Resetting Education: The rebounding edtech ecosystem

Faith Merino · July 2, 2012 · Short URL:

Edtech is finally seeing a revival after the burst of the Internet bubble

The term “edtech” seems like an easy blanket term that covers all things “educational” and “technological.”  But a peek beneath the surface reveals a rich, blooming ecosystem of tech startups covering every possible angle of education, from individual learning styles and special needs to student response systems and professional development for teachers.

The edtech world is seeing something of a venture capital revival.  Education technology companies raised a total of $276 million across 60 deals in 2011, according to Dow Jones VentureSource.  That’s up from $177 million in 2010.  That doesn’t seem like much when you consider the fact that Twitter raised nearly three times that amount in 2011.

It certainly pales in comparison to the bygone days of the Internet bubble, when education technology companies raked in $534 million in 2000—the most money edtech companies had ever raised in a single year.  Naturally, a lot of those bubble-era startups went belly-up, primarily due to lack of adoption.  GSV Advisors estimates that of the 106 fundings of education companies that took place in 1999, over 75% failed to achieve adequate returns on their investments—or failed entirely. 

When you have a dial-up connection and a room full of emotionally volatile little people to manage, the last thing you want to do is try to figure out a new platform or device.  But we’ve come a long way in the post-bubble era.  With wider broadband access, cheaper technology, and new platforms made more intuitive by utilizing existing technology (like Facebook and cell phones), it’s much easier for students and teachers alike to adopt new technologies quickly and effectively.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a closer look at some of the new trends emerging in edtech that are causing the biggest stir and having the greatest impact on public K-12 education.  Among them are:

The flipped classroom

Essentially “flips” the traditional classroom experience by having students watch video lectures at home and then engage with the subject matter in the classroom.  The concept was popularized by Khan Academy (which was hailed by Bill Gates), and has since drawn other startups to the space, such as social learning platform Sophia LearningUdemy is another rising star in the video lecture space, and other education platforms have dabbled in offering video lectures, such as Grockit, which offers test prep video tutorials for SAT and MBA students.  YouTube also offers an expansive array of educational videos via YouTube EDU.

Adaptive learning

Learning technology that adapts to the student’s pace.  Also known as “personalized learning” or “individualized learning,” adaptive learning technology assesses students’ comprehension and identifies their weaknesses to tailor their workload to their individual learning goals.  Some of the startups in this space include Knewton, which raised $33 million in a Series D round last October, DreamBox Learning, and i-Ready, among others.

Social networks

Social networks for classrooms allow teachers, students, and parents to connect in secure systems.  Social networks for higher education, like Piazza, are a big hit, but K-12 social networks are a little trickier to implement.  Startups offering social networks for K-12 education include Edmodo, which just raised $11 million, OpenStudy, which was a finalist at Vator Splash LA last month, Grockit, and ePals.

Special needs

Tools and technology for special needs students and classrooms, which come with their own set of challenges, including IEPs (Individual Education Program), working with developmental delays, and classroom management issues.  Companies making headway in this space include Goalbook, DoTheData, MyAutismTeam, and more.

Student response systems

Handheld devices that allow students to provide instant feedback so that educators can gauge comprehension immediately.  The systems allow teachers to identify struggling students who might be too shy to answer a question in front of the class.  Startups like Renaissance Learning, iRespond, eInstruction, and Promethean World have developed “clickers” (some of which have been designed to be used just like you would text on a cell phone) that are being used in hundreds of thousands of classrooms across the country.


Web and mobile platforms that use gaming mechanics, puzzles, and fun cartoon characters to make the learning process entertaining.  Some of the most visible “edutainment” startups are those that have developed smartphone and tablet apps, which utilize touchscreen technology to allow kids to play interactive, educational games.  A few such startups include Stickery, ClassDojo, Kabongo, and Carrot Sticks, among many (many) more.

Teacher tools

A wide range of platforms and services designed to help teachers teach.  This space runs the gamut and includes everything from social networks for teachers to classroom management tools, professional development, lesson plan help, and more.  Companies include Engrade, ClassDojo, Gooru, LearnBoost, 19Pencils, BetterLesson, and more.

If you have a startup that falls into one of these categories, we’d love to hear from you.  You can get in touch at


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