Learning Strategies

Education Elements Retools

By Betsy Corcoran     Apr 30, 2013

Education Elements Retools

Predicting the tempo of an emerging market--especially how fast it moves and what customers will be willing to pay--is hard. Just askEducation Elements.

Last week, the San Carlos-based startup company, which has been a leader in helping schools adopt "blended learning," let go asignificant portion of its sales force. Anthony Kim, chief executive and founder of the company, declines tocomment on the scope and numbers involved in the layoff. But while the companyemployed 45 people a year ago, it's now down to 23. The majority of last week'slayoffs came from the sales staff.   

"We thought the market would be different in terms ofthe demand side," Kim told EdSurge in an interview. Translation: A yearago, Ed Elements bet that 300 or more schools across the US would be buildingblended learning programs and potentially 200 would be using its services. Now "we're building capacity for about 100 schools," Kimsays.

Restructuring the sales team, Kim says, should not affect EdElement's current customers. So far, school leaders reached by EdSurge agree.

The restructuring comes at a poignant moment for Ed Elements, which counts NewSchools Venture Fund as an early investor. At last year's NewSchools summit, Ed Elements' Anthony Kim was honored as the "entrepreneur of the year." This year's conference takes place this week.

Ed Elements got its start in late 2010 by advising schoolson how to create "blended learning" programs. Kim worked closely, forinstance, with KIPP Empower Academy in Los Angeles to create a blended learningprogram for grades K-1 that became a model for many other schools. (Here's anoverview from the Innosight website.)

Under Kim, Ed Elements developed a two-part offering for schools:advisory services aimed at helping schools create blended learning programs andselect digital curriculum, and a piece of technology designed to be a dashboardthat pulls together multiple, independent curriculum products, which it calls a"HybridLearning Management System."

Ed Elements spent significant time working with schoolsaround how to boost academic achievement, doing everything from evaluating how schools handletheir "bell schedules," how they integrated new tools into teaching practices and how theytrained their staff to use the data from the tools. 

At the same time, Ed Elements worked on its software product byweaving independent digital curriculum products (such as Pearson, CompassLearning, and Dreambox) into asingle dashboard. That means a student (or teacher) can log into products via the Ed Elements dashboard with one (or two) clicks. The dashboard also presents a portion of the assessment data collected by the digital curriculum products, again in an integrated view. 

Many teachers and schools speak well of Kim and Ed Elements, which have worked hard to build school leaders' understanding that "implementing blended learning" is far more complex and involves a nuanced understanding of teaching than, say, installing a smart board or building a computer lab.

Even so, Ed Elements' services are not cheap. In addition, some teachers have grumbled that the portfolio of products supported by Ed Elements has been a bit narrow. And other teachers are finding that they want the finer-grain reports that digital curriculum products deliver rather than the higher-level overviews from Ed Element's HLMS.

The company is working hard to address these points. In mid April, Ed Elements boosted the number of productsthat it supports to more than 30. (Partners also include tools such as Nearpodand Kickboard. Seethis release for a full list.) By September, it expects to grow thatcollection to about 40 companies--at least two choices for the core curriculumfor grades K through 12. (Some packages, particularly for high school students,offer multiple subjects.) Schools can chose to use whatever best fits theirneeds; Ed Elements does not collect fees from vendors for supportingtheir products. "We've been really integrated blended teachingenvironments and solving that across partners," Kim says. "That'swhat schools have said they're interested in."

The Ed Elements team has grown quickly. In October 2011, the company announcedit had raised $2.1 million in seed venture money; that was followed by a $6.4million round announced in March 2012. Kim says he expects to do another round of fund raisingbefore the end of 2013.That funding fueled a big growth spurt at Ed Elements, particularly on the sales and support side. 

What helped drive Ed Elements'--and its investors--enthusiasm for growth were expectations around the last award of the federal government's Race ToThe Top program--this one, aimed directly at encouraging school districts to deliverpersonalized learning. The available funding pool was $400 million. By the time the application window closed, the US governmenthad received 371 applications--involving 1,189 school districts.  The government suggested that it wouldaward between 15 to 25 recipients (typically involving multiple districts).

By last December the government announced its grantees: 16applications, involving 55 school districts. And of those, Kim estimates thatonly half may be implementing fully "blended learning" models. The otherhalf are devoting their resources to other ways to deliver personalized learning, including heavy staff development. The government is also writing those checks only after the districts pass various milestones. (For instance, when districts learned they won in December, the government told them they had to submit a more detailed  "Scope of Work" by April 8 and would only be able to spend 10% of their total grant until that SOW was approved.)

"We're a firm believer in the market opportunity,"says David Sanchez, who leads product development and platform partnerships at Ed Elements."But figuring out exactly when it's going to break loose is hard."

At this point, Ed Elements is working with about 50 schools, Kim says. Itrecently won contracts to help two districts that won RTTT-D funding, as well. Kim hopes to double the number of customers by the autumn as schools begin implementing their plans.

But that's still significantly short of where the Ed Elementsteam had hoped to be.

As part of restructuring its costs, Ed Elements will work withlocal education providers to do sales and outreach. It has struck deals witheducation service provides in four geographies: Pennsylvania, NewEngland/Massachusetts, Maryland and the southeastern US/Florida area.

A year from now, Kim and Sanchez expect that Ed Elements may lookmore like a classic product company than a services business. The product, itshybrid LMS, will be a tool that Kim and Sanchez believe will help districtsmove forward as they invest in more digital curriculum.  Districts--rather than schools--areincreasingly a bigger part of Ed Elements customer base, Kim adds. That's keyas Ed Elements aims to serve a larger proportion of schools in a district--notjust ones that identify themselves as "innovative," he says. 

 "Themarket is still very slow to adopt change," Kim says. "Our clients are some of the early adopters. We expect significantly more districts across the country to adopt personalized and blended learning models in 2014."


Learning Strategies

Education Elements Retools

By Betsy Corcoran     Apr 30, 2013

Education Elements Retools

Predicting the tempo of an emerging market--especially how fast it moves and what customers will be willing to pay--is hard. Just askEducation Elements.

Last week, the San Carlos-based startup company, which has been a leader in helping schools adopt "blended learning," let go asignificant portion of its sales force. Anthony Kim, chief executive and founder of the company, declines tocomment on the scope and numbers involved in the layoff. But while the companyemployed 45 people a year ago, it's now down to 23. The majority of last week'slayoffs came from the sales staff.   

"We thought the market would be different in terms ofthe demand side," Kim told EdSurge in an interview. Translation: A yearago, Ed Elements bet that 300 or more schools across the US would be buildingblended learning programs and potentially 200 would be using its services. Now "we're building capacity for about 100 schools," Kimsays.

Restructuring the sales team, Kim says, should not affect EdElement's current customers. So far, school leaders reached by EdSurge agree.

The restructuring comes at a poignant moment for Ed Elements, which counts NewSchools Venture Fund as an early investor. At last year's NewSchools summit, Ed Elements' Anthony Kim was honored as the "entrepreneur of the year." This year's conference takes place this week.

Ed Elements got its start in late 2010 by advising schoolson how to create "blended learning" programs. Kim worked closely, forinstance, with KIPP Empower Academy in Los Angeles to create a blended learningprogram for grades K-1 that became a model for many other schools. (Here's anoverview from the Innosight website.)

Under Kim, Ed Elements developed a two-part offering for schools:advisory services aimed at helping schools create blended learning programs andselect digital curriculum, and a piece of technology designed to be a dashboardthat pulls together multiple, independent curriculum products, which it calls a"HybridLearning Management System."

Ed Elements spent significant time working with schoolsaround how to boost academic achievement, doing everything from evaluating how schools handletheir "bell schedules," how they integrated new tools into teaching practices and how theytrained their staff to use the data from the tools. 

At the same time, Ed Elements worked on its software product byweaving independent digital curriculum products (such as Pearson, CompassLearning, and Dreambox) into asingle dashboard. That means a student (or teacher) can log into products via the Ed Elements dashboard with one (or two) clicks. The dashboard also presents a portion of the assessment data collected by the digital curriculum products, again in an integrated view. 

Many teachers and schools speak well of Kim and Ed Elements, which have worked hard to build school leaders' understanding that "implementing blended learning" is far more complex and involves a nuanced understanding of teaching than, say, installing a smart board or building a computer lab.

Even so, Ed Elements' services are not cheap. In addition, some teachers have grumbled that the portfolio of products supported by Ed Elements has been a bit narrow. And other teachers are finding that they want the finer-grain reports that digital curriculum products deliver rather than the higher-level overviews from Ed Element's HLMS.

The company is working hard to address these points. In mid April, Ed Elements boosted the number of productsthat it supports to more than 30. (Partners also include tools such as Nearpodand Kickboard. Seethis release for a full list.) By September, it expects to grow thatcollection to about 40 companies--at least two choices for the core curriculumfor grades K through 12. (Some packages, particularly for high school students,offer multiple subjects.) Schools can chose to use whatever best fits theirneeds; Ed Elements does not collect fees from vendors for supportingtheir products. "We've been really integrated blended teachingenvironments and solving that across partners," Kim says. "That'swhat schools have said they're interested in."

The Ed Elements team has grown quickly. In October 2011, the company announcedit had raised $2.1 million in seed venture money; that was followed by a $6.4million round announced in March 2012. Kim says he expects to do another round of fund raisingbefore the end of 2013.That funding fueled a big growth spurt at Ed Elements, particularly on the sales and support side. 

What helped drive Ed Elements'--and its investors--enthusiasm for growth were expectations around the last award of the federal government's Race ToThe Top program--this one, aimed directly at encouraging school districts to deliverpersonalized learning. The available funding pool was $400 million. By the time the application window closed, the US governmenthad received 371 applications--involving 1,189 school districts.  The government suggested that it wouldaward between 15 to 25 recipients (typically involving multiple districts).

By last December the government announced its grantees: 16applications, involving 55 school districts. And of those, Kim estimates thatonly half may be implementing fully "blended learning" models. The otherhalf are devoting their resources to other ways to deliver personalized learning, including heavy staff development. The government is also writing those checks only after the districts pass various milestones. (For instance, when districts learned they won in December, the government told them they had to submit a more detailed  "Scope of Work" by April 8 and would only be able to spend 10% of their total grant until that SOW was approved.)

"We're a firm believer in the market opportunity,"says David Sanchez, who leads product development and platform partnerships at Ed Elements."But figuring out exactly when it's going to break loose is hard."

At this point, Ed Elements is working with about 50 schools, Kim says. Itrecently won contracts to help two districts that won RTTT-D funding, as well. Kim hopes to double the number of customers by the autumn as schools begin implementing their plans.

But that's still significantly short of where the Ed Elementsteam had hoped to be.

As part of restructuring its costs, Ed Elements will work withlocal education providers to do sales and outreach. It has struck deals witheducation service provides in four geographies: Pennsylvania, NewEngland/Massachusetts, Maryland and the southeastern US/Florida area.

A year from now, Kim and Sanchez expect that Ed Elements may lookmore like a classic product company than a services business. The product, itshybrid LMS, will be a tool that Kim and Sanchez believe will help districtsmove forward as they invest in more digital curriculum.  Districts--rather than schools--areincreasingly a bigger part of Ed Elements customer base, Kim adds. That's keyas Ed Elements aims to serve a larger proportion of schools in a district--notjust ones that identify themselves as "innovative," he says. 

 "Themarket is still very slow to adopt change," Kim says. "Our clients are some of the early adopters. We expect significantly more districts across the country to adopt personalized and blended learning models in 2014."


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