many of the world’s top universities have embraced Massive Open Online Courses (known as MOOCs). In some districts, tablets have become an essential school supply, thanks to new software that turns them into powerful classroom tools. Meanwhile, the implementation of computer-administered common core testing forced many schools to modernize, whether they wanted to or not.
The technology behind these innovations has come from a host of companies, ranging from billion-dollar tech unicorns to small outfits founded by school teachers. What unites them is their shared vision that education, one of the industries most resistant to change, can benefit from technological innovation.
Together, they have coalesced into a sector known as EdTech, which has become one of the hottest spaces in Silicon Valley and beyond.
The industry has heated up, in part, because money has been flowing into it from multiple sources. Unlike most tech sectors, in EdTech, funding is as likely to come from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or the U.S. government as it is from Andreessen Horowitz or other giants of the venture capital world. In the first half of 2015 alone, private investors poured $2.5 billion into EdTech companies.
With money flowing into the sector and educational institutions accepting the introduction of new technologies, EdTech innovation is likely to accelerate in the coming years. Here are 10 EdTech companies that will drive this innovation forward, each in its own niche of the market:
1. Udemy: Online Classes
In 2010, Udemy was founded with a mission to democratize education. Udemy is an open, online marketplace where anyone can upload and sell a class. Most classes range in price from $20 to $100 and teach saleable skills, like iOS app developing or how to use Excel. There is real money to be made with a good class. Some sell more than 150,000 enrollments.
What sets it apart: Aside from taking a commission on its marketplace sales, Udemy has also become a platform for corporations to create customized training courses. This stream of revenue — from clients such as Goldman Sachs — has set Udemy apart from other online learning sites, like the non-profit Khan Academy, and propelled its rise in the EdTech world.
2. Andela: Programming Education
One of the feel-good stories of EdTech, Andela runs intensive programming courses in Nigeria and Kenya. Gaining entrance to the courses is extremely competitive. But those who manage to get in — and graduate — land coding gigs with American tech companies.
What sets it apart:Other programming boot camps cater almost exclusively to students from the developed world. Andela targets a new demographic: the most talented people from economies that don’t offer as many great opportunities as there are brilliant people.
3. DonorsChoose: Education Crowdfunding
If you know Kickstarter or IndieGoGo, DonorsChoose.org, a crowdfunding platform, will be familiar to you in most ways. The big exception is the projects themselves. They have names like “Books, Books, Books!” or “High School Field Trip.” The reason for that is the projects are started by public school teachers, not aspiring tech founders. All of the money donated goes to getting teachers — and their students — the supplies or resources they need.
What sets it apart:DonorsChoose isn’t the only charity-minded crowdfunding site. Crowdrise, for example, has marshaled a network of do-gooders to fund projects from cancer treatments to urban gardens. But DonorsChoose is the only big crowdfunding platform focused exclusively on education, which puts it in an interesting position. With its insight into public school teachers’ needs, DonorsChoose has begun advocating for education policy reform.
4. Coursera: MOOCs
Partnering with elite universities around the world, Coursera provides real college courses online to anyone — for free. Classes of this kind have become known as MOOCs, “massive open online courses.” In 2012, when Coursera was gaining momentum, The Atlantic called it “the single most important experiment in higher education.” Around the same time, the MIT Technology Review called MOOCs “the most important education technology in 200 years.”
What sets it apart:Coursera and its primary competitor, Udacity, have jumped on the certifications bandwagon in the last two years, but in different ways. Certifications are online badges attesting to a certain skill or course of training. You can find more and more of them on LinkedIn profiles. Coursera has leveraged its network of universities to create certificate-granting programs designed by — and bearing the names of — elite schools.
5. Kramer: Classroom Collaboration
In June 2015, Kramer released a wireless system that enables live collaboration between groups of students across any device. The system allows students to share work on a central monitor — either one for the whole classroom or one for each group of students. From a control panel, the teacher can supervise all ongoing work and also participate.
What sets it apart:For teachers, the beauty of Kramer’s system is its customizability, which differentiates it from competitive systems. From a central control panel, the teacher can send different content to different devices. So, small groups can work at their own pace and on different tasks.
6. Story2: College Admission
Almost any piece of writing works best as a story, especially a college admissions essay. This is the insight behind Story2, a web app that helps high school students create compelling essays — in the form of personal stories — step-by-step. As universities have begun to marginalize the importance of standardized test scores and place heavy weight on grades and essays, Story2 is more relevant than ever.
What sets it apart:In the anxiety-driven college admissions and test prep industry, Story2 is unique. There are countless services, online and off, for standardized test preparation and there are books about essay writing. But, before Story2, there had never been a serious attempt to create an interactive, online college essay-writing tool.
7. ExecOnline: Corporate Education
ExecOnline partners with top business universities, like MIT’s Sloan and UC Berkeley’s Haas, to offer university curricula online to corporate clients. Corporations buy in because ExecOnline allows them to provide elite continuing education to their employees without sending them out of the office for extended periods.
What sets it apart:There are many executive development programs at top universities, but in order to participate, executives usually need to be physically present. ExecOnline differs in that it makes professional development courses from top universities accessible online and on any device — a priceless value to add for execs.
8. Kaltura: Video in Learning
A video platform that streams, stores, distributes, monetizes and analyzes video, Kaltura is one of the dominant players in helping schools utilize video. Its clients include Yale, Stanford, MIT and hundreds of other universities. Kaltura has created campus-wide video management and delivery systems for everything from storing lectures to streaming college basketball games.
What sets it apart:Kaltura’s technology was built to accommodate the complex and varied needs of media companies, like HBO and TMZ, as well as major enterprises, including Bank of America. Now it is bringing to bear on education a technology that was built with the robustness and flexibility required by those customers. Unlike other companies within the EdTech sector, Kaltura is focused primarily on online video, making it a leader within the space.
9. Voxy: Language Education
Voxy is an English-teaching program designed to impart real-world language skills to students and professionals. The program adapts to the specific goals and skills of the learner and integrates live, personalized instruction. Its customers are corporations hoping to bring their international employees’ English up to business proficiency, as well as schools and individuals.
What sets it apart:Like other English-teaching software programs, Voxy is based on the latest language acquisition science. But, it is also far more responsive to a user’s input and takes advantage of today’s widely available web technologies, like video conferencing.
10. Blinklearning: Textbook Customization
Blinklearning offers a textbook content treasure trove, enabling department heads and teachers to build customized lessons and entire textbooks with content from over 30 publishers worldwide. Educators can customize for each class or student. The company’s goal is to empower teachers to personalize education with its massive digital textbook repository.
What sets it apart:While competitors include publishing houses’ own platforms, as well as LMS’s that integrate with textbook content, Blinklearning stands out with its universality (through its widely varied publisher partnerships) and flexibility (it can plug-and-play with many LMS platforms).