EdTech: Innovation in education
John Leonard, head of Technology Finance at Wells Fargo Capital Finance, shares how problem-solving through tech has crossed over to the classroom.
The education sector is in the midst of unprecedented technology adoption, and remaining on top of the most innovative trends is paramount to any EdTech-focused team's success. John Leonard, head of the Technology Finance team at Wells Fargo Capital Finance, knows this well and shares his perspectives on how the impact of problem-solving through tech in our daily lives has crossed over to the classroom.
There is an intense race to build convenient, robust, one-stop technology solutions for the K-12 and higher education market, and there's little doubt administrators and teachers prefer innovative products that allow them to enter data once and apply content across a wide variety of student-, educator- and parent-facing applications. However, educational institutions don't want to be steamrolled into buying more technology than they need — or be so invested in one system that they can't take advantage of emerging technologies that benefit students.
John Leonard, Head of Technology Finance for Wells Fargo, has noticed a trend towards consolidated solutions in both the classroom and administrative offices, but believes the current best-of-breed point solutions can also benefit administrators, educators and students.
"Consolidation is not unique to the EdTech space, and there's a general push-pull that exists in that consumers of software will continue to assess ease of use for a single solution vs. a compilation of best-of-breed offerings. You can adopt the best tools for each discrete problem you're trying to solve for, but when you roll them out across an entire school district, college or university, you'll likely end up with a lot of individual point solutions that are difficult to manage efficiently."
"That said, providing dynamic, integrated tools can enhance the educational experience and help promote effective measurement and accountability in the classroom."
And measurement and accountability have grown increasingly important. Since 2000, when the first Student Information Systems ("SIS") emerged, the US government has escalated required measurements of student, teacher and curriculum performance. Parents are not only demanding "school choice" but also real data about the quality of programs provided at schools they're considering.
"A lot of these tools are enabling parents to gain more visibility into their child's learning development, and improving the relationship and transparency between students and teachers," says Leonard.
"The proliferation of IT and software in our daily lives has created a certain set of expectations that we've come to demand. Everyone has a very dynamic and available set of software tools they use in their home and professional lives so the expectation of sophisticated systems in their children's educational lives makes sense."
According to Leonard, about a decade ago, most EdTech solutions were geared towards the back office, but over the last few years, there has been a push into the front office and classrooms. With software becoming more common in the classroom, we're seeing a more dynamic learning environment that gives students more access to specialized learning tools. The potential for personalized and blended learning is enormous and students – regardless of age or stage – will be able learn at their own pace on their own time, at different locations and using methods tailored to the way they learn.
There's concern, particularly at the post-secondary level, about online classes and whether they can truly replicate the experience and what students learn by face-to-face interaction with professors and peers. Digital learning proponents will argue that EdTech provides a more effective or more stimulating medium for learning and has the advantage of delivering the latest and most relevant content to students more quickly and more cost effectively.
What does this mean for investors in educational technology?
"We're seeing a bit of a herd mentality in that tech investors identify certain industries ripe for investment, like education, and following initial investments in the space, momentum gathers and interest increases as consolidation opportunities arise. When an industry as a whole is a little slower to adopt tech, it creates compelling investment opportunities."
"You think about the economy in 20 years, and we can't rely solely on past practices and resources. Technology will be a really, really critical component moving forward in education."