The pandemic’s edtech boom won’t slow down anytime soon

It’s been a year since teachers and parents started considering questions like How do you get first-graders to sit still for Zoom classes? and Is there a safe way to hold a pandemic prom?

While there are still far more questions than answers regarding the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on kids and education, one thing is certain: There’s no going back when it comes to using technology in the classroom.

This week, Michal Lev-Ram and Brian O’Keefe, hosts of Fortune Brainstorm, a podcast about how technology is changing our lives, talk with guests about the ways in which technology will continue to play a role—and an increasing one—in education.

Education systems around the U.S. and elsewhere want teachers to be able to shift between online and in-person learning.

“Most teachers were not in a position for making a quick transition to remote teaching,” says Karen Kirsch Page, associate director of professional development at the Center for Technology and School Change at the Teachers College of Columbia University. “Many were not using learning management systems or class management systems, like Google Classroom, and many were not organized digitally.”

This isn’t the only problem prompted by pandemic-driven educational changes.

PowerSchool, which develops education technology for grades K through 12, has been around for a few decades. But COVID forced an “overnight shift in terms of need—both from a perspective of having more digital learning tools in the classroom, but also back-office systems doing enrollment online,” says PowerSchool CEO, Hardeep Gulati. The company added 5 million students on learning management system Schoology over the summer and going into the 2021–22 school year.

Gulati adds that PowerSchool is also working to help schools track students’ social and emotional well-being by watching participation and using surveys and cultural tracking tools.

But it is clear that existing platforms don’t work for every type of learner. Some students say that it’s hard to collaborate online, ask questions, and interact with classmates and teachers.

James Kim is a principal at Reach Capital, a venture capital firm that focuses on education. He’s also a former high school math teacher and college admissions officer. Kim says COVID didn’t invent the edtech space, but it definitely accelerated the pace of growth.

Global VC investment in education tech quadrupled from $4 billion in 2015 to $16 billion last year. But how will that money be used?

Kim says it will go into everything from innovation to early stage experimental companies to growth of more established brands.

“I would argue,” he says, “that, actually, the excitement appears to be across the board.”

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