Education Technology: Looking Back on 2012, and 2013 Predictions

2013 Predictions

Yesterday, Christopher Dawson and I recorded our yearly review:ed episode, checking back on our 2012 predictions, talking about our big stories in education, and trying to predict what might happen in 2013. We spent 1.5 hours talking, and here is a wrap-up of the main points we covered.

MOOCs and Anti-MOOCs

Well, I guess no one in the edtech space was able to avoid covering MOOCs in one way or another. It’s quite impressive how quickly trends catch on these days, as back in January 2012 MOOCs were basically unknown to a wider audience. Today they are all the hype.

I have written my fair share on this topic, but I guess there is more to come in 2013, especially as the platforms are getting to the point where they need to show some traction and evidence that their model works — not only from an educational point of view, but also from a business perspective.

My prediction is that the latter will get MOOCs into some hot water this year, similar to what we have seen with popular but unprofitable social media services after huge funding rounds. Investors want to see revenue, and in 2013, MOOCs might have to get much more aggressive in terms of how generate money.

A recent article in the Seattle Times shared some interesting numbers from courses that the University of Washington offered through the MOOC platform Coursera (with the option to pay about $1000 for the credit version of the otherwise free courses). I have to say that the conversion rate is very low, and if this becomes the overall trend, then I don’t see how MOOCs could build a viable business model based on that.

Therefore, selling student data or making other kinds of upsells may be on the radar, with the usual consequences of user backlash about privacy concerns and so on. All in all, 2013 might become the fly or die year for some.

On the other, hand Chris and I predict the rise of what we call anti-MOOCs, like Semester Online by 2U and a consortium of top-tier universities. Reversing the trend of massive, open and free, these anti-MOOCs go the exact opposite way and offer intimate, closed and high-priced online learning experiences similar to one a student might get on campus.

This is especially interesting for universities and colleges in the midfield, as they are most threatened by free and open alternatives. They might not have the necessary branding to attract students who can otherwise choose from courses from the well known universities that Coursera, Udacity and edX offer. Therefore, a very personalized and high-end experience might be a viable alternative for them, as it also does not compete with their on-campus offerings.

Edtech Bubble and Series A Crunch

Another hot topic at the end of 2012 was the edtech bubble and the vivid discussion of whether or not it exists among edtech bloggers and journalists. Again, I gave my opinion on the matter here on edCetera, but something we did not cover in the discussion was the “Series A Crunch.”

This is a topic that made waves in the technology space, predicting that thousands of startups will burn out and die this year because there will be no one in Silicon Valley to invest a Series A round (most of those companies affected are seed funded apps and social plays). Whether or not this  is good or bad, and whether it might result in a frosty investor climate as angels who will eventually lose their initial investment this way are not going to invest in seed rounds again, will play out this year.

The question for us in education is of course whether we are facing the same issue, maybe even harder. Though the education technology market is still hot there are far less investors and potential exits from established education players available. With the rise of specialized edtech incubators, Startup Weekend Edu and other ways to get small projects off the ground there is the question how many of those small edtech startups will be able to raise a second round this year.

I predict that it won’t be that bad in the end, at least not yet. However, some of the edtech startups that don’t show enough traction or simply lag a viable business model will go the way of the dodo.


2012 was another interesting year for Pearson, as the publisher continued to invest heavily in its own future. There were acquisitions, partnerships with innovative startups, sponsorship of the Startup Weekend EDU, and product launches like Blue Sky.

Although the general perception of Pearson is not always favorable in the education community, no one can doubt that their overall strategy is probably the one of the most interesting and maybe the most successful of a classic publisher that fights for relevance in the coming decades. Another one is (was) McGraw-Hill Education, and we will have to wait and see how much of this spirit will carry over under their new owner.

I think it is safe to say that Pearson will continue on its path in 2013, which also makes the publisher one of the possible providers of a soft landing for burned out edtech startups.

Security and Health

Two verticals that Chris and I think will grow quite a bit in the coming year are security and health education. After the tragic events in Newtown and the different options that are now being discussed, parents and teachers are still left with a heavy need of security in schools. In 2012, we have all heard stories ranging from tracking software on smartphones, drones that follow students to their buses, RFID chips, and so on. This security arms race will probably gain even more traction in 2013.

Personally, I see a big trend in health education. It already started about two years ago in Silicon Valley startups (where else), where founders who are aware of their own health and fitness want their employees to be more healthy and self-aware as well.

There are many reasons for this trend. More and more studies show that a healthier diet and at least some kind of exercise routine or standing desks have some significant impact on the performance of employees. Consequently, it makes sense to invest in natural and organic meals for employees as well as possibilities to work out.

The second reason is the rise of cost in health care. It makes up a huge chunk of each startup’s cost; and each worker who is sick has an impact on the overall performance as startups usually have small teams in which everyone is needed.

With applications and devices that track our health and fitness and give personalized advice on what we need to do to get more healthy, there is no excuse left. Do you really want to say, “No, boss, I prefer to be unhealthy”? This is a decision that would probably harm the company, and I guess that we are going to see some hires and fires based on lazy and unhealthy employees in 2013. And I don’t think that they will get much sympathy from judges, as they are a general burden to the health care system.

2013 might be the beginning of the end of the overweight IT guy who lives in the dark server room surviving on pizza, Coke and World of Warcraft.

What are your predictions for 2013? Anything we missed? Leave your suggestions and ideas in the comments below.


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