Global Opportunities For EdTech

3 Strong Trends In Participant Responses

The global pandemic has not changed EdTech, but around the world it has mandated a massive shift of social norms governing the use of EdTech. I have been through countless job interviews and faculty meetings in which our topic was technology in the university classroom. Generally, older faculty wanted strict enforcement of no laptops and no phones policies, as the received wisdom is that they are distractions and counterproductive. Tech trepidation was even further magnified when it came to online classes, for many faculty the dissolution of the traditional classroom threatened community-building among teachers and learners, which is the essence of education.

As a millennial, for me the question has never been whether to adopt EdTech, but which ones we should and should not use. And for today’s generation of college students, they have been using their devices as learning tools since they were kids. Not using EdTech is counterintuitive to them.

Despite faculty reservations, the pandemic forced us to adopt the digitization of teaching and learning. Our adventures and misadventures of adapting have led to new perspectives. While EdTech does not replace face-to-face class and everyday campus interactions, it does create new varieties of teaching and learning which would not have been possible otherwise. We realized that not only could we establish new learning goals, but we had new tools to achieve them.

There were parallel developments in K-12, continuing education, and administration. This sea change was enabled by the falling costs of personal devices (e.g., Google Chromebook) and increasing internet accessibility. By the very nature of this network infrastructure, EdTech can be shared worldwide.

Teachers and learners everywhere should have access to the most globally competitive EdTech. Yet, as in most international exchanges, there are usually barriers. Representatives from 20 EdTech companies (mostly startups) throughout the United States and South America anonymously participated in a survey on how the pandemic is impacting their international operations and perspectives. 3 strong trends emerged.

1. The Normalization Of EdTech Is A Huge Global Opportunity

90% responded that to one degree or another, the shift to virtual connectivity has created new international opportunities. Participants reported accelerated growth in international sales, international usage in freemium models, paid conversion to premium models, more eCommerce, and expansions of foreign partnerships with both educational institutions and industry. Continuing education sectors are especially poised for rapid growth, the pandemic has vastly accelerated the demand for professional reskilling for the digital economy, such as the exigency for cloud computing.

This is a truly watershed moment in the history of education, for the first time EdTech is not only universally accepted but—in most instances—necessitated. Even after we return to our classrooms, this current wave of innovation guarantees that EdTech will be a major driver of the “new normal.” Those are the underlying conditions driving the global boom in EdTech.

2. Regulations Are The Largest External Barrier

90% of EdTech representatives reported that foreign regulatory barriers and complexity were a barrier to their internationalization, and half of them indicated that they were a large barrier. Half of respondents have concerns about intellectual property rights, and about one-third reported restrictions or requirements on forming partnerships or joint ventures, including foreign tax issues. EdTech companies with data-as-a-service can face data privacy restrictions. From a South American perspective, there is the additional burden that companies often must export to mitigate their national currency risk during these times of extreme uncertainty. Most of these are not insurmountable, just expensive, so the clearest way over these hurdles relates to the second common challenge to EdTech.

3. Building Out Organizational Capabilities Is The True Challenge

One respondent aptly summarized the dilemma: “Our largest barrier is opportunity cost—we’re expanding so rapidly in the US it’s hard to justify dedicating a lot of resources abroad.” This is true across many industries, but EdTech is particularly unique because education is highly variable by local customs and culture. That is, EdTech requires relatively high degrees of costly localization, including, adaption for different languages and educational standards, and building out infrastructure for marketing, delivery, sales, and support in foreign lands and languages. For these reasons, 70% of participants reported language and/or cultural barriers and 60% percent identified that their organization has insufficient internal capabilities.

How To Capture Global Opportunities In EdTech

Participants offered two common solutions: being strategic in foreign market selection and growing out initial foreign operations slowly. However, the findings in this study are perplexing, if the global opportunities for EdTech are rapidly growing, then why are so many companies discouraged by opportunity costs? The source of the discrepancy is that companies are probably using underestimates or pre-pandemic estimates of either their total addressable market abroad or their ability to penetrate it. This also implies that they have not uncovered partnerships that would lower customer acquisition costs. From this perspective, rather than opportunity costs of foreign expansion, companies are just as likely facing “opportunity penalties” for delaying foreign market entry. Therefore, the real challenge to the globalization of EdTech is a lack of knowledge about international markets, but as educators, we should be able to address that.