2018: Macro-trends Matter More than Micro-trends
This is the month where we see a lot of predictions for the coming year. These predictions often center around emerging trends – or what the person making the predictions thinks is a trend. I always find this curious, since trends – by definition – take place over a number of months and years.
Trends seem to come and go these days, with only a few seeming to really stick.
A few years back, the big topic was online program management (OPM), arguably a trend that became a significant business vertical in the industry.
The following year, Education landed on the topic of “competency based education (CBE)” – at its best, this concept was amorphic and undefined. Was it to allow students to move forward through their coursework and prove that they mastered their course relevant competencies and skills at their own speed in a self-paced manner rather than being measured by “seat time”? Or was the focus of CBE to align academic learning objectives with workforce-relevant competencies to make sure that graduating students are ready for the workforce and possess competencies that match job descriptions? You be the judge, both interpretations are correct but how exactly do they correlate?
We also had “adaptive learning” as a buzzword trend, again with no clear common definition and often confused with “personalized learning.” If only someone would have called it “AI-supported tutoring”, then, we wouldn’t have to make it a 2018 trend.
One of last year’s big trend was workforce/skills training, and related to it, technologies that support the education workforce bridge. Makes good sense since education doesn’t end with graduation (especially with significant populations failing to graduate). Additionally, business enterprises tend to have deeper pockets than most schools, giving this type of education a deep pool of learners that can benefit.
But what does this mean looking forward for 2018 specifically? First of all, all of these trendy buzzwords remain relevant, even though chatter around them has receded. Reason is, it takes time to successfully implement innovation, and for those “trends” to take root and demonstrate efficacy and outcomes.
Secondly, let’s not forget the macro-trend that really stands out here, and has profound implications: the industry is going through a massive digital transformation towards becoming a technology sector. In many ways, this is redefining the industry, leveling the playing field and providing never-before-seen opportunities for newcomers to enter this highly lucrative space. What this means is that new edtech players are successfully competing against the old guard - legacy education publishers still struggling to find their footing.
The edtech industry is still relatively young and most of the edtech companies play below the $10m revenue mark, struggling for traction in a very fragmented marketplace. We are clearly still in the pre-consolidation phase (macro-trend).
We see a great deal of edtech experimentation by teachers, administrators, and schools – tire-kicking the newest innovations to see what works. Eventually, however, the resources for this approach will dry up, and schools will resist implementing different technologies that lack interoperability. As a result, they will increasingly look for products from companies that can provide fully integrated and secure end-to-end solutions. This will inevitably lead to industry consolidation, another macro-trend that is somewhere out there on the horizon.
Other areas I’m watching for 2018 include, AI-powered technologies, robotics, coding, and STEM active learning, just to name a few. Consolidation will impact these emerging areas as well.
2018 holds much promise for a great many edtech companies – as well as the students benefiting from that innovation. Smart companies will remain agile, lean, and keep their options open – you never know what opportunities (or threats) lie just around the bend.