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EdTech Thoughts 1/6 - 2/12
Investing in dyslexia
The Eagles lost the Super Bowl this evening. Please be kind to your Philly colleagues as they nurse their cheese whiz hangovers tomorrow.
Additionally, next weekend is the President’s Day long weekend here in the US, so this newsletter will come out Monday rather than Sunday.
On to the news!
Funding / M&A
Marker Learning raises $15M: New York-based Marker Learning evaluates learners for dyslexia via both B2C and school partnerships. Dyslexia affects far more people than you’d expect - 40 million Americans have dyslexia, though only 2 million are formally diagnosed. Those 2 million are a high-powered bunch - composing over 50% of NASA employees and as much as 35% of entrepreneurs, including Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Henry Ford, and Charles Schwab. And Sir Richard Branson, an investor in this funding round.1
Pebble raises ~$6M: London-based Pebble, founded in 2021, is a relatively new aggregator of childcare centers and children’s activities in the London area. The funding will be used to expand Pebble’s reach to the rest of the UK.
HowNow raises ~$5M: London-based HowNow offers an employer-focused learning management system (LMS). The LMS market is extremely crowded, but HowNow has Pearson on its side as an investor. The company joins Pearson’s growing portfolio of workforce-focused investments and acquisitions, including Springboard, Knowledge to Practice, Talespin (which also had an announcement this week), Velocity Career Labs, Faethm, and Credly.2
Cusmat raises $3.5M: Bengaluru-based Cusmat provides an employee training platform focused specifically on the industrial industry and counts many of India and Southeast Asia’s largest industrial companies as customers.
BlueLearn raises $3.5M: Bengaluru-based BlueLearn helps early-career professionals find skill-appropriate professional development groups. I haven’t been able to wrangle it into a full-fledged thesis yet, but I am convinced that there is a lot of opportunity in harnassing peer/social interactions for learning, particularly as a counterbalance to all the new advancements in AI.
Synthesis School raises an undisclosed amount of funding: Los Angeles-based Synthesis School provides a game-based STEM curriculum to kids aged 8-14. The rationale for the round is a bit hard to interpret without an amount raised - it could be opportunistic or a down round. What we do know is that the raise comes less than a year after the company raised $12M and appears to come exclusively from a family office.
Imagine Learning acquires Winsor Learning: Scottsdale-based Imagine Learning is the increasingly-large K12 publishing roll-up led by Jonathan Grayer (the guy who led Kaplan’s dramatic expansion in the 90s and 00s). Bloomington-based Winsor Learning provides Imagine with a 4,000-district presence in the dyslexia intervention market, which, as we discussed 6 bullet points above, is really big.
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I am old enough to remember when General Assembly out-competed the bootcamp 1.0 market by pivoting towards shorter, weeklong (and even weekend) courses. The company continues to invest in a variety of course lengths, headlined by this week’s announcement that, via a partnership with Interapt (one of the few original bootcamps who eschewed venture funding), they will begin offering 2-3 year apprenticeships to prospective students.
A significant portion of the last ~5 years in EdTech venture investing has been developing platforms and services for employers to support frontline workers. This is a good thing! Academic and professional development opportunities for this population are better now than they have ever been. The next level is moving the needle on the number of frontline workers who transition to corporate roles.
With the rise of test-optional admissions, a new way to filter college applicants was sort of inevitable and I expect we will read a lot more about it after the next college admissions cycle. Whether you choose standardized testing or a portfolio or transcripts and extracurriculars, institutions are going to look for, and find, ways to filter students. I don’t have a good solution other than to be on the lookout for solutions that help reduce bias in this filtering process.
Inside Higher Ed’s headline - China Bans Overseas Online Colleges - really threw me off on this one. With the caveat that it is hard to feel certain about anything related to the China market after 2021’s for-profit tutoring ban, this “ban” actually appears to be a return to normal.
Pre-COVID, China had a program in place where the government "certified" students who traveled abroad to enroll in in-person, post-secondary programs.3 The government did not certify students in online programs from international universities, though students could enroll in them if they wanted to. From 2020 until this month, the Chinese government amended their certification standards to allow for students to earn overseas degrees online. With the resumption of travel into and out of China, the government is reverting to its pre-COVID policy, encouraging students to head back overseas to earn their degrees in person.
Before you jump to a conclusion, the key point here is not that homework isn’t graded, but rather that homework grades are separate from subject mastery grades. Instead of homework grades boosting a poor student’s scores into an adequate range or dragging a smart student’s scores into a lower range, homework becomes its own unit of measure for student responsibility.
Honestly, I didn’t know this was even a debate prior to reading this article, but I found the author’s argument compelling. I’m eager to read a good rebuttal of it.
Ahh, the Metaverse. According to this report from Singapore’s leading workforce development agency, 68% of business leaders surveyed claim that it is important for their company to adopt the metaverse to stay competitive. Unfortunately, only 6% have adopted it. The problem, you see, is the ROI. Employees have ideas for the metaverse, but they can’t prove that these ideas aren’t expensive and/or security risks.
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I love the rationale for why dyslexics make good entrepreneurs. Per the NYT, “We found that dyslexics who succeed had overcome an awful lot in their lives by developing compensatory skills," Logan said during an interview. "If you tell your friends and acquaintances that you plan to start a business, you'll hear over and over, 'It won't work. It can't be done.' But dyslexics are extraordinarily creative about maneuvering their way around problems."
There are probably others, but these were the recent investments that came to mind. The company does not appear to publish their portfolio online.
There may be a better translation than “certify” here, but I am trying to make this topic approachable to an interested-but-not-specialist audience. From what I understand, certification is important for certain jobs in China, particularly in the government, but not a requirement. I welcome feedback on both the term and my approach to explaining the topic!