EdTech Bubble in the Approach, Not the Products

BUBBLE, BUBBLE, TOIL, & TROUBLE: K-12 market speculation is heating up with Renaissance Learning's eye-opening $1.1B acquisition-- and with it, more talks of the proverbial edtech bubble. But if Rethink Education's Matt Greenfield has any say, the only bubble is with institutionally-backed products that can't and shouldn't work:

"My answer is that there is a bubble in ideas that won’t work and a dearth of capital for ideas that can work. Let’s start with the ideas that won’t work. What type of ed tech have venture capitalists approached with the greatest enthusiasm and the largest piles of cash? The answer is new textbook solutions, including digital textbook platforms like Kno and renters of physical textbooks like Chegg, which just went public. Venture capitalists have put over $500 million into just the top ten companies in this sector."

Greenfield proceeds to explain how digital textbook platforms (there's 42 of them!)  were "obsolete at birth" only perpetuated by a business model that plays on investor's desire to avoid the messy business of institutional sales. But where he retains some level of tact for his VC brethren, E-Literate's Michael Feldstein doesn't hold back on the "Valley's obsession with disruption":

This is not the same kind of innovation that produced the iPhone. It’s essentially about identifying the slow fat rich kid and taking his lunch money. To be fair, it’s not that inherently mean-spirited, because presumably one takes the rich kid’s lunch money (or market share) by providing solutions that consumers prefer. But the point is that disruptive innovation is generally not about solving new problems with brilliant out-of-the-box ideas. It’s primarily about solving old problems better because the old solutions have gotten overbuilt.

If Greenfield and Feldstein have any say on the matter, it would appear that whatever bubble does or doesn't exist stems from a generally poor approach to education innovation from the start, not speculation on winners and losers at the end.  


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