“Old Things in New Ways”
The majority of EdTech startups receiving venture funding are channeling their energies towards using technology to enhance or simplify long-standing teaching and learning practices—i.e. doing “old things in new ways.” In these settings, technology simply enhances usability and makes learning slightly more entertaining, rather than fundamentally disrupting the way education has been done for decades (i.e. doing “new things in new ways”). At the Venture Capital Summit in Education (in June 2011), 10 up and coming startups showcased their products and services to a large audience of angels, VCs and other investors. The table below shows the startups and the type of idea they developed.
As seen in the table above, the majority of the startups (7/10) at the summit are “old things in new ways” startups. It seems that most of their goals as entrepreneurs are to add value by enhancing the user experience of traditional methods of learning rather than bringing new methods of learning altogether.
To illustrate, Brainscape is a modern flashcard toolkit. It takes the “old” idea of using flashcards to study, adds a user-friendly interface and complex flash card algorithm to enhance the traditional flash card experience. Undoubtedly, this is a nifty application and something that may enhance the user experience significantly. It may even make a solid return for any VC firm backing the startup. Nevertheless, the startup is not a disruptive player that has the potential to fundamentally change how society learns.