Rethinking Education and Learning

“Direct to learner” (DTL) business models and start-ups that leverage online, mobile, AI and other technologies have been an area of much focus within the ‘Edtech’ sector for over a decade.

The late Professor Clayton Christensen had made the topic one of his core areas of focus in the last decade of his life with books including Disrupting Class and The Innovator’s University

Companies like Coursera, Udemy, DuolingoQuizletSkillshareCodecademy, Outschool and Lambda are just a few examples. 

Just this sample reaches hundreds of millions of learners all around the world each month. Many learners use these products for free. A small percentage of learners pay. And yet this portfolio will generate close to a half a billion dollars of revenue in 2020.

Another interesting thing about this portfolio is that none of these companies have spent a lot of capital building their businesses. They have all been very capital efficient and most are cash flow positive at this point.

So, what?

  • Direct to learner businesses are obviously very attractive for consumers and investors
  • They can serve a very large number of learners very efficiently
  • They can lightly monetize and yet produce massive revenues because of their scale
  • They don’t require a huge amount of capital to build

As they are competing with a sector which broadly, looks exactly the same as it did 100 years ago (schools, universities, training), the current pandemic will massively accelerate significant structural changes in the way people and companies learn, train and educate. 

The University segment in particular is in for a massive shock. I can’t see as much change happening in junior schooling (e.g. ages 3-7) mainly as the main job that these bodies do is child-care. I’m currently parenting a 3 and 4 year old and this is the main reason why I’m sweating on schools (safely) re-opening soon. 

I’ll share further thoughts on these topics in later posts.  

 

Online Home-Schooling

A few weeks ago I posted here about managing our kids schooling during the first week of schools closures during lockdown. That week didn’t involve specific structure from the schools as they weren’t set up for online.

Last week was the first week of online home-schooling for our 4 year old, Angus (our 3 year old Georgina is at nursery which is closed).

Here is broadly what they did Monday-Friday:

  • Microsoft Teams as the tech platform e.g. comms, activities, resources, calendar
  • 830-9am live class VC welcome led by the teacher
  • 3 x activities to complete per day, led by a parent (Literacy, Maths, Creative)
  • Take a photo or video of each activity deliverable and submit
  • 230-3pm live class VC, typically a story

In short, it was difficult to manage, although we did complete everything each day.

It certainly felt like it was online version of what they actually did in the class each day. This makes sense as the school has only had a few weeks to prepare.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see how it evolves. Obviously the power of online delivery enables different formats, customisation (e.g. advanced vs beginner learning), gamification, digital tools, apps, and other experiences.

Whether this happens (i.e. innovation) is probably unlikely unless lockdown continues for many more months. What is more interesting is whether some aspects of digital learning will be incorporated as part of physical classroom learning. We will wait and see.

Homeschooling

We are now one week into lock-down from Corona Virus. With schools closed and my consulting pipeline now zero, this has meant I’ve been on point with our 2 kids (aged 3 and 4) to manage the ‘homeschooling’. In summary, somehow it worked really well in that the kids didn’t kill each other, nor did I want to kill them, and nor did Lydia and I. It was only after day 4 that Lydia and reached for the wine (we assumed this would happen on day 1).

We knew that some structure would be needed – mainly to stop the kids and I from going insane – so I took each day as it came, but trying to balance three areas: learning, creativity, and physical activity.  Aside from some basic materials and ideas the school and nursery shared, I used what we had at home already, plus a few extra learning activity books I bought online. We got extremely lucky with warm spring weather every day which obviously helped.

Here’s very rough look at what each day entailed:

  • 9am – indoor physical activity (e.g. Youtube kids videos featuring Joe Wicks, street-dancing)
  • 930am – learning activities (e.g. reading, writing, drawing, stories)
  • 1030am – snack time and free-play (my favourite part)
  • 1115am – outdoor creative or physical activity (e.g. treasure hunt, school sports day)
  • 1230pm – lunch
  • 1pm – indoor creative activity (e.g. Lego building – my favourite part, puzzles)
  • 2pm – outdoor free-play (my favourite part)

Admittedly, after 3 days the structure certainly loosened and in line with the weather we spent more time outside in the garden.

In addition, we also did the following every other day:

  • Dog walk to the beach (remote area, obviously)
  • VC with family or their school friends
  • Watched BBC’s Our Planet series
  • Watched and listened to a book narration

A good idea which they enjoyed came from my mum. The kids did a ‘project’ where they chose a topic of interest to present back to her and my dad via VC. I helped them find ten facts, find physical items in the house, and find something for them to colour in. Angus chose dinosaurs, and Georgina chose princesses. Watching them (and my parents) use VC technology (FaceTime) to discuss their project findings was fascinating and obviously a basic observation of the future of learning. Next week it will be sharks and giraffes. And possibly wine much earlier than day 4.

If you have any homeschooling survival tips or tricks, please drop me a line at andrewessa@gmail.com