B2B2C the changing ecosystem of education engagement. Distributed networks.

By Alan Greenberg, Venture Partner at EDT Partners.

From 3 to 83

A series of articles from EDT Partners on the subject of education technology that embraces all aspects of education from preschool, to lifelong learning, to workplace, and everything in-between. That looks at the technology and the impact both within academia and outside of institutions. Distributed networks, online resources, formal and informal learning engagement, and fundamentally “where does learning happen”? From 3 to 83 is a personal perspective and reflection on education, that by default and at the same time is unfair to 2-year old’s and 84-year old’s.

On March 10, 2020 I returned from my office in Central London and set myself up to work predominantly from home for the next few months. Being of a certain age, and in remission from cancer, I do not consider myself to be particularly vulnerable to the pandemic, but it did seem practical to step out of the way, or at the very least mitigate risk to myself, family and colleagues. Little did I know that I would still be sitting here twelve months later, today with my first vaccination completed.

It has been an interesting twelve months. Frankly never busier, conversations and propositions that I have been advocating for since joining Apple Education in 2004, are more relevant today than they have ever been. One of the earliest impressions at Apple in 2005 was influenced by an observation (nurtured by two mentors for whom I remain most grateful, Professor Stephen Heppell and Lord David Puttnam). That schools are responsible for efficient administration, for empowering and developing teaching staff, so that they can engage, promote and support the teaching of children and helping them fulfil their learning aspirations. However, this was then, and there still remains something missing, the empowerment and engagement of parents. Parents as mentors, parents as advocates for education of their children, and fundamentally a joined-up system whereby parents have access to and engagement training in leveraging digital assets and resources to complete the four-part collaboration in education being Administration, Teachers, Students and Parents that completes the circle and truly fulfils the potential and aspirations of each cohort. Back to today, homeschooling is now a necessity not an option, and even as schools open up again, is it not time to meet the challenges of a joined-up process for the four cohorts? Why waste a pandemic, when the opportunity, the need, the aspiration of all can be deployed and escalated to improve learning outcomes for all school students. Which is fundamentally why I advocate anything less than a B2B2C (Business to business to consumer/student) engagement for education technology is less than desirable.

We will return to this B2B2C model numerous times. Education technology has generally been built for institutions, fundamentally because they are the major budget holders or decision makers. However, in today’s world of distributed networks, homeschooling and extending teaching and learning beyond the classroom is there not a challenge to put the pupil, the student, the learner, at the centre of education technology build, development and deployment? There will be many voices shouting at me at this point, “of course we do that”, “we have always done this”, when in fact few education companies have achieved this objective. There are some examples of ones who have achieved this or are being built to deliver better engagement in this challenge.

Utter. Utter is an English language APP, India engagement and deployment, with over 5m users, each with a personalised learning journey. The technology is predominantly a “smart chatbot”, mobile deployed, agile and intuitive. Where they as a company excel is in their deep understanding of “Digital Pedagogy” (a subject we will revert to in future articles under impact audits). Consider also how this plays to TELCO companies, the distribution model at scale, light, easy to deploy and infinitely scalable into other subject and domain opportunities.

Kahoot. A Digital APP and platform established commercial education business, extensively deployed, and a mainstay in education technology engagement worldwide. I am privileged to be friends of the Founders who I met at the earlier stages of their roll out (and questioned whether this would scale). They have more than delivered against their promise, as one of, if not the leading personalised education application deployed worldwide.

SalesForce Education Cloud. Really impressive development in the current education ecosystem whereby their robust and proven CRM model, established in Enterprise, is now being deployed at scale to manage the Digital Identity of the student. By default providing the student with a secure, managed and evolving management of their individual and personalised learning journey, records and resources. Consider also that SalesForce has Tableau Software as a portfolio business, then you have the most powerful and flexible data analytics modelling capability as a powerful resource.

There was a really interesting interview with Prof. Scott Galloway at ASU/GSV Conference in the fall (Sep 24, 10:30 AM-11:15 AM PDT: A Conversation with Scott Galloway). Where he made the case for the dispersion of students at University or at Colleges (predominantly in the USA, but applies globally), with their education being better managed remotely rather than on campus. Many Universities and Colleges are still grappling with this challenge, although technology development to support this distributed network has existed for some years. The problem that I see in this area is predominantly to do with a deep understanding of engaging digital pedagogy, which I touched on previously. Together with what is increasingly becoming a major problem, that being the wellbeing and/or the mental health of students. The later point has always existed, whether on campus or within remote learning. There is a significant movement addressing what are generally referred to as soft skills, together with the cognitive understanding of students within their personal learning journey. Which brings me back to the central discussion of building B2B2C technology, with the “C” being the critical touch point. An example of a technology business meeting this structure:

Area9 Rhapsode™Capable. Area9 is a successful and significant Adaptive Learning platform, an LMS capability with a superior and powerful adaptive engine. In development in 2020 and beginning to scale into market in 2021 Capable is their next generation product-market-fit platform engineering. I and colleagues at EDT Partners believe Capable solves two critical challenges. Firstly bringing adaptive learning to the individual student more efficiently than other similar platforms. Secondly, within the technology stack the technology monitors and impacts on the wellbeing aspects of the individual, the soft skills personalisation, and ultimately the digital identity management and remarkable personalisation of education for the student within the institution, and remotely for distributed networks. Deployed within Education Institutions, equally immersive and engaging for Enterprise and their distributed networks, when many of us are not actively returning to the office.

Whether you are a school, university, college, business school, medical school, publisher of education content, a dedicated training company, or professional development organisation, an Enterprise, there is a strong case to answer and a huge opportunity to leverage, construct, deploy and engage your student or workforce adopting a B2B2C model and application. With the consumer, the student, engaged, providing them with their personal learning journey, their dedicated repository of knowledge, and contextual search.

We at EDT Partners work closely with many companies at the cutting edge of these technologies. As the author of this brief perspective I welcome constructive feedback, and would be pleased to discuss these assumptions, views and research, in debate on Clubhouse, or privately. Feedback always welcome. This article first published in Medium.

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***Disclosure: All the opinions here are solely those of the original author. From time to time, there may be companies and initiatives mentioned here that are either partners or that have engaged with EDT Partners or its consultants at some point in time. Salesforce.org and Area9 belong to this category.
Alan Greenberg is also an advisor to Utter app.

Alan Greenberg | Venture Partner at EDT Partners
Formally Director Apple Education | Education Podcasting + iTunes U.
Advisor to Education Technology portfolio companies in London, Berlin, Beijing & Palo Alto.

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