EdTech Thoughts 11/14 - 11/20
A few announcements before we get to the links:
Late notice, but I’ll be in Boston tomorrow afternoon/evening and hoping to bring a few folks together. Respond to this email for details!
On 12/8, Penn’s Graduate Schools of Education is hosting their annual Research to Practice Bootcamp to help entrepreneurs and schools learn about and assess product efficacy. You can attend virtually, but there will be post-bootcamp margaritas at our house in South Philly for those who attend in person
It’s Thanksgiving week here in the US, so there will be no post next weekend. However, I’d love to chat if you have 2022 reflections and 2023 predictions in the next couple of weeks
On to the news!
Funding / M&A
Simplilearn raises $45M: Bengaluru-based Simplilearn provides university-branded professional upskilling courses to 2M+ learners. This funding round is interesting in the context of Futurelearn’s questionable viability, which seemed to suggest that sub-scale MOOCs were a tough business.1 I am curious if Simplilearn’s growth in certain geographies or content niches led to their investors’ bullishness
Speak raises $27M: Boulder-based Speak provides English Language Learning via an AI Tutor. The company, whose userbase is concentrated in Korea, has 100K+ active subscribers producing $10M+ in annual revenue. It has been a sneaky-big year for language learning. Chegg kicked things off last December with their $500M acquisition of Busuu (which featured prominently in this quarter’s earnings call), followed by Pearson’s May acquisition of Mondly, Preply’s $50M fundraise, and IXL Learning’s continued rollup of language offerings
Masai School raises $10M: Bengaluru-based Masai School is an online bootcamp provider focused on software development and data analytics. Founded in 2019, the company is relatively nascent, but has graduated 2,000 students
Beam raises $6.4M: New York-based Beam helps citizens access government financial aid. Formerly known as Edquity, Beam started as a platform for helping students access federal financial aid for attending university, but this round dramatically expands the startup’s vision of where the platform could be useful
Clusiv raises $2.25M: Austin-based Clusiv provides a digital training platform for blind and visually impaired (B/VI) people. The market for this type of training is larger than you might expect - there are 12M people in the US with a visual impairment that cannot be corrected with glasses, of whom 1M+ are legally blind. According to Clusiv, ~70% of this population is unemployed
Prof Jim raises $1.5M: San Francisco-based Prof Jim automagically translates educational materials into full-fledged courses. Prof Jim’s courses can feature relevant famous figures (like Jane Austen in an English class) or animated facsimiles of the course instructor. I encourage you to watch the sample videos on Prof Jim’s website, which do a good job showing the flexibility of the company’s technology
Achieve Partners acquires MasteryPrep: Baton Rouge-based MasteryPrep provides professional development services focused on “end-of-course exams” to K12 school districts. This acquisition is a bit of a zag towards high-stakes testing when many are moving away from it, but the thesis is grounded in the thirty states who currently mandate that students take the SAT or ACT (double the number who required the tests in 2014). More on the discourse around testing in the “Question of the week” section below
One Interesting Job
Academic Partnerships is an Online Program Manager (OPM) in the North American market owned by the Vistria Equity Group. The company recently hired industry veteran Fernando Bleichmar to double-down on growth and is now building out the broader executive team.
This is a great role for a mid-later career, revenue-focused executive hungry to build out their own set of KPIs and make an impact in front of a new leadership team.
One Interesting Job is not paid for or an endorsement of this newsletter by Academic Partnerships, but this section may be sponsored in the future.
General Atlantic considering buyout of Kahoot: I don’t love linking to rumors, but this story feels reflective of the broader EdTech market. Last year was a banner year for private equity fundraising and there are a lot of companies for sale right now. I do not know if this specific deal will happen, but I do expect more activity in the next 6 months, possibly with some big names involved
Yale, Harvard, and Berkeley Law Schools pull out of US News Rankings: I once compared college rankings to a food fight - glorious in theory, gross in practice. What’s a little odd about this move is that it is not an announcement that the schools will remove themselves from ALL rankings, just US News. The specifics of why this decision was made sound reasonable and perhaps could be admirable - Yale Law’s Dean mentions that the rankings disincentivize investment in public-interest fellowships and graduates entering Phd programs, among other things. However, the cynic in me thinks that this is not so much an ideological stance against rankings so much as a very public game of chicken over rankings methodology
Emeritus partners with edX for global distribution: One of the key details from 2U’s (parent company of edX) earnings call this quarter is the company’s focus on getting better leverage on prospective learners from the edX user base, especially relative to prospective learners 2U pays to acquire. This deal is an example of how that leverage does not have to come from 2U’s owned content portfolio. For Emeritus, I imagine 2U offered access to prospective learners at a better price than they could find elsewhere
Georgetown partners with Coursera for online Bachelor’s degree: this is not Coursera’s first online BA program, but it is the first BA I’ve seen from an “elite” university. I do not see any mention of a “class size” and the program is clearly designed for adult learners, which leads me to believe the program will be open-access. I’m curious to see what happens to an elite education brand when it attempts to scale by orders of magnitude
Question of the Week
Note: vote choices are anonymous
Results of last week’s poll: Something feels off in the conversation around admissions testing. We talk about moving away from using tests in admissions, yet, when it comes down to an individual decision, tests still seem to matter. Obviously this poll is non-scientific, but if anything, it is more generous to going grades-only than actual college admissions departments - which are ~50% test-optional, but only ~3% test-free.2
Ed Tech Thoughts is a short ( ~ 5 mins), weekly overview of the top stories in EdTech, with a few (hopefully interesting) gut reactions attached. If you enjoyed this edition, I hope you will subscribe and/or forward to your friends!
If I missed something, or there is a topic you’d like to learn more about, I encourage you to submit a story! Submissions can be named or anonymous
This deserves more nuance than I am providing here and I hope to come back to it in future posts. For now, consider that while Simplilearn has 2M+ learners, edX has ~50M and Coursera 100M+. The last datapoint I saw for Futurelearn was ~15M learners
Napkin Math! I used the 1750 test-optional and 85 test-free institutions as my numerators and 4000 US universities as my denominator