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Online Education Post-COVID: What's Next For Investors?

Victoria Zavyalova Partner
·3 min read

Education technology became investors’ top priority during the COVID-19 pandemic. Will ed-tech still be an attractive investment once it’s over and in-person learning restrictions are lifted?

VCs are betting big on the future of remote learning. Ed-tech startups raised more than $16 billion globally in 2020, while Coursera’s market capitalization reached over $7 billion in April. In its latest batch, prominent accelerator Y Combinator had the largest number of ed-tech startups, investing in 14 solutions from around the world, including homework apps and teacher monetization.

But, as the dust settles, most learners could eventually get back to the “old normal.” Why? It turned out that online education just isn’t good enough.

A survey, conducted by McKinsey & Co on March 1, asked teachers to evaluate the remote learning experience. On a ten-point scale, where ten was “equivalent to in-person learning,” an overwhelming majority of American teachers gave online education a score of 6 or below when compared to in-person modes. Fifty-eight percent gave it a 4 or lower.

Young children, most likely, lost the most during the pandemic: a crucial time for their developing brains. Although older learners might have been able to adjust better, for younger ones, online education could not provide the engagement, support, and motivation that in-person learning does in early grades. And ed-tech startups are yet to solve this problem.

But the truth is that the ordinary school curriculum, whether in-person or online, may also not meet the child’s developmental needs. To be successful in our complicated world, children should be equipped with great communication skills and a certain degree of financial literacy, not just a solid foundation in STEM subjects.

What’s more, after a year in the pandemic, getting back to the real world and building meaningful connections may prove challenging for some children. Many of them spend too much time in social isolation instead of communicating with their peers, learning in-person skills. Can technology solve the problem that COVID-19 created?

A group of McKinsey alums believes this is possible. They created a new early education platform, EdCraft, for kids as young as 6-13 years old, to teach essential 21st-century skills, such as emotional intelligence and financial literacy.

The startup, which raised $1 million from a group of Silicon Valley-based angels in April, provides story-driven game-based learning courses, developed by the world’s top educators, including PhDs and Stanford graduates. According to Galina Kan, EdTech’s co-founder, EdCraft collected feedback from 130,000 users “to create a product that will help children excel in life, both personally and professionally.”

EdCraft also provides engaging content on STEM subjects and sex education. Parents can monitor their child’s course progress and receive weekly reports by email. To engage and motivate children, the startup worked with a Hollywood graphic designer to create 12 unique mascots: EduCat, Mousentist, Knowala, and others.

The mascot guides accelerate the gaming experience for the young students. “Thanks to animated storytelling, children see our learning courses as games or cartoons,” Kan said.

Remote learning might have been a necessary replacement for in-person experiences, but whether online education is a good investment or not will depend on the quality and purpose of tech products. If remote learning startups are able to help learners with their social integration and set them up for success at work and in life, then ed tech is here to stay.

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