Learning Apps Have Boomed in the Pandemic. Now Comes the Real Test.

After a difficult year between distance and person-to-person schooling, many students, teachers and their families feel burned by epidemic learning. But companies making digital learning tools in schools are enjoying coronovirus windfall.

According to a report by CB Insights, which tracks start-ups and venture capital, venture and equity financing for education technology start-ups increased from $ 4.81 billion in 2019 to $ 12.58 billion last year is.

During the same period, the number of laptops and tablets sent to primary and secondary schools in the United States nearly doubled to 26.7 million, according to figures from Futuresource Consulting, a UK market research company.

“We’ve seen a real explosion in demand,” said Michael Borham, a senior market analyst at Futuresource. “This is a massive, large-scale sea change out of necessity.”

But as more districts reopen for in-person instruction, the billions of dollars that schools and venture capitalists have sunk into education technology are about to test. Some distance education services, such as videoconferencing, can show their student audience a standing ovation.

“There’s definitely going to be a stir in the next year,” said Matthew Gross, chief executive of Newsella, a popular reading lesson app for schools. “I’m calling it ‘The Great Aid Tech Crunch’.”

Yet if the ad-tech market contracts, industry officials say there has been no change. The epidemic has accelerated the proliferation of laptops and learning apps in schools, he says, normalizing digital education tools for millions of teachers, students and their families.

In 1997, Michael Chesen, a veteran ad-tech entrepreneur, said, “It has allowed technology to easily adapt in education for five to 10 years.” Blackboard was co-founded, It now has one of the largest learning management systems for schools and colleges. “You cannot train hundreds of thousands of teachers and millions of students in online education and it is not expected to have a deep impact.”

Tech campaigners have long predicted that computers will replace education. The future of learning, included many promising, apps powered by artificial intelligence that will accommodate lessons to children’s abilities faster and can more accurately than their human teachers.

That robotic learning revolution has been slowed down in the coming years, as very few learning apps have shown them to be important. Improve student outcomes.

Instead, during the epidemic, many schools turned to digital devices such as videoconferencing simply to transfer traditional practices and the online program. Critics say the push to repeat the school day for remote students is only inequalities for many children facing epidemic challenges at home.

“We will never see it again in our lifetime, seeing a more powerful demonstration of the conservatism of educational systems” Justin reichAn assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who studies online learning, and recently wrote the book “Failure to dissolve: Why technology alone cannot change education. “

Apps enabling online interaction between teacher and students are reporting an extraordinary growth, and investors have followed suit.

Among the biggest deals, CB Insights said: XuoBang, a Chinese ed-tech veteran who provides online lessons and homework help for students in kindergarten through 12th grade, Raised a total of $ 2.35 billion Last year from investors including Alibaba and Sequoia Capital China.

Yuanfudao, another Chinese tuition start-up, raised the total $ 3.5 billion From investors like Tencent. And Kahoot, a quiz app From Norway, used by millions of teachers, recently raised $ 215 million from SoftBank.

In the United States, the largest recent ed-tech deals included start-ups that help teachers deliver online and grade assignments, lead lessons, or online class discussions. They include Newsella and NearPod, an app that many teachers use to create live interactive video lessons or take students on virtual field trips.

“A lot of learning is achieved through interaction between teachers and students, especially in K-12,” said Jennifer Carolan, a partner at Reach Capital, a venture capital firm focusing on education Which has invested in Nearpod and Newsella. “We are excited about these products that are really expanding the capabilities of classroom teachers.”

A number of ad-tech start-up reporting record growth before the epidemic had large-scale school audiences. Then last spring, as school districts switched to distance education, many education apps hit on a common epidemic development strategy: they temporarily offered their premium services to teachers for the rest of the school year.

“, Which was exposed to mass adoption,” says Tory Patterson, a venture capital firm that invests in education start-ups like Newsella. Once the school year was over, he said, ad-tech start-ups started trying to convert school districts into paying customers, and we looked at those proposals very widely.

By the end of December, schools had paid for 11 million student accounts on Newsella, an increase of nearly 87 percent from 2019. Last month, the start-up announced it was Raised $ 100 million. Now Newsella is valued at $ 1 billion, a milestone that may be common among consumer apps such as Instacart and Deliveroo but is still relatively rare for education apps aimed at American public schools.

Nerpod also recorded an exponential growth. After making the video lesson app free of charge, the start-up saw its user base grow to 1.2 million teachers at the end of last year – a five-fold jump in 2019. Last month, Nierpod announced it had agreed to be Acquired by renaissance, A company that sells educational evaluation software to schools for $ 650 million.

Some consumer tech giants who provided free services to schools also made profits, benefiting audiences and getting millions of students accustomed to using their product.

For example, Google Classroom, Google’s free class assignment and grading app, has skyrocketed audiences around the world. More than 150 million Students and teachers, from 40 million at the beginning of last year. And Zoom Video Communications says it has provided free services during the epidemic to more than 125,000 schools in 25 countries.

But can the tools that teachers have come to rely on for distance learning maintain their popularity, which will hinge on how useful apps are in the classroom.

Newsella, for one, has gained a dedication among teachers for her flexibility. The app lets them choose topical news articles or short stories for class discussion, with different versions of the text depending on a student’s reading level. The app also provided quick feedback to teachers on each child’s progress, said Mr. Grosz, Chief Executive Officer of Newsrela, warning them to students who need to pay attention whether they are online or in the classroom.

“Teachers have begun to realize which devices are actually designed for both the physical and remote classroom,” Mr. Gross said, “that works equally well in both settings.”

Nerpod, the video lesson app, also expects to maintain traction in schools, said Pep Carre, chief executive officer of the start-up. During the epidemic, teachers like Nessie haroldAn eighth-grade science teacher in the Houston area has used facilities to ask students to use drawing tools to select, make quizzes, or sketch the solar system – digital tools that provide both live classroom and remote instruction Work for

“It allows me to transmit lessons to all my learners, no matter where they are,” Ms. Harold said.

his A complaint: He cannot store more than a few lessons at a time on Nierpod because his school has not purchased a license. “It’s still pricey,” he said.

The future in education for enterprise services is less clear, such as Zoom, which was designed for commercial use and adopted by schools in need of an epidemic.

In an email, Zoom’s chief financial officer, Kelly Stackelberg, said he hoped educational institutions would invest beyond distance education to “communicate in a new way” – such as using Zoom for parent teacher association meetings , School board meetings and parent-teacher conferences.

Mr. Chasen, an ad-tech entrepreneur, is counting on it. He recently founded Class Technologies, a start-up that provides online course management tools – such as attendance taking and grading features – for teachers and corporate instructors holding live classes on the zoom. company Has raised $ 46 million One of Zoom’s early backers to investors, including Bill Tai.

“I’m not coming up with some new advanced AI methodology,” Mr. Chasen said of his new app for video classes. “You know what the teachers want?” He needed the ability to assign work in class, give a quiz, and grade it. “

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