Tiger Global invests in India’s Unacademy at $2 billion valuation

Unacademy, an online learning platform in India, has added two more marquee investors to its cap table. The Bangalore-based startup, which focuses on K-12 online education, said on Wednesday it has raised new funds from Tiger Global Management and Dragoneer Investment Group.

The funding round, which is between $75 million to $100 million in size (according to a person familiar with the matter; Unacademy has not disclosed the figure), valued the four-and-a-half-year-old startup at $2 billion, up from about $500 million in February this year when Facebook joined its list of backers, and $1.45 billion in September, when SoftBank led the round.

“Our mission from Day One has been to democratise education and make it more affordable and accessible. We have consistently built the most iconic products that deliver high quality education to everyone. Today, I’m delighted to welcome Tiger Global and Dragoneer as our partners in the journey. They are both marquee global investors with a history of partnering with innovative companies that are making an impact on people’s lives,” said Gaurav Munjal, co-founder and chief executive of Unacademy, in a statement.

Unacademy helps students prepare for competitive exams to get into a college, as well as those who are pursuing graduate-level courses. On its app, students watch live classes from educators and later engage in sessions to review topics in more detail. In recent months, the startup has held several online interviews of high-profile individuals, such as Indian politician Shashi Tharoor, on a range of topics, which has expanded its appeal beyond its student base.

The platform has amassed over 47,000 educators, who teach students in 5,000 cities in India in over 14 languages. Over 150,000 live classes are conducted on the platform each month and the collective watch time across platforms is over 2 billion minutes per month, the startup said.

“The opportunity to improve lives through online education is enormous because of its sheer accessibility. The Unacademy team has innovated rapidly to build a leading platform that is taking education to the farthest corners of India. We are very excited to partner with Unacademy and look forward to seeing it scale further,” said Scott Shleifer, Partner at Tiger Global, in a statement.

More to follow…

#apps, #asia, #edtech, #education, #funding, #india, #unacademy

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As edtech grows cash rich, some lessons for early stage

Last week, Udemy, an online learning marketplace, raised $50 million at a $3.32 billion valuation, up from a $2 billion valuation earlier this year. Language learning app Duolingo raised $35 million on a $2.4 billion valuation, up from a $1.65 valuation from earlier this year.

The valuation bumps for both Duolingo and Udemy underscore just how much investor confidence there is in edtech’s remote learning boom. Today, let’s examine some lessons early-stage startups can learn from late-stage edtech.

Content is no longer king

Edtech startups that have figured out how to convey information while engaging users have  a competitive advantage but, as the information economy booms, content is growing more and more commoditized. It’s an age-old question: Why would someone pay for information they could get for free on YouTube?

The solution for edtech businesses seeking growth is to make its content free and then charge for more specialized services. In Duolingo’s case, CEO Luis von Ahn says consumers are drawn to its freemium business model.

More than 97% of Duolingo users take lessons for free, but the remaining 3% account for nearly $180 million in bookings, a metric the company uses as a proxy for revenue. The company is “more than breaking even,” according to von Ahn.

Duolingo Plus, its paid product, is ad-free, offers offline access and more comprehensive tracking metrics. However, it’s not a world of a difference from the Duolingo free product — and that’s part of the point. Free users have saved the company paid acquisition, and widespread usage gives Duolingo insights on what they need to do on a week-by-week basis.

#corporate-learning, #edtech, #education, #fundings-exits, #re-skilling, #tc

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Kahoot drops $50M on Drops to add language learning to its gamified education stable

After raising $215 million from SoftBank to double down on the surge of interest in online learning, Kahoot has made an acquisition to expand the scope of subjects that it covers. The popular startup, which lets people build and share educational games, has picked up Drops, a startup that helps people learn languages by way of short picture- and word-based games. The plan is to integrate more Kahoot features into Drops’ apps, and to bring some of Drops’ content into the main Kahoot platform.

Kahoot, which trades a part of its shares through Norway’s alternative exchange the Merkur Market and currently has a market cap of over $3 billion, said in an announcement that it would pay $31 million in cash, plus up to $19 million more in cash and shares, based on Drops meeting certain targets between now and 2022. The deal is expected to close this month.

Drops makes three main apps. First in an eponymous freemium app, with free and paid features, that helps adults learn new languages, currently some 42 in all, with a focus on vocabulary, built around five-minute, “snackable” sessions. A second app, Scripts, is aimed at learning to read, write and sign, and it covers four alphabets and four character-based writing systems. A third, Droplets, is aimed specifically at language learning for learners aged between eight and 17. Altogether Drops has clocked up 25 million users.

Notably, one reason it might be off TechCrunch’s (and the startup world’s) radar is that it appears to have been bootstrapped up to now. (We are confirming that detail and will update when/if we learn more.) But it’s had some notable accolades, getting named app of the year by Google in 2018, for one.

The startup was founded in Estonia and has 21 employees and has no “head office” as such, with the team spread across Estonia, US, UK, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Hungary, Ukraine and Russia. This could be one reason why it’s kept costs low: in 2019 it reported gross revenues of $7.5 million (€6.3 million), with cash conversion of 40%.

For some more context, Kahoot says that in the last 12 months, more than 1 billion participating players in over 200 countries attended over 200 million Kahoot! sessions. That figure includes both educational users of its free services, as well as enterprises, which pay to build and use games (for example related to professional development or business compliance) on the platform.

“We are thrilled to welcome Drops to the expanding Kahoot! family as we advance towards our vision to become the leading learning platform in the world,” said Eilert Hanoa, the CEO of Kahoot, in a statement. “Drops’ offerings and innovative learning model are a perfect match to Kahoot!’s mission of making learning awesome through a simple, game-based approach. Drops and language learning becomes the latest addition to our growing offering of learning apps for learners of all ages and abilities. We will continue to expand in new areas to make Kahoot! the ultimate learning destination, at home, school or work, and to make learning awesome!”

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a bonanza for educational apps, which are collectively seeing a huge rush of usage in the last year.

For students, educators and parents, they have become a way of connecting and teaching at a time when physical schools are either closed, or drastically curtailed in what they can do, in order to help limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Businesses and other organizations, on the other hand, are leaning on e-learning as a way of keeping connected with staff, engaging them, and training them at a time when many are working from home.

It might seem ironic that at a time when travel has been drastically limited, if not completely halted altogether, for many of us, that language learning has seen an especially big boom.

Maybe it’s about making hay — that is, using the moment to get yourself ready for a time in the future when you might actually get to use your newly acquired foreign language skills. Or maybe it’s just another option for distracting or occupying ourselves in a more constructive way. Whatever might be the motivation or cause, the effect is that language learning is on the up.

Most recently, Duolingo — which incidentally also uses game-based concepts, where you enter a leaderboard for your learning and your daily sessions become winning streaks — raised $35 million on a $2.4 billion valuation, a huge jump for the company.

Kahoot cites figures that predict that digital language learning will be an $8 billion+ market by 2025 as describes Drops as “one of the fastest-growing language platforms in the world.”

“The entire Drops team has spent the last five years building a new way to learn language, and we’re just getting started,” said Daniel Farkas, co-founder and CEO, Drops, in a statement. “We’ve introduced millions of users across the globe to our playful, dynamic approach to language learning. Kahoot! is doing the same for all types of learning. We’re excited to work with such a mission-aligned company to introduce the Drops platform to game-loving learners everywhere.”

#apps, #drops, #education, #europe, #kahoot, #languages, #learning, #ma

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Gift Guide: 22 STEM toy gift ideas for every little builder

In 2020, parents and guardians are super spoilt for choice in the STEM toys gift department — which is great news in the midst of a pandemic that’s supercharging homeschooling needs. The category has matured to offer an interesting range of options for children across a wide span of ages, shedding some of its earlier reliance on Disney IP in favor of more original ideas. Below, we’ve rounded up 20+ gift ideas to get the (robotic) ball rolling.

It’s still true the educational value of ‘learn to code’ gizmos remains hard to quantify. And some price-tags can seem tricky to justify. But there’s no doubt a lot of thought has gone on creating child-friendly product design and into chunking and structuring the learning. The short story is there’s plenty to intrigue and inspire developing minds, even if there’s no guarantee you’ll have a future Googler on your hands. (But that’s okay; maybe your kid will invent the next paradigm shifting platform?)

It’s also good to see attention continuing to be paid to encouraging children to explore art & design, not just get their heads around engineering & science concepts. Maybe in the coming years we’ll get a little STEM ethics thrown into the mix — to further round-out the learning potential. While there’s clear value in kids understanding how digital tools work under the hood, helping the next generation appreciate that connectivity can change people’s behavior and reshape the world around them looks no less important a lesson to learn.

This article contains links to affiliate partners where available. When you buy through these links, TechCrunch may earn an affiliate commission.

Arcade Coder

Arcade Coder targets budding game designers (Image credit: Tech Will Save Us)

UK startup Tech Will Save Us’ Arcade Coder is a STEM toy designed for budding game designers. It takes the form of interactive gaming ‘tablet’ with an array of LED-lit buttons rather than a touchscreen — preloaded with a few retro games. But hook it up to its companion iPad app and kids get guidance on how to tweak gameplay and design their own games via a drag-and-drop learn-to-code interface.

Age: 6-10
Price: $120 from Amazon
Made by: Tech Will Save Us

Boolean Box

The BooleanBox has Raspberry Pi inside (Image credit: Boolean Girl)

The Boolean Box is a build-it-yourself Raspberry Pi Model 3-based computer designed with the help of girls in coding camps and school programs run by its not-for-profit maker — though it’s designed for kids of any gender. The Pi-powered machine runs Raspbian OS and comes preloaded with STEM-friendly software, including Scratch, Python, and Minecraft, so little coders can get to grips with block-based and more sophisticated programming languages once the computer has been put together. The kit also includes a breadboard for building electronics projects. (NB: The basic box needs an HDMI-capable TV to act as a monitor for the computer, or there’s a $300 bundle that comes with a monitor.)

Age: 8+
Price: $150 from Amazon
Made by: Boolean Girl

Botley 2.0 Coding Robot Activity Set

The battery-powered coding robot, Botley 2.0 (Image credit: Learning Resources)

For parents looking for screen-free STEM toys Botley 2.0 is worth a look. The battery-powered rolling-and-sensing programmable robot comes with a remote control for coding directional sequences (of up to 150 steps) via simple button pressing. There’s also a loops button to introduce the code coding principle of recycling a previous sequence.

Botley’s maker, Learning Resources, has updated the robot for 2020 with new interactions, color-changing eyes and night vision so it can carry on line-sensing in the dark. There are also new programming sequences for kids to discover that transform the bot into fresh characters — such as a train, police car, ghost and frog — expressed via different sounds and movements. The kit also includes a 78-piece activity set so kids can devise obstacle courses for Botley to navigate.

Age: 5-10
Price: Around $70 from Amazon
Made by: Learning Resources

Botzees Go! – Dino Set & Color Sensor Kit add-on pack

The Color Sensor Kit add-on pack for the Botzees Go! — Dino Set (Image Credit: Pai Technology)

Pai Technology has been selling robotics kits with an augmented reality twist for a few years now. Newer offerings from the STEM toy maker are aimed at younger kids — offering a first taste of block-based construction plus a companion app to offer build instructions and simple visualization of the finished creation. The Botzees Go! – Dino Set extends the basic construction element by adding movement and a physical remote control so kids can bring the dino-bots to life. So a very soft introduction to STEM learning. An optional Color Sensor Kit further extends capabilities by enabling the bots to track lines and respond to different colors.

Age: 3+
Price: $80 ($40 apiece for the Dino Set and Sensor Kit)
Made by: Pai Technology

Circuit Explorer

Circuit Explorer space themed STEM playsets (Image credit: Educational Insights)

Circuit Explorer is a simple STEM toy that fuses Lego-style block building with snap-together electronic circuits for a range of space-themed toys — including a rocket, rover and Deluxe Base Station. Kids get to light up their creations with battery-powered LED lights and synthesized sound effects.

Age: 6+
Price: From $30 on Amazon
Made by: Educational Insights

Disney Codeillusion

Disney Codeillusion gamifies teaching kids coding (Image credit: Life is Tech!)

Edtech company Life is Tech! has licensed Disney IP to inject the latter’s branding magic into a gamified and interactive learning environment that’s geared towards encouraging kids to acquire coding skills by building their own games, websites and movies featuring some of their favorite Disney characters. The online educational game — called Disney Codeillusion — is billed as teaching four coding languages (HTML, CSS, JavaScript and Processing), with a focus on visual arts thanks to the inclusion of Disney’s animated movie characters. The content features the usual cartoon suspects — from Queen Elsa and Aladdin to Mickey Mouse.

The web-based course is definitely not a cheap option — and requires an Internet connection via a desktop computer (not a mobile device) to work — costing $500 for a package that excludes any physical merch and also strips out some other digital elements (such as an RPG game). While the package with all the bells & whistles (aka the ‘Enchanted’ edition) weighs in at $900. But with 125 lessons (averaging 30 minutes a pop) kids should at least be kept busy working on their code creations for some time — which might be magic enough for parents stuck homeschooling during a pandemic.

There is also a free seven-day trial to get a taster of lesson content before committing to shell out.

Age: 8+
Price: From $500
Made by: Life is Tech!

Electro Explorers Club

The crafty Electro Explorer Club subscription box (Image credit: Tech Will Save Us)

Monthly activity kits have become a well established STEM toy niche that looks set to be supercharged as more parents take on homeschooling because of the coronavirus pandemic. UK STEAM toy maker Tech Will Save Us has been playing in this space for several years now. One of its most recent offerings to keep kids entertained and engaged is the Electro Explorers Club: A cutesy craft and electronics projects subscription box with a focus on story led learning. Expect plenty of squishy electro dough for character-building.

Each box covers a range of tech, science and design concepts — such as simple robotics and programs, electronic circuits, multi-line algorithms with conditions, character design and physics. As the months progress kids also build up a toolset of components to keep expanding their learning. Each box costs $20 a month via a recurring cancel-at-any-time subscription.

Age: 4-6
Price: $20 per month
Made by: Tech Will Save Us

Evo for Home and Homeschooled

Droid-based learning with Ozobot’s Evo (Image credit: Ozobot)

Ozobot’s programmable droid Evo can be paired with its block-based coding interface or used screen-free with the included color code markers as the sensing robots responds to different colors like a set of instructions in a program. The K-12 focused STEAM learning company sells plenty of kit direct to schools — and isn’t solely focused on teaching computer programming but rather it touts its tech as a teaching assistant for all STEAM subjects — but the Evo starter package is aimed at home learners, encouraging kids to use the bot to pick up coding by creating and playing with games and tricks.

Age: 5+
Price: $100
Made by: Ozobot

imagiCharm

Code your own tamagotchi? (Image credit: ImagiLabs)

Swedish startup imagiLabs is on a mission to get girls coding. The STEM toy they’ve devised for this inspirational task is a programmable Bluetooth charm — a sort of personalizable keychain/code-your-own tamagotchi. The connected gizmo works in conjunction with a companion mobile app that uses gamified tutorials to encourage tweens and teens to tinker with Python to change the look/function of the 8×8 matrix of colored LED lights. There’s also a social element to the app as girls can share their projects and check out what others have made.

Age: 9-15
Price: From $85 on Amazon
Made by: ImagiLabs

Kano PC

Not a Microsoft Surface — a kid-friendly Windows-based Kano PC (Image credit: Kano)

As we noted in last year’s gift guide, UK STEM learning startup Kano has pivoted from selling Raspberry Pi-powered build-it-yourself computer kits to a more convention ‘my child’s first PC’ proposition. The Windows-based plug-in-the-bits-and-play Kano PC is aimed at parents who want to set their child on the path to STEM learning in a more mainstream computing environment. At $300 the laptop-slash-tablet is hardly a ‘toy’ but the advantage of shelling out for a fully fledged computer is increased utility — and, hopefully, longevity. Kano touts the PC as capable of running “thousands” of applications.

Of most relevance to the STEM side, it comes preloaded with Kano’s Software Studio package: A set of learning tools geared towards teaching kids design, science, coding, and creativity “in simple and fun ways”, as it puts it.

Age: K-12 (from 4+ to 19)
From: $300
Made by: Kano

Kumiita

Even very young children can engage with coding concepts by playing with Kumiita (Image Credit: Icon Corp)

For very young kids point your peepers at Kumiita. The educational toy for kids who haven’t even reached their first birthday began as a Kickstarter side-project. Now its Japanese maker is selling the gizmo globally, via Amazon. The idea is to teach foundational programming concepts via screen-free (and Internet-free), tile-based floor play.

A battery-powered robot — Kumiita — responds to pictorial instructions on the tiles. Kids choose which tiles to place to ‘program’ the robot — getting immediate feedback on their sequence as the bot twirls, changes colour, plays animal sounds or moves off in a new direction. If the bot falls off the pathway there’s obviously a problem and kids have to set about ‘debugging’ by changing their choice of tiles. That in turn encourages problem solving and sequential thinking. Tiles in some of the packs also introduce conditional coding concepts.

Age: 7 months+
Price: From $200
Made by: Icon Corp

littleBits At Home Learning Starter Kit

littleBits kits offer guided electronics projects to spark young minds (Image credit: Sphero)

Sphero-owned littleBits makes introductory circuit kits with magnetic snap-together connectors to help children get to grips with basic electronics through interactive learning. This home starter kit promises to get children brainstorming ideas and tinkering to bring a variety of projects to life — with five guided inventions in the bundle. The learning activity can be entirely screen free as introductory paper guides are included in the pack. Additional learning resources are also available online via the littleBits Classroom platform.

Age: 8+
Price: $65
Made by: Sphero

MakeCode Arcade & a codable console to run retro gaming creations

Inspire kids with the help of a dinky codable games console (Image credit: Adafruit)

Budding game designers can have fun coding their own retro games in Microsoft’s arcade game editor, MakeCode Arcade — based on its open source learn-to-code platform. The free online project builder includes tutorials to create simple games using either a block-based coding interface, JavaScript or Python — building up to more complex types of gameplay. You can then turn this free STEM resource into a gift by adding a codable console that supports MakeCode Arcade projects. Such as KittenBot’s GameBoy-esque Meowbit ($40); or the Adafruit PyBadge ($35) which can also run CircuitPython and Arduino — both of which are stocked by Adafruit. The maker-focused and electronics hobbyist brand stocks a range of MakeCode compatible hardware and plenty more besides.

Age: It depends
Price: From $35
Made by: Adafruit, others

MindLabs: Energy and Circuits

Kids learn about electronics circuits via augmented reality (Image credit: Explore Interactive)

This STEM toy lets kids learn about electronics circuits virtually. This means no fiddling with actual wires, batteries or components thanks to augmented reality. Instead, the MindLabs: Energy and Circuits pack has kids play with a set of physical cards — viewing them through the screen of a tablet where they get to build out circuits that are brought to life digitally via the companion app. The kit offers 20+ interactive lessons with step-by-step instructions on basic circuit concepts. (NB: Children will need access to a tablet.)

The approach offers a relatively affordable way for kids to learn about electronics components and concepts through (virtual) trial and error — though clearly if it’s a screen-free toy you’re after this isn’t it. An added advantage is children are able to collaborate remotely with friends for group learning opportunities.

Age: 8+
Price: $25
Made by: Explore Interactive

NextMaker Box

NextMaker Box is a new monthly subscription box stuffed with STEM projects (Image credit: Makeblock)

Chinese firm Makeblock is getting in on the the monthly STEM activity kit action this year with its NextMaker Box. At the time of writing the subscription product is up for pre-order via Kickstarter with an earliest estimated shipping date of December 2020 — so the usual ‘risk of shipping delay’ caveats apply.

For parents willing to take a gamble on a gift not turning up in time for the festive season, the NextMaker Box is slated to deliver monthly hardware projects and coding courses designed to keep young minds engaged. The content focuses on robotics, coding and engineering concepts and design work. MakeBlock also says the boxes will follow a Computer Science Teachers Association standard-aligned coding curriculum.

Age: 6-12
Price: From $40
Made by: Makeblock

Piper Command Center

Screwdrivers at the ready for this Arduino project (Image credit: Piper)

The Piper Command Center is an Arduino project for teens to build and configure their own gaming controller — following instructions available via Piper’s online portal. The (beta) project offers a hand-held introduction to physical computing, hardware hacking and the maker movement. Requires access to a desktop computer with Arduino IDE installed for configuring the controller and troubleshooting the firmware.

Age: 13+
Price: $60
Made by: Piper

Raspberry Pi 400

The $100 Pi 400 bundle includes an official beginner’s guidebook (Image credit: Raspberry Pi Foundation)

The UK-based, STEM-learning focused not-for-profit Raspberry Pi Foundation’s latest bit of kit — the Pi 400 — houses its top-of-the-range microprocessor (Pi 4) inside a sleek keyboard in a retro throwback to how home computing started. Add your own TV or monitor — et voila! A powerful STEM learning device in a very affordable package, given the keyboard-computer can be picked up for just $70. For children in need of guidance and all the various accessories to get going with Pi there’s a $100 kit bundle that includes the official beginner’s guide book too.

Kids can cut their teeth coding on the Pi 400 via block-based programming languages like Scratch or by tinkering with Python in Minecraft Pi (a version of the popular 3D mining game that comes preloaded on the Pi’s OS, Raspbian). So there’s plenty to recommend the Pi 400.

Age: It depends
Price: From $70
Made by: Raspberry Pi Foundation

Robo Wunderkind Explorer Kit

The Explorer Pro kit now features an LED block (Image credit: Robo Wunderkind)

Austrian STEM toy maker Robo Wunderkind has updated its programmable robotics kits for 2020 with new sensor modules, including an LED display block that can show designs or display scrolling text; a line-follower block so the bots can detect and follow lines; and an accelerometer block to give them spacial awareness.

For those not already familiar with the STEM toy, kids snap together the magnetic blocks to build sensor-laden robots and program them via a drag-and-drop coding interface in the companion app.

Blocks can be combined in multiple ways to build different sensing objects — from rolling robots to smart flashlights. The cheapest kit comes with six modules and ten guided projects, while the top-of-the-range Explorer Pro kit ($400) has 15 modules and 30 projects. The blocks are also compatible with Lego pieces so children can augment the design of their constructions with additional elements if they have a few bricks lying around.

Age: 5-14
Price: From $200
Made by: Robo Wunderkind

ScoreBot Kit

A programmable robot for soccer-mad kids (Image credit: Ubtech)

Get soccer-mad kids into STEM with Ubtech’s ScoreBot Kit — from its JIMU Programmable educational robot series. This build-it-yourself, code-controlled robot exhibits ball-dribbling skills that children can hone via the companion app’s block-based coding interface. A memory programming mode allows them to record and replay an action to try to gain a competitive edge when battling against other ScoreBots in a game of competitive floor football.

Age: 8+
Price: $120
Made by: Ubtech

Sphero Mini Golf

Sphero’s robotic ball has rolled onto the green (Image credit: Sphero)

Edtech player Sphero sells learning wares for schools and home focused on its spherical, remote-controlled robot. This version of its programmable gizmo takes the form of a mini golf ball — encouraging kids to devise their own mini golf courses to remote-control the bot around. They can also turn the connected orb into a gaming remote control, making use of the embedded gyroscope and accelerometer. The companion Sphero Edu app is where the coding gets done.

Age: 8+
Price: $50
Made by: Sphero

Spike Prime Set

Lego Education’s kits combine plastic bricks and electronics (Image credit: Lego Education)

Lego’s education division has made some of its classroom kits available to the home market to cater to students who are learning at home as a result of the coronavirus pandemic — such as this Spike Prime Set. The STEAM learning kit is aimed at students in grades 6-8. The core piece is a programmable Bluetooth hub that can be used to power a variety of project builds — from robots to rovers — making use of the array of motors, sensors, components, bricks and pieces packed in the 528-piece kit. Programming the hub is done via a Scratch-based drag-and-drop interface or text-based coding with Python so kids will need access to a computer.

Age: 10+
Price: $330
Made by: Lego Education

Turing Tumble

Kids can learn logic concepts with the help of this mechanical computer (Image credit: Turing Tumble)

Build logical thinking into your child’s playtime with the help of a marble-based ‘computer’.

The Turing Tumble is a tilted boardgame plus an assortment of ‘logic’ gates for devising pathways to solve puzzles. The aim of the learning game is to guide colored marbles from top to bottom in the correct sequence. A cartoon puzzle book guides kids through the challenges, making this an entirely screen free way to approach STEM learning.

Age: 8 to adult
Price: $70
Made by: Turing Tumble

#education, #gadgets, #gift-guide-2020, #stem-toys, #tc

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Closing Schools Alone Is Not Going to Stop the Coronavirus

Without federal help, states have no good choices. But is keeping students home the worst one to make first?

#cuomo-andrew-m, #de-blasio-bill, #debatable, #education, #teachers-and-school-employees

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Transfr raises $12M Series A to bring virtual reality to manufacturing-plant floors

The coronavirus has displaced millions of workers across the country. In order to recover, companies must focus on re-skilling their workforces in a measured and sustainable way. However, training and recruitment can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for companies, a heavy investment that is hard to explain during volatile times.

To Bharani Rajakumar, the founder of Transfr, the dilemma of displaced workers is the perfect use case for virtual reality technology. Transfr leverages virtual reality to create simulations of manufacturing-plant shop floors or warehouses for training purposes. The platform’s entry-level gives workers a way to safely and effectively learn a trade, and companies a solution on mass up-skilling needs.

At its core, Transfr is building a “classroom to career pipeline,” Rajakumar says. Companies have influence over the training they need, and students can turn into entry-level employees within vocational schools, on-site or within training facilities. Below is a presentation from the company highlighting the trainee experience.

Transfr’s core technology is its software. Hardware-wise, the business uses Facebook’s Oculus Quest headset with Oculus for Business, not the generic customer hardware available in stores.

Transfr makes money by charging a software-as-a-service licensing fee to companies, which can go for up to $10,000 depending on the size of the workforce.

Transfr started as a mentor-based VR training programming play. The business sold courses on everything from bartending to surgery skills, as shown below:

The shift to displaced worker training, Rajakumar says, came from realizing who had the purchasing power in the relationship of entry-level employees. Hint: It was the companies that had the most to gain from a higher-skilled worker.

Virtual reality has gotten an overall bump and better reputation from the coronavirus pandemic, but is yet to massively be adopted among edtech founders. Rajakumar thinks that it could be revolutionary for the sector. He first saw virtual reality when he attended a gaming conference in San Francisco in 2017.

“I can’t believe that gaming and pornography are the two big industries for this technology,” he said. “I don’t think anybody understands what this is gonna be for teaching and learning.”

Labster, which offers schools VR simulations of science class, had product usage grow 15 times since March. The company raised money in August to expand to Asia.

Labster CEO and co-founder Michael Jensen says that Transfr’s gamification and simply UX is good for adoption, but noted that production costs could be the biggest barrier toward making the company scale.

“It’s simply too expensive to build a stable, well-polished VR application still today, and all players, us included, need to think about reusability, testability and scalability to be able to truly succeed.”

Transfr is trying to lower costs by creating a catalog of work simulations, a Transfr virtual reality training facility of sorts, that it can then repurpose for each different customer. Each month, it adds to the training facility with new jobs that are in demand, helping it scale without needing to start from scratch with each new customer. Since March, Transfr’s customers have quadrupled.

Most notably, though, is Transfr’s recent work in Alabama. The company is behind a statewide initiative in Alabama where its software is being used in the community college system and industrial workforce commission for re-skilling purposes. It’s through these large contracts that Transfr will truly be able to scale in its mission to train workforces. Rajakumar hopes to sign 10 to 15 similar contracts in the next year.

It’s an ambitious goal, and one worth raising financing to achieve. Transfr today announced that it has raised $12 million in a round led by Firework Ventures . The money will primarily be used to grow Transfr’s catalog of virtual reality simulations. While the company is not yet profitable, Rajakumar says that Transfr “could be” if they wanted to move at a slower growth rate.

“Before COVID, people would say we’re such good Samaritans for working on workforce development,” he said. “In a post-COVID world, people say that we’re essential.”

#coronavirus, #covid-19, #education, #firework-ventures, #fundings-exits, #gadgets, #re-skilling, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #transfr, #virtual-reality, #vr

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Why 3rd Grade Matters

Well, many reasons. But Harvard economist Raj Chetty says that’s the age at which America’s “Einsteins” are identified — and lost.

#biden-joseph-r-jr, #charlotte-nc, #chetty-raj, #education, #harvard-university, #income-inequality, #india, #internal-revenue-service, #social-media, #united-states

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The Problem With Coronavirus School Closures

Children have suffered because many mayors and governors were too willing to close public schools.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #dropouts, #e-learning, #education, #education-k-12, #oregon, #quarantine-life-and-culture, #shutdowns-institutional, #teachers-and-school-employees, #trump-donald-j, #united-states-politics-and-government

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Nestlings wants to help international students navigate a messy higher-ed environment

The admissions process for international students applying to colleges is outdated. For starters, there is no Common App, the one-stop application that U.S. students are able to use to apply to a variety of schools in one go. Instead, international students must navigate thousands of schools, each having their own requirements and application process, on a one by one basis.

It’s a time-consuming and convoluted process, which is exactly where Nestlings, a Cupertino, California-based startup, comes in. Founded by Sowmya Satish, a former Apple product manager, and her husband, Raj Basavaraju, the startup is hoping to streamline the college admissions journey for international students.

Nearly 15 years ago, Basavaraju left Bangalore to pursue his master’s degree at Glasgow Caledonian University.

“When I was looking to study, I was not able to find a proper course, proper program, and I didn’t find much support,” he said. “It was not easy for me to get all the information I needed, like how safe it was, the lifestyle, and all of those things that are actually very important information.” So, he had the idea to put the information online and make it more accessible for other students who were interested in studying abroad.

At its core, Nestlings is a platform to help international students browse colleges in the United States, U.K., and Canada and apply to multiple colleges with one application. Beyond this service, Nestlings wants to help connect students to mentors in their potential fields to help with advice along the way, as well as place Nestlings students into post-graduate employment opportunities.

“Our goal is to help students build their career, not just be an admissions portal,” said Satish.

Nestlings is essentially itching to be part of a student’s entire professional life, from the moment they decide to pursue higher education to the jobs they apply to during and after graduation.

Nestlings, like any college recruitment platform, is only as successful as how many students use the platform. For that reason, Nestlings has made its service free for students, and instead charges fees to its partners, both universities and employers, whenever it places a student in one of those groups. The business works as a two-sided marketplace; it scales its students through word of mouth, and its institutions by promising recruitment results.

So far, Nestlings has more than 30,000 students on its platform. It has partnered with over 180 universities, and, more recently, signed a non-exclusive partnership with one of the largest testing centers in Southeast Asia. The testing center is part of Nestlings’ strategy to bring in more students without paying an agent fee or having to advertise.

As an early-stage startup, Nestlings has a huge competitor: ApplyBoard, which recently raised $75 million at a $1.4 billion valuation. ApplyBoard similarly helps international students navigate the abroad college application process, but is a massively bigger company in the late stage. The business did not immediately respond to request for comment on its thoughts about Nestlings.

Still, Nestlings is hoping to win by focusing its business more broadly on student success than simply college admissions. The focus is partly why Nestlings acquired AdmitAlly, a Cincinnati-based video chat platform that matches students with mentors and college applicants with current students.

“Especially in the pandemic, we didn’t want to waste time reinventing the wheel and saw an opportunity to fold the technology into Nestlings’ existing offerings quickly,” Satish said of the acquisition. “International recruiting is going to be tough this admissions cycle, as students can’t visit campuses and recruiters cannot travel abroad.”

AdmitAlly, which was founded by Anu Vora, was sold for an undisclosed price. However, as part of the deal, Vora became both a board director at Nestlings and, separately, an investor in the startup. In tandem with running AdmitAlly, Vora runs an investment firm and incubator, Candid Ventures. She put $1.5 million into the company in seed funding.

As higher education faces its own renovation from low enrollment and remote schooling, Nestlings is still betting on a long-term vision where international students will crave a United States education. The strategy will only pay off if that remains true.

 

#education, #fundings-exits, #nestlings, #startups

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Language learning app Duolingo confirms it has raised $35M on a $2.4B valuation

Last week, we reported that popular language learning app Duolingo, with 500 million total app downloads​, was raising $35 million on a valuation of at least $2.21 billion — the latest chapter in what has become a long book on how e-learning and other education startups are raking in big audiences and significant funding, a byproduct of the Covid-19 pandemic driving more people indoors and on to screens for all of their interactions.

(Fittingly, Duolingo’s details were part of a bigger scoop on how another edtech startup, Udemy, was looking to raise $100 million.)

Now Duolingo’s numbers are official. The company has confirmed that it has raised $35 million in funding from two investors, Durable Capital (the firm founded last year by Henry Ellenbogen, previously a star at T. Rowe Price) and General Atlantic. The funding is bringing the valuation of Duolingo up to $2.4 billion.

For some context, this is a sizable jump on the $1.65 billion valuation that Duolingo clocked up earlier this year, when General Atlantic quietly put $10 million into the company.

Part of the reason for the boost is the general market.

Edtech has seen a surge of usage and attention, from educational institutions looking for more effective ways to teach when in-person classes are not possible; from businesses looking for ways to train and engage employees who are now working remotely; from consumers looking to do something more productive beyond watching Netflix and arguing about Trump with distant contacts on Facebook; from educators looking for more inspiration for how to teach concepts that are harder to grasp when students are far flung.

Duolingo itself has been a beneficiary of that. The freemium app — which is free to use with in-app options to pay for extra gamified features, and advertising — says its base of learners has grown by 30% in the last year, with bookings on track to increase 100%.

In what is a boost for investor confidence, these were trends the app was already seeing before the pandemic — the 100% revenue growth has been the rate for the last three years. Duolingo has ranked since 2019 as the highest-grossing education app, according to Sensor Tower.

The company is based in Pittsburgh, and most of its users are in the U.S., but it is also picking up an increasing number of people abroad as well (including my husband, here in London, learning Italian). Asia now makes up 15% of the company’s user base, and as another mark of its position with international users, it has seen a 15-fold growth in people taking its Duolingo English Test as part of the higher-education admissions process.

What will be interesting to see is how Duolingo navigates its next steps. The company was co-founded, and currently led, by reCAPTCHA founder Luis von Ahn and the earliest iteration of its business model was based on the idea that language learners and app users would translate text submitted by paying companies. These days, it makes money from advertising and in-app premium features.

It also has extended into learning for other age groups beyond adults, with a launch earlier this year of an app for children learning to read and write.

That’s speaks to more revenue diversification, which could come in handy when and if the company ever goes public.

“I’m proud of the impact we have achieved while also significantly growing our business,” ​said CEO von Ahn in a statement.

“Duolingo is the kind of business that matches what we look for in our investments: they are mission-driven, have a great culture, and great people that can compound significantly over time,” said Henry Ellenbogen, founder and chief investment officer of Durable Capital Partners LP, in a statement. “Luis is also an incredible entrepreneur, and we’re very excited to partner with Duolingo for their next phase of growth.”

“We are thrilled to deepen our partnership with Luis and Duolingo after initially investing in the business in April 2020,” said Tanzeen Syed, MD at General Atlantic. “Duolingo has successfully built foundational learning technology, an effective and engaging product, and a passionate community of users. We believe the company has additional opportunity to strengthen its market-leading position and expand its product, team, and customer base, while capitalizing on the global acceleration in digital learning.”

Among the other funding deals for edtech startups,

Just looking at some of the most recent deals, Udacity announced a $75 million debt round and said it was finally profitable earlier this month. In October, Kahoot announced a $215 million round from SoftBank. And in September, Outschool raised $45 million (and is now profitable); Homer raised $50 million (from an impressive group of strategic backers); Unacademy raised $150 million and the juggernaut that is Byju’s picked up $500 million from Silver Lake.

There have also been a number of smaller fundraises, new edtech startup launches and other signs of momentum as the bigger market comes to terms with online education being here to say.

#duolingo, #education, #funding, #language-learning

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How esports can save colleges

A few months ago, I wrote a piece about esports and the Olympics after sitting on a panel discussing whether, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, esports had an opportunity to work with the International Olympic Committee. After careful consideration and research, my conclusion was basically, “I think that the Olympics need esports a whole lot more than esports needs the Olympics.”

I was surprised by some of the data I uncovered in the course of researching the Olympics piece, specifically on audiences for international, professional and collegiate sports. I observed that while the esports model isn’t as mature as in traditional sports, esports actually garnered close to the same level of viewership, and the audience was growing astronomically. I couldn’t help but wonder how long this phenomenon would go unacknowledged by the institutions that might benefit most from it.

Enter colleges’ and universities’ flirtation with esports: There are currently more than 170 collegiate varsity gaming programs in NCAA Division I, and the number of clubs is even higher. So even as institutions investment in esports, there are still many misunderstood and overlooked aspects of the potential to drive value (and even revenue) in the collegiate esports space.

College in the 21st century

The college experience today is very different than it was 50 years ago. The pace of change outside of institutions is ever-accelerating, often leaving colleges struggling to keep up. Technology, students’ interests, evolving economies and workplaces, and changes in cultural norms have left colleges and universities in a place of less relevance than at many points in the past.

The same can be said of college sports: Outside forces have eroded a once-near-hegemonic source of collegiate pride, cultural power, recruitment, alumni engagement and, in some cases, revenue.

I did a quick review of the audience for the biggest NCAA events in the world; the Football Bowl Subdivision Bowl Championship and the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament.

pre-championship viewers FBS bowls

Image Credits: Brandon Byrne

post-championship viewers

Image Credits: Brandon Byrne

Look at the average viewership of the big bowl games before the championship system went into effect in 2015, as well as after. Above, you see the trend line for viewership for the various big bowl viewership as well as an average. While there are certainly occasional spikes, the best case you could make here is that the product is flat — when you isolate the trend line for both, here is the result:

average viewership all bowls

Image Credits: Brandon Byrne

In the aggregate, the trend seems mostly downward.

Look at the same trends in viewership for the NCAA Final Four — the early semi-final, the late semi-final and finally the championship game.

final four viewership

Image Credits: Brandon Byrne

They look rather similar. So, while collegiate sports still have a massive following, there are two concerning issues here. First, the audience isn’t growing at all; in fact, it appears to be slightly contracting. Secondly, the audience is aging, making collegiate sports less relevant to younger people. While an older audience is still a valuable source of alumni donations and ancillary revenue, it doesn’t exactly align with another core target demographic: potential college students.

Now despite this, there is data that suggests that schools with elite academic departments do enjoy a phenomenon known as the “Flutie effect,” named after Doug Flutie, a quarterback for Boston College whose exciting performance on the gridiron was credited with boosting BC applications. An article in Forbes breaking down an HBS study goes into the phenomenon more deeply than we can here.

Granted, much of the data is from a few years ago, when college sports were perhaps more relevant, but the point is broadly the same: Having an elite program in an activity students enjoy benefits the institutions that sponsor and promote them. But what happens when enthusiasm for those activities among the student body is waning? One idea is to explore involvement in what the students of today are interested in.

As a comparison to FBS football (maxed out at 35 million viewers) and the NCAA Final Four (maxed out at 28 million), Riot Games’ Mid-Season Invitational event for League of Legends had a total viewership of 60 million people. In second place is the Intel Extreme Masters tournament in Katowice with 46 million people. While precise demographic data isn’t readily available, it stands to reason that the latter two events skew younger than the former two.

A few caveats, as these are not precisely apples-to-apples comparisons: These esports events are broken up over a number of days and encompass a significant number of matches — comparable to March Madness, perhaps — and the content is consumed in different ways. Much of the NCAA’s content is presented on television, some of which is on paid, premium channels. Esports events are broadcast on Twitch and YouTube via streams for free.

But the thing to understand is that esports audiences are growing at a 15%-16% year-over-year clip and it commands a worldwide audience, meaning its total addressable market (TAM) is MUCH bigger. The NCAA events are not likely to draw serious audiences outside of North America.

COVID-19

In the context of the pandemic, colleges are hamstrung by students’ inability to engage in a college experience in-person, which is one of the primary reasons one goes to college. Networking, developing new friends and having new experiences are all a part of the collegiate draw, none of which work as well from students’ parents’ living rooms. Similarly, collegiate sports as we know them have essentially ceased to exist, along with their functions of institutional pride, marketing and revenue. The NCAA Tournament was canceled in March of 2020 and there is no sign that it, or any other sport, will be back anytime soon.

Esports, on the other hand, are thriving in this context, thanks mostly to their ability to offer remote competition and viewing. Esports tournaments can isolate audiences, teams and even referees to allow for safe content creation and consumption.

Esports and college

Believe it or not, esports is a better fit for college than it is for the pros. I won’t go into all of the details here, but I actually wrote a separate article about why the pro sports model is NOT a good one for esports. In this article we talk about intellectual property, who owns the league in esports and how all of the entities make money. The biggest problem is, in pro sports, the teams own the league and can then act in the best interest of all of the teams. In esports, the league is usually owned or regulated by the publisher of the video game, meaning you have hands in the monetization pie in a way that pro sports doesn’t have.

The interesting thing about this is that college athletics actually has the same problem and has found a way to mitigate that. The athletes get their scholarships, and the schools, their athletic conference, and the NCAA itself all own a piece of the pie that gets packaged and sold for distribution to the ESPNs and Fox Sports of the world.

This is a much better model for esports. It’s unlikely that any group that “owned” football IP would tell the Dallas Cowboys how to market their team, what their cut is and how it will be distributed. This process happens all the time in college, though. In fact, in order for everyone to get their seat at the table, you HAVE to work all of this out so that the schools make some money (equivalent to a team), the conference makes their money (equivalent to the league) and the NCAA makes their money (equivalent to the publisher themselves). If the chain breaks down at any point, then the whole process grinds to a halt and nobody makes money.

I mention this in my article about the Olympics. The IOC is used to having full autonomy over how the Olympic Games are broadcast, which events are part of the games, who is eligible and who isn’t, etc. There is no chance this would be the case if the Olympics took on esports. The publisher would absolutely wield an incredible amount of influence over how the games are portrayed, broadcast, judged and the like. The IOC isn’t used to that. In college, that’s just a typical Saturday afternoon.

College admission is down and not just because of COVID-19. Even before the pandemic, colleges were trying to find their footing with potential students as people reevaluate the college experience. Forbes wrote back in 2019 that college enrollments were down two million students in that decade. Add onto that the preliminary data we are getting on the effect of COVID on colleges, we could see enrollment in 2020 down anywhere from 5%-20%.

Student enrollment at US colleges has been declining since 2011

Image Credits: Brandon Byrne

The outlook

For colleges, it’s not great. Revenue is massively down, with even stalwarts like Harvard University hemorrhaging cash. With enrollment down before the pandemic, we have reached a point where colleges and universities have to adapt to survive.

The good news is, I believe that esports could be an opportunity to do just that. Colleges are diving into esports, with 115 different programs offering scholarships for esports and club programs are growing even faster. Certainly, it will help attract students, but monetization in esports is really tricky.

It’s critical that colleges and universities get expert advice on how to create an ecosystem that ultimately compensates all of the stakeholders, including the college themselves. It also will require universities to move quickly and get on board with a model that is still being formed in real time. The coronavirus pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon, but I think there will be many colleges that will. The time to move is now.

#column, #education, #esports, #gaming, #league-of-legends, #ncaa, #sports, #video-games, #video-gaming

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How Will Biden Approach School Reopenings?

Answer: Schools over restaurants, for now.

#biden-joseph-r-jr, #children-and-childhood, #colleges-and-universities, #computers-and-the-internet, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #coronavirus-reopenings, #e-learning, #education, #education-k-12, #murthy-vivek-h, #presidential-election-of-2020, #quarantine-life-and-culture, #rural-areas, #thanksgiving-day

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Will edtech empower or erase the need for higher education?

The coronavirus has erased a large chunk of college’s value proposition: the on-campus experience.

Campuses are closed, sports have been paused and, understandably, students don’t want to pay the same tuition for a fraction of the services. As a result, enrollment is down across the country and university business models are under unrelenting pressure.

The entire athletics program at East Carolina University has been furloughed with pay cuts. Ohio Wesleyan University eliminated 18 majors and consolidated a number of programs to save $4 million a year. And Pennsylvania’s Kutztown University lost 1,000 students to online school within weeks of reopening its campus, sacrificing $3.5 million in room and board fees.

And that’s just in the last few weeks.

As universities struggle, edtech is being positioned as a solution for their largest problem: remote teaching. Coursera, a massive open online course (MOOC), created a campus product to help schools quickly offer digital coursework. Podium Education raised millions last month to offer universities for-credit tech programs. Eruditus brought on more than $100 million in the last few months to create programming for elite universities. In some ways, the growth is the story of edtech’s ongoing surge amid the coronavirus pandemic: Remote schooling has forced institutions to piece together third-party solutions to keep operations afloat.

However, while some startups are helping universities offer virtual programming overnight, professors on the ground are warning their institutions to think long-term about what kind of technologies are net positive to adopt.

It’s a stress test that could lead to a reckoning among edtech startups.

‘We’re talking about the next evolution of textbooks’

As the last eight months have taught us, Zoom-based school is a lackluster alternative to the in-person experience. College campuses, thus, are tasked with finding a more creative way to offer engaging virtual content to students who are stuck in their dorm rooms.

Coursera launched Coursera for Campus to help colleges bring on online courses (credit optional) with built-in exams; more than 3,700 schools across the world are using the software.

“Professors would really want super-high-quality branded content that has assessments built into it if they’re going to deliver that learning for credit,” CEO Jeff Maggioncalda said. “That’s not the kind of learning you can get on YouTube.”

For now, though, Maggioncalda says he doesn’t think the death of a physical college campus experience is the future. He’s betting that the product can help colleges save money on faculty costs and reinvest that same money into the campus.

“There will be schools that will continue to offer residential experience, and I think what they’re gonna find is, if your real value proposition is that residential experience, then lead into that heavily,” he said. “But make sure that you’ve got really good content and credentials that are available so that your students don’t have to sacrifice.”

Georgia Tech professor David Joyner says that MOOCs like Coursera “are good for outreach and access, but are not good for accreditation.” Instead, he thinks edtech needs to be built first and foremost for universities to be most effective.

Podium Education, for example, builds courses in partnership with universities to offer for-credit courses. The newly launched startup raised $12 million in October and works with more than 20 colleges. Eruditus, an edtech startup that raised over $100 million in September, creates courses in collaboration with more than 30 elite universities, including MIT, Harvard, UC Berkeley, IIT and more.

Coursera, Podium and Eruditus are all signaling a future where universities could be getting a plug-and-play model of asynchronously taught curriculum.

#coronavirus, #coursera, #covid-19, #education, #education-technology, #fundings-exits, #georgia-tech, #remote-learning, #tc

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Surviving Weed-Out Classes in Science May Be a State of Mind

Social ties to classmates and how students feel could be more important than innate ability when it comes to enduring early STEM courses.

#biology-and-biochemistry, #colleges-and-universities, #education, #friendship, #psychology-and-psychologists, #race-and-ethnicity, #research, #science-advances-journal, #science-and-technology, #your-feed-science

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Filing: Online learning marketplace Udemy is raising up to $100M at a $3.32B valuation

Online education has been one of the hotspots in the tech world this year, as people turn to e-learning tools to fill in the gaps variously arising from closed schools, closed offices, social distancing, and more time on our hands at home because of the Covid-19 pandemic. And that is giving a big bump to education startups, which are raising money to capitalise on the growth opportunity.

In one of the latest developments, Udemy — which provides a marketplace currently numbering some 130,000 video-based courses across 65 languages, ranging from learning python or how to photograph better, through to mastering mindfulness and business analytics — is raising up to $100 million in a Series F round of funding that would value the company at up to $3.32 billion.

The company has filed paperwork for the fundraise in Delaware, first discovered by Justin Byers and the team at Prime Unicorn Index. It’s not clear if the round has closed, and whether the full amount was raised (or indeed, more).

Contacted for a response, Udemy didn’t deny the report but also declined to say anything for the moment. “We have a company policy where we don’t comment on speculations,” a spokesperson said to me via email. “We don’t have a comment at this time but I’ll reach out if anything changes.”

The fundraise would be a strong move for Udemy, which only closed its Series E earlier this year — a $50 million round that catapulted the company to a $2 billion+ post-money valuation.

But that was in February, before the novel coronavirus really took hold of the world. Since then, startups focused on education have been seeing a surge of business starting in the spring of this year, and as a result, also a surge of attention from investors who see a good moment to back rising stars.

Just looking at some of the most recent deals, last week, Udacity announced a $75 million debt round and said it was finally profitable. In October, Kahoot announced a $215 million round from SoftBank. And in September, Outschool raised $45 million (and is now profitable); Homer (raised $50 million from an impressive group of strategic backers); Unacademy (raised $150 million) and the juggernaut that is Byju’s picked up $500 million from Silver Lake.

And these are just some of the bigger deals; there have been many smaller fundraises, new edtech startup launches, and other signs of momentum alongside this. (And Prime Unicorn, incidentally, also noted that Duolingo is also raising money, up to $35 million at a valuation of $2.21 billion if all shares are issued. We’re still digging on that lead.)

When Udemy last raised money, earlier this year, the president of the business division told me it had clocked up 50 million students that purchase courses in an a la carte format, while enterprise customers — which include Adidas, General Mills, Toyota, Wipro, Pinterest and Lyft in a list of some 5,000 in all — use a subscription model.

It looks like its business users have grown and now number over 7,000, according to figures on its site, with total course enrollments now totalling 400 million to date. That could point to the opportunity that Udemy is now exploring with more capital.

But to be clear, the filing does not detail who is in this latest round, nor what the purpose of the fundraising is.

As we wrote at the time of the round in February, that fundraise came from a single, strategic investor, the Japanese educational publisher Benesse Holdings, which partners with Udemy in Japan. Benesse’s bigger business includes developing educational content for children and courses for adults, both online and in-person, and for other educational brands that it owns, such as Berlitz, and Udemy helps Benesse develop content for those various efforts.

Other investors in the company include Stripes, Naspers (now Prosus), Learn Capital, Insight Partners, and Norwest Venture Partners, among others.

Prime Unicorn Index notes that the terms surrounding this latest Series F include a “pari passu liquidation preference with all other preferred, and conventional convertible, meaning they will not participate with common stock if there are remaining proceeds.” It also noted that Udemy’s most recent price per share is $24.13, an upround from the Series E, which priced shares at $15.57.

We’ll update this post as we learn more.

#education, #funding, #online-education, #udemy

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Nana nabs $6M for an online academy and marketplace dedicated to appliance repair

A lot of the focus in online education — and, let’s face it, education overall — has been about professional development for knowledge workers, education for K-12 and how best to deliver cost-effective, engaging higher learning to those in college and beyond. But in what might be a sign of the times, today a startup that’s focused on e-learning and the subsequent job market for a completely different end of the spectrum — home services — is announcing some funding to continue building out its business in earnest.

Nana, which runs a free academy to teach people how to fix appliances, and then gives students the option of becoming a part of its own marketplace to connect them to people needing repairs — has picked up $6 million.

The seed round is being led by Shripriya Mahesh of Spero Ventures, and Next Play Ventures (ex-LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner’s new fund), Lachy Groom, Scott Belsky, Geoff Donaker of Burst Capital, and Michael Staton of Learn Capital are among those also participating.

Nana has now raised $10.7 million, with past backers including Alpha Bridge Ventures, Bob Lee, and the Uber Syndicate, an investment vehicle to back Uber alums in new ventures. Founder and CEO David Zamir is not actually an Uber alum, but one of his first employees, VP of Engineering Oliver Nicholas, is an early Uber engineer, and the company has also found a lot of traction of Uber drivers this year, after many found themselves out of work after the chilling effect that the pandemic had on ridesharing.

Nana — full name Nana Technologies (and not to be confused with Nana Technology, tech built for older adults) — is partly a labor/future of work play, partly an educational play, partly a tech/IoT play, and partly an ecological play, in the eyes of Zamir, who himself trained as an appliance repairperson, running his own successful business in the Bay Area before pivoting it into a training platform and marketplace.

“There are 5.9 million tons of municipal solid waste [which includes lots of electronics like washing machines, blenders and everything in between] in the U.S.,” he said in an interview, “and only 50% of that is capable of getting recycled. We’re in a vicious cycle with appliances, and it’s partly because there aren’t enough people with the knowledge to repair them. But what if you had the liquidity to do that? We’re talking about creating jobs, but also saving the environment.”

Nana’s proposition starts with free lessons to fix a range of appliances — currently, dishwashers, refrigerators, ovens, stoves, washers and dryers — and their typical breakdown/poor performance issues to anyone who wants to know how to repair them. These classes are available to anyone — an individual simply interested in learning how to fix a machine, but more likely someone looking to pick up a skill and then use it to make some money.

Once you take and pass a course — currently remote — you have the option (but not requirement) to register on Nana’s platform to become a repair person who picks up jobs through it to get jobs fixing that particular issue. Nana already has partnerships with major appliance and warranty companies including GE, Miele, Samsung, Assurant, Cinch and First American Home Warranty, so this is how it gets most of its work in, but it also accepts direct requests from consumers for repair of dishwashers, refrigerators, ovens, stoves, washers and dryers.

Over time, Zamir said, the plan is not just to take in jobs and send out technicians to fix things in an Uber-style dispatch service — but to expand it to fit the kinds of next-generation appliances that are being built today, with IoT diagnostic monitoring and helping also to integrate these appliances into connected homes. It also seems to be slowly expanding into other home services too, alongside appliance repair (which remains its main business).

Nana has to date registered hundreds of technicians in 12 markets across the U.S. and said it expects to expand to 20 markets by the end of 2021.

Nana has an unlikely founder story that speaks to how so much of the tech world is still about hustle and finding opportunities in the margins.

Founder and CEO David Zamir hails from Israel, but unlike many of the transplants you may come across from there to the Bay Area tech world, he’s not a tech guy by education, training or work experience. He used to run clothing stores in Tel Aviv and vaguely liked the idea of being involved in a tech business at some point — Israel loves to call itself “startup nation” and so that bug is bound to bite even those who don’t study computer science or engineering — but he didn’t know what to do or where to begin.

“The clothing business didn’t make much money,” he said. So after a period Zamir and his American wife decided to move to the U.S. and try their luck there.

While initially based on the east coast near her family and wondering about what kind of job to pursue, Zamir spoke with a friend of his in Toronto who was an working as an independent tradesperson fixing appliances, and the friend suggested this as an option, at least for a while.

“So I hopped on an airplane to shadow my friend,” he recalled. “The lightbulb went off. I thought, I should do this in San Francisco,” where he had been wanting to move to crack in to the tech world, somehow. “I thought that I’d start with fixing appliances while I figured out how to find my way into tech.”

That turned into more than a temporary income stopgap, of course. After finding that his business taking off, Zamir saw that technology would be the avenue to growing it.

He was helped in part to build the idea and the business through his grit. Josh Elman, the famous tech investor, complained about a broken dryer back in April, and asked the Twitter hive mind whether he should get a new one or go through the pain of fixing it. Someone flagged the question to Zamir, who reached out and connected Elman with one of Nana’s online teaching technicians. Twelve hours later, Elman’s drier was diagnosed (by Elman), on its way to getting fixed, and Elman signed on as an advisor to the company.

Move fast and fix things

The world of tech is all about building new things and solving problems, with “breaking” being more synonymous with disruption (=”good”) and fearlessness (see: Facebook’s old mantra to its early employees to move fast and break things). But behind that, there is an interesting disconnect between the tech version of “broken” and objects that are actually “broken” in the real world.

Many of us these days find using apps and other digital interfaces second-nature, but most of us would have no idea how to repair or work with much more basic electronic systems. And nor do most of us want to. More often than not, we give up on it, decide it’s not worth fixing, and click on Amazon et al. to get a new shiny object.

Looked at on a wider scale, this is actually a big problem.

Electronics can be recycled, but in reality only about half the materials can be usefully reused. Meanwhile, Nana estimates that the appliance repair market is a $4 billion opportunity, with some 80 million appliances in need to being serviced annually in the US. But currently there are only some 31,000 trained technicians in the market. Nana estimates that to meet the demand of growing numbers, an additional 28,000 new technicians will be needed by 2025.

At the same time, the move to automation in many skilled labor jobs is putting people out of work: research from the Brookings Institution estimates that some 30 million people will lose their jobs in coming years because of it.

The idea here is that a platform like Nana can help some of those people retrain to fill the gap for appliance technicians, while at the same time extending the life of people’s appliances in a less painful way — putting less stuff into landfill — while at the same time expanding knowledge for anyone who cares for it.

Zamir said that Nana was named after his mother, who raised David as a single parent after his father passed away, a reference to working hard and being practical.

That sentimentality seems to motivate him in a bigger way, too: Zamir himself is a guy with a lot of heart and emotion vested into the concept of his startup. When I told him an anecdote of how our dishwasher broke down earlier this year and both a customer service rep from the maker (Siemens) and a separate repair person advised me to replace it, he got visibly agitated over our video call, as if the subject was something political or significantly more graver than a story about a dishwasher.

“I am not a supporter of what they told you,” he said in an angry voice. “It’s really upsetting me.” (I calmed him down a little, I think, when I told him that myself I uninstalled the broken dishwasher and installed the new one myself, because Covid.)

Zamir said that there are no plans to charge for its academy courses, nor to tie people into signing up with Nana to work once they take the courses. The fact that it provides a lot of inbound jobs attracts enough turnover — between 40% and 60% of those taking courses stay on to work when they took in-person classes, and for now the online figures are between 15% and 35%.

“It’s still early days,” he said, “but we’re finding the take up impressive… Most want to participate in the marketplace.” He says that there are other call-out services where they could register but the tech that Nana has built makes its system more efficient, and that means better returns.

All of this has played well with those who have become Nana’s investors. People like Jeff Weiner — who in his time as CEO of LinkedIn led the company to acquire Lynda as part of a bigger emphasis on the importance of skills training and education — see the opportunity and need to provide an equivalent platform not just for knowledge workers but those who have more manual jobs, too.

“We are excited by Nana’s vision of providing training, access and opportunity for rewarding, satisfying work while also filling a critical gap in our economy,” said Shripriya Mahesh of Spero Ventures, in a statement. “Nana has created a new, scalable approach to giving people the agency, tools and support systems they need to build new skills and pursue fulfilling work opportunities.”

The round was oversubscribed in the end, and Nana shouldn’t find it too hard to raise again if it sticks to its plan and the market continues to grow as it has. That does not seem to be the motivation for Zamir, though.

“We just think it’s super important to build Nana for the people,” he said.

#collaborative-consumption, #education, #funding, #labor, #nana-technologies, #startups, #talent, #tc

0

Udemy and altMBA co-founders return to edtech with a new, stealthy business

In 2009, Udemy co-founder Gagan Biyani tried to convince people to learn online through live classes. But what he discovered instead was that everyone wanted an online repository of content that allowed them to learn at their own pace, whenever and wherever. So, he canned his idea and Udemy created what is now called a massive open online course provider, or MOOC.

In the years since, Biyani was let go from Udemy, started a 200-person food company, shut that down, took a sabbatical, and is now returning to the seedling he left behind in 2009: live, online courses.

Today, Biyani tells TechCrunch that he is teaming up with Wes Kao, the co-founder of AltMBA, an online cohort-based leadership program, to start an edtech company that combines both of their experiences into one focus: live, cohort-based learning. The duo grew up as friends in the same hometown, but only recently reconnected over education once Biyani returned from sabbatical. Kao’s experience building an online course from scratch, with an over 95% completion rate, was validation that the format worked. And soon enough, they incorporated a company together.

The company will focus on cohort-based learning, mixing live and asynchronous components. As it’s still in early stealth, the founders said it doesn’t have a name yet. Instead of a company site, they have a Notion landing page.

Despite those missing details, what Biyani did say is that the startup’s main focus is creating a community where anyone can start their own course. Kao says that creating a course requires over a dozen people behind the scenes — teacher assistants, community moderators and the process is essentially “an entire production.” With the startup, she wants to democratize that operation.

“I see it as a way to help more traders and experts be able to share their knowledge,” she said. “And take away the question marks on how to build community.”

The company from the start will focus on the back-end production of helping teachers, but eventually create a marketplace to allow students to see a directory of classes.

“It should be as easy as building a Substack,” Biyani said, referring to the popular newsletter service. Similar to Substack, the company will only make money if the instructor, or creator, does. It takes a chunk of each student’s subscription cost as revenue.

The company is entering a crowded space. Yesterday, CampusWire announced that it has pivoted to start offering build-your-own courses to experienced professors. MasterClass allows celebrities to teach classes, Teachable allows anyone to create their own course, and the list continues.

But Biyani views their biggest competitor as teachers who have already built courses without a third-party service. The company is planning to bring those creators onto their platform by offering ways to manage their customer base.

Ultimately, the market will only be won over by the startup that has the best strategy, product, and teacher pool. Based on their stealthy vision, the duo has raised $4.3 million in a round led by First Round Capital. Other investors include Naval Ravikant, Sahil Lavingia, Li Jin, Arlan Hamilton and co-founders from Lambda School, Outschool, Superhuman, and Udemy.

It’s a stacked term-sheet for a company in the early stages, suggesting that that edtech’s boom is still very much upon us. Lavingia says that he committed right away even though he didn’t use the product.

“Gagan’s name was enough for me,” he said. “I think I followed him on Twitter a year or two ago and i’d back anything he does just based on what he shares.”

Backstage Capital’s Hamilton said that Kao has been within the Backstage mentor network for a while, and added that “there’s a perfect storm for Wes and Gagan to execute within.”

#covid-19, #edtech, #education, #gagan-biyani, #mobile, #remote-learning, #tc, #teachers, #udemy

0

As edtech crowds up, Campuswire bets big on real-time learning

Campuswire was in a fortuitous spot when colleges and universities across the world shut down on short notice because of the threat of coronavirus. Founded by Tade Oyerinde in 2018, Campuswire is a virtual solution for any teacher who wants to digitize their internal classroom communications, from Q&A time to the lecture itself.

The strategy, for the most part, has worked. Campuswire is now used at more than 300 universities among 200,000 students, Oyerinde tells me.

While Campuswire’s pitch was set to boom overnight, the founder instead saw a bigger challenge approaching: more competition. As professors moved online, lectures moved to Zoom or tools built atop of Zoom. Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts filled in the gap for classrooms that couldn’t afford fancy licenses. Campuswire’s key monetization strategy, which was selling pro licenses for its online class software, felt threatened by alternatives.

So, after months of iterating, Campuswire has adapted its monetization strategy and today announced that it is launching live courses taught by professors. Instead of solely working with professors to streamline internal class communications, Campuswire will now help teachers produce classes that students can then take for a fee. The tuition revenue will be split between the teacher and Campuswire.

Campuswire courses kick off with an angel investing class taught by Charles Hudson, the founder and general partner of Precursor Ventures. Hudson lectures at Stanford occasionally, and working with Campuswire allows him to teach a broader set of students.

Meanwhile, Campuswire software will be free to use starting in January 2021.

The move marks Campuswire’s further dive into synchronous learning. Campuswire’s model is built on how existing classrooms work in universities and colleges. Classes on Campuswire are capped at 500 to promote conversation, and large lectures are supplemented with teacher assistant (TA) classes to hammer home confusing concepts.

Meanwhile, it’s clear amid the pandemic that asynchronous learning has its perks (students can learn on their own schedule, while educators are able to work more flexible hours). Still, Oyerinde thinks a pre-recorded format is not effective for pedagogy purposes.

“This is kind of the hill we’re going to die on,” he said. “Real, lasting learning has to be synchronous for the majority of people.”

In other words, while there’s a small group of gifted-and-talented students who can watch a one-hour lecture and absorb every factoid and nuance, the majority of students need engagement, interaction and motivation to understand a topic, he argues. It’s the reason why MOOCs, or massive open online course providers, only have a 2-3% completion rate on their courses, he argues.

At its core, Campuswire has evolved from a platform trying to compete with Zoom to a platform that is trying to compete with these MOOCS through engaging content taught by experienced professors. Its main differentiation from MOOCs is that it’s live and has teacher assistants.

There are a number of startups that are trying to create engaging, celebrity professor-taught classes through hybrid plays. MasterClass, which just raised $100 million a few months ago, sells entertainment and education in one go, offering cooking classes from Gordon Ramsay and tennis lessons from Serena Williams. While you can’t interact with Ramsay or Williams, you can chat with fellow classmates.

BookClub connects readers to the authors they are reading, giving bookworms an opportunity to ask about cliffhangers and character development. The upstart is still in its early stages, but founder David Blake says that readers could talk directly to authors down the road. There’s also Teachable, which got acquired by Hotmart earlier this year. Teachable helps any expert who wants to create a business around their expertise do so with a virtual course. Arlan Hamilton, a seed-stage investor, has a course on the platform.

Today’s pivot signals the founder’s mindset that, in order to grow to the billion-dollar business mark in edtech, you need to sell more than software that Google and Microsoft will always give away for free.

“Online learning can be 100 times bigger than it is today,” Oyerinde said. “Once you actually support synchronicity, you actually support people getting to actually interact with UCLA/Princeton/Cornell professors, not just watching them on pre-recorded videos.”

#campuswire, #covid-19, #distance-learning, #education, #education-tech, #learning, #online-learning, #remote-learning, #startups, #tc

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Why I left edtech and got into gaming

Now that COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of digital education tools, edtech has become one of the hottest areas of investment.

As someone who has been in edtech for nearly 20 years, this sounds like the precise moment to capitalize on all the newfound interest. Which is why what I’m about to say might be surprising: I’m leaving edtech for the world of gaming with my new company, Solitaired.

I first got into edtech in high school, when a friend and I founded EasyBib, a website that helped students cite sources for their papers. At the time, we were just students who felt there had to be a better way than formatting tedious citations for research papers by hand. But as we dove into the business further, we realized there was a lot to like about bibliographies and education technology in general.

For one, the education market is large. There are more than 56 million K-16 students in the U.S., and over 1.3 billion globally. Federal, state and local governments spend an aggregate of 5% of GDP on education, and that doesn’t even include what students and parents spend on content and technology.

Secondly, it’s structured. Students generally all go through the same curriculum together. That means most students have the same problem in the same way; if you solve a problem for one group of users, you’ve probably solved it for most users.

The citation problem was just like that. When we sold our company to Chegg, we were already reaching four out of five students that needed bibliographies, or over 30 million students in the U.S. Edtech companies that help students with math, chemistry, homework help, tutoring and other curricular needs can build massive audiences quickly.

Edtech that’s part of the curriculum also has high engagement. EasyBib users stayed on our site for nearly ten minutes per session, creating one citation after another for their bibliographies. For direct-to-consumer edtech companies that are ad and subscription driven, this behavior creates many monetization opportunities.

While we grew fast, our endemic market opportunity was limited. Why? The strengths of edtech can also be its downsides, especially for a startup. On the user growth front, we focused on school relationships, marketing and SEO. But once we reached four out of every five students in the U.S., there wasn’t much more room to grow.

To increase engagement even further, we tried a number of things: encouraging more citation creation, adding research and note-taking features and building a Chrome extension to be more ever-present in the user’s research journey. Those efforts fell short too. Ultimately, the school calendar dictated how often students needed to use us, and we were constrained by the number of research papers teachers assigned.

These challenges can certainly be overcome. But as a startup, we had to decide if we wanted to pursue adjacencies and expansions ourselves. Ultimately, this realization was one of the reasons we decided to sell our company to Chegg, which had a wider user base and product synergies that we couldn’t achieve on our own. As anyone who follows Chegg might know, they’ve been very successful in accelerating the edtech digital transformation.

When we began thinking about our second business, we had these lessons in the back of our mind. That’s when we discovered gaming.

#chegg, #column, #education, #education-technology, #entrepreneurship, #gaming, #online-tutoring, #startups, #tc

0

Thanksgiving Will Soon Empty Campuses. Will Students Bring Coronavirus Home?

Experts worry that some of the hundreds of thousands of departing students will be “little ticking time bombs.”

#colleges-and-universities, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #coronavirus-reopenings, #education, #quarantines, #tests-medical, #thanksgiving-day

0

Proctorio used DMCA to take down a student’s critical tweets

A series of tweets by one University of Miami student that were critical of a proctoring software company have been hidden by Twitter after the company filed a copyright takedown notice.

Erik Johnson, a student who works as a security researcher on the side, posted a lengthy tweet thread in early September about Proctorio, an Arizona-based software company that several U.S. schools — including his own — use to monitor students who are taking their exams remotely.

But six weeks later, Johnson received an email from Twitter saying three of those tweets had been removed from his account in response to a request by Proctorio filed under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Proctoring software isn’t new, but its usage has skyrocketed because of the pandemic. More students than ever are having to take exams and tests from home, and colleges and universities are relying on proctoring software to administer the tests. Students have to install their university’s choice of proctoring software, which gives the exam administrator deep access to the student’s computer, often including their webcams and microphones, to monitor their activity to spot potential cheating.

But students say that proctoring software is fraught with problems. Vice reported that students had complained that the proctoring software they had to use could not recognize darker skin tones, and others say the software requires high-speed internet, which many low-income houses don’t have.

Falling foul of any of these checks, whether known to the student or otherwise, could result in failing the test altogether.

Thousands of students at schools in Washington and Florida have already petitioned their schools to stop using proctoring software — including Proctorio — citing privacy and security risks.

Proctorio, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., says its proctoring software is privacy friendly. Students are required to install its Chrome extension before taking a test, which the company says students can remove once they’re done.

Unlike desktop software, most Chrome extensions can be easily downloaded and their source code viewed and examined. Johnson did this and tweeted his findings. Three of those tweets described under what circumstances Proctorio would “terminate” a student’s exam if it detected signs of potential cheating — such as if a student “switched networks” or if “abnormal clicking” and “eye movements” were detected. The tweets also included a link to snippets of code found in Proctorio’s Chrome extension, which Johnson posted to code-sharing site Pastebin.

Erik Johnson’s tweets were withheld by Twitter after receiving a DMCA takedown notice from Proctorio. Screenshot: TechCrunch.

Those three tweets are no longer accessible on Twitter after Proctorio filed its takedown notices. The code shared on Pastebin is also no longer accessible, nor is a copy of the page available from the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, which said the web address had been “excluded.”

A spokesperson for Twitter told TechCrunch: “Per our copyright policy, we respond to valid copyright complaints sent to us by a copyright owner or their authorized representatives.”

Johnson provided TechCrunch a copy of the takedown notice sent by Twitter, which identified Proctorio’s marketing director John Devoy as the person who requested the takedown on behalf of Proctorio’s chief executive Mike Olsen, who is listed as the copyright owner.

Olsen is no stranger to controversy. Earlier this year he drew ire after posting private support chat logs from a student, which he later deleted and set his Twitter account to private following the incident. Proctorio is also suing security researcher Ian Linkletter, a learning technology specialist at the University of British Columbia, after tweeting critically of the company’s software.

When reached by phone, Olsen claimed that Miami University had accepted the company’s terms and conditions on behalf of Johnson, and that Johnson allegedly violated those terms when he tweeted about the code.

Read more on TechCrunch

Following the call, Proctorio emailed TechCrunch a statement through its crisis communications firm Edelman, claiming Johnson “violated Proctorio’s exclusive rights by copying and posting extracts from Proctorio’s software code on his Twitter account,” and in response, Proctorio filed the DMCA takedown request “to ask that the content be removed and Twitter removed it.”

“Mr. Johnson’s claim that he has the right to reproduce the code because he was able to download it is simply not true. Regardless of his ability to download the files, they remain protected under the Copyright Act. Also, had Mr. Johnson looked at the files he downloaded, he would have seen the multiple copyright notices in the header of each file that state expressly that the code is owned by Proctorio and that ‘unauthorized reproduction, display, modification, or distribution of this software, or any portion of it, may result in severe civil and criminal penalties, and will be prosecuted to the full extent permitted by law.’ His reproduction of that code violated Proctorio’s rights, which is why Proctorio asked Twitter to remove it,” said Edelman’s senior vice president Andy Lutzky, on behalf of Proctorio.

With help from the non-profit internet rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Johnson said he has now submitted a counter notice to appeal the takedown.

“This is really a textbook example of fair use,” said EFF staff attorney Cara Gagliano. “What Erik did — posting excerpts of Proctorio’s code that showed the software features he was criticizing — is no different from quoting a book in a book review. That it’s code instead of literature doesn’t make the use any less fair.”

“Using DMCA notices to take down critical fair uses like Erik’s is absolutely inappropriate and an abuse of the takedown process,” said Gagliano. “DMCA notices should be lodged only when a copyright owner has a good faith belief that the challenged material infringes their copyrighted work — which requires the copyright owner to consider fair use before hitting send.

“The application of fair use is clear cut here, and this notice never should have been sent,” she said.


Got a tip? You can reach the author over Signal and WhatsApp at +1 646-755-8849 or by email: zack.whittaker@techcrunch.com

#digital-millennium-copyright-act, #education, #fair-use, #privacy, #security, #united-states

0

TikTok tests a Learn tab to showcase education and how-to videos

How-to videos have been some of the most popular content on YouTube over the years, and now, to grow engagement and the pool of users that it appeals to, the upstart video app TikTok is getting in on the action, too.

After launching a dedicated “Learn On TikTok” hashtag (#LearnOnTikTok) earlier this summer with a slate of premium creators producing videos for it, multiple users and social media watchers (thanks Matt) are reporting sightings of a new menu item called “Learn.”

Featured prominently alongside “For You” and “Following” at the top of the homescreen, TikTok describes Learn as a place to discover how-to and informative videos posted by users that take viewers through making food, producing art, how scientific processes work, and more.

The Learn feed seems to have disappeared overnight: from what we understand it’s still being tested.

Image Credits: Lena Koppova (opens in a new window)(opens in a new window)In any case, its emergence coincided with the company yesterday launching a new promotional campaign for educational content discoverable through the #LearnOnTikTok hashtag.

(And in the original announcement for Learn On TikTok content, TikTok noted that it is “exploring additional ways to showcase the rich offering of instructional content that’s thriving on the platform,” which includes “building a creator learning portal that will provide insights, tools, and best practices on how to create quality content on TikTok,” so the Learn tab may have been a test of how that will look and work.)

These are not TikTok’s first or only efforts in the realm of education.

Aside from its self-referential audience-created educational videos — it’s the best platform for learning TikTok dances, for learning about the latest song-based memes, watching comedic mishaps as people try to explain something, etc. — the company has been cultivating an image as a go-to platform for learning more serious things, not just messing around.

It’s been pushing that even harder this year than ever, both as TikTok itself faces ire from authorities for having a more potentially harmful influence; and as more people turn to their screens during the Covid-19 pandemic.

This has included formal efforts like partnering up with institutions, and encouraging students to create educational content.

@cambridgeuniversityCan #cars talk to each other? #learnontiktok #cambridgeuniversity #cambridge #artificialintelligence #driverless♬ HAPPY SUMMER ADVENTURE – Sergey Wednesday

It’s also included dedicating $50 million specifically to a creator fund to promote educational videos; and reportedly a whopping $5 billion educational fund as part of a deal to keep from getting shut down in the US over national security concerns (Bytedance, the owner of TikTok, has disputed the idea of the fund).

This has also included soft diplomacy, where teachers are using TikTok as a way of being more relatable to their audience of TikTok-loving students.

At its heart, doing more in education is a natural move for TikTok. Video is a huge learning tool, as YouTube and many others have demonstrated, and it connects with the app’s younger audience while also creating more reasons for why others might also want to use it — but also somewhat opportunistic.

Education is a good look, and its push in India was coming at a time when the company was first starting to face backlash over its content (it didn’t help: it’s currently banned there).

Meanwhile, its US Creative Learning Fund and those reports of a $5 billion education fund — accurate or not — emerged just as the company was working on hammering out a deal — which might include its Chinese owner Bytedance ceding control of the app — to keep it from getting banned outright in the US over national security concerns. (That story is still ongoing.)

Learn On TikTok — which officially was announced this summer — is heavy on user-generated content from TikTok’s wider base, with videos ranging pretty widely, from pottery making to make-up tips, and learning pig Latin to folding origami pigs.

But alongside this, TikTok is now populating the hashtag with a lot of premium content. Working with publishers like Self and WWD, professional organizations, non-profit institutions, and influential personalities (Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson in the science arena, chef José Andrés, Lilly Singh and Tyra Banks), TikTok is also curating and cultivating content made specifically for TikTok to broaden people’s minds and experiences.

“I’m excited to partner with TikTok,” Nye said at the time that his deal was announced. “Looking forward to doing some science on the small screen— the real small screen— the one on your phone…”

All of this is to say that there is a lot of opportunity, but probably some more growing pains to come for TikTok and the people using it to teach and learn.

We will update this story as we learn more ourselves…

#education, #learning, #social, #tc, #tiktok

0

Udacity raises $75M in debt, says its tech education business is profitable after enterprise pivot

Online education tools continue to see a surge of interest boosted by major changes in work and learning practices in the midst of a global health pandemic. And today, one of the early pioneers of the medium is announcing some funding as it tips into profitability on the back of a pivot to enterprise services, targeting businesses and governments who are looking to upskill workers to give them tech expertise more relevant to modern demands.

Udacity, which provides online courses and popularized the concept of “nanodegrees” in tech-related subjects like artificial intelligence, programming, autonomous driving and cloud computing, has secured $75 million in the form of a debt facility. The funding will be used to continue investing in its platform to target more business customers.

Udacity said that part of the business is growing fast, with Q3 bookings up by 120% year-over-year and average run rates up 260% in H1 2020.

Udacity said that customers in the segment include “five of the world’s top seven aerospace companies, three of the Big Four professional services firms, the world’s leading pharmaceutical company, Egypt’s Information Technology Industry Development Agency, and three of the four branches of the United States Department of Defense”, which work with Udacity to build tailor-made courses for their specific needs, as well as use off-the-shelf content from its catalogue.

Udacity also works with companies to build programs as part of their CSR remits, and with tech companies like Microsoft to build programs to get more developers using their tools.

“We’re seeing tremendous demand on the enterprise and government side,” said Gabe Dalporto, Udacity’s CEO who joined the company in 2019. “But to date it’s mostly been inbound, with enterprises, Fortune 500 companies and government organizations coming in and wanting to work with us. Now it’s time to build out a sales team to go after them.”

The news today is a welcome turn of events for a company that has been in the spotlight over the years for less rosy reasons, partly because it found it challenging to land on a profitable business model.

Founded nearly a decade ago by three robotics specialists including Sebastian Thrun, the Stanford professor who at the time was instrumental in building and running Google’s self-driving car and larger moonshot programs, Udacity initially saw an opportunity to partner with colleges and universities to build online tech courses (Thrun’s academic standing, and the vogue for MOOCs, were possibly two fillips for that strategy).

After that proved to be too challenging and costly, Udacity pivoted to positioning itself as a vocational learning provider targeting adults, specifically those who didn’t have the hours or money to embark on full-time courses but wanted to learn tech skills that could help them land better jobs.

That resulted in some substantial user growth, but still no profit. Eventually, the company faced multiple rounds of layoffs as it restructured and gravitated closer to its current form.

Currently, the company still provides direct-to-consumer (direct-to-learner?) courses, but it won’t be long, Dalporto said, before enterprise and government customers account for about 80% of the company’s business.

Previously, Udacity had raised nearly $170 million from a pretty illustrious group of investors that include Andreessen Horowitz, Ballie Gifford, CRV, Emerson Collective and more. This latest tranche is coming in the form of a debt facility from a single company, Hercules Capital.

Dalporto said the decision to take the debt route came after initially getting a number of term sheets for an equity round.

“We had multiple term sheets on the equity side, but then we received an unsolicited debt term sheet unsolicited,” he said. That led to the company modelling out the cost of capital and dilution, he said, and “it turned out it was the better option.” For now, he added, equity was “off the table” but it may consider revisiting the idea en route to a public listing. “For the foreseeable future, we are cash flow positive so there is no compelling reason right now, but we might do something closer to an IPO.”

Being a debt facility, this funding does not mean a revisiting of Udacity’s valuation. The company was last capitalized five years ago at $1 billion, but Dalporto would not comment on how that had changed in the (uncompleted) equity term sheets it had received.

Education is in session

The interest Udacity is seeing — both from investors and as a company — is part of the bigger spotlight that online education companies have had in the last year. In K-12 and university education, the focus has been on building better technology and content to help students stay engaged and continue learning even when they cannot be in their normal physical classrooms as schools, districts, governments and public health officials implement social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19.

But that’s not the only classroom where online education is getting called on. In the world of business, organizations that have also gone remote because of the pandemic are facing a matrix of challenges. How can they keep employees productive and feeling like part of a team when they no longer work next to each other? How do they make sure their workforces have the skills they need to work in the new environment? How do they make sure their own businesses are equipped with the right technology, and the expertise of people to run it, for this latest and future iterations of “work”? And how can governments make sure their economies don’t fall off a cliff as a result of the pandemic?

Online education has been seen as something of a panacea for all of these questions, and that has spelled a lot of opportunity for tech companies building online learning tools and other infrastructure — with others including the likes of Coursera, LinkedIn, Pluralsight, Treehouse and Springboard in the area of tech-related courses and learning platforms for workers.

As with other market segments like e-commerce, this isn’t about a trend emerging out of the blue, but about it accelerating much faster than people projected it would.

“Given Udacity’s growth, focus on sustainable business practices, and expanding reach across multiple industries, we are excited to provide this investment. We look forward to working with the company to help them sustain their impressive global growth, and continued innovation in upskilling and reskilling,” said Steve Kuo, Senior MD and Technology Group Head at Hercules Capital, in a statement.

In the areas of enterprise and government, Dalporto described a number of scenarios where Udacity is already active, which are natural progressions of the kind of vocational learning it was already offering.

They include, for example, the energy company Shell retraining structural and geological engineers “who had good math skills but no machine learning expertise” to be able to work in data science, needed as the company builds more automation into its operation and moves into new kinds of energy technology.

And he said that Egypt and other nations — looking to the success that India has had — have been providing technology expertise training to residents to help them find jobs in the “outsourcing economy.” He said that the program in Egypt has seen an 80% graduation rate and 70% “positive outcomes” (resulting in jobs).

“If you take just AI and machine learning, demand for these skills is growing at a rate of 70% year-over-year, but there is a shortage of talent to fill those roles,” Dalporto said.

Udacity is for now not looking at any acquisitions, he added, for another 6-12 months. “We have so much demand and work to do internally that there is no compelling reason to do that. At some point we will look at that but it needs to be linked to our strategy.”

#education, #enterprise, #funding, #online-learning, #udacity

0

Booming edtech M&A activity brings consolidation to a fragmented sector

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to force teachers, students and parents to adopt new technologies, edtech’s total addressable market has massively grown in the last several months. The shift has urged venture capitalists to pour money into the sector accordingly, ushering a number of startups into the unicorn club.

But maturation doesn’t just mean bigger checks and high-flying unicorns — it also brings exits.

Edtech M&A activity is buzzier than usual: In the last week, Course Hero, a startup that sells Netflix-like subscriptions to students looking for learning and teaching content, bought Symbolab, an artificial intelligence-powered calculator. Saga Education, a tutoring nonprofit backed by Comcast, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and others, acquired math software platform Woot Math. We also saw PowerSchool, which sells a suite of software services to manage schools, scoop up Hoonuit, a data management and analytics tool for educators. Finally, K-12 curriculum company Discovery Education bought K-5 science and stem curriculum upstart Mystery Science.

It’s a lot of news in a short period of time. Luckily, these consolidations offer some directional guidance regarding where some edtech businesses think the future of their industry is headed.

Smart content as a competitive advantage

Content, to an extent, is commoditized. If you can find a free tutorial on Youtube or Khan Academy, buy a subscription to an edtech platform that offers the same solution? The commodification of education is good for end-users and is often why startups have a freemium model as a customer acquisition strategy. To convert free users into paying subscribers, edtech startups need to offer differentiated and targeted content.

The Course Hero and Mystery Science deals show us that edtech businesses are hungry for personalized, targeted content. Course Hero’s acquisition of Symbolab was essentially a deal for more than a decade’s worth of data that captured which math questions students found hardest.

Symbolab is a math calculator that is set to answer over 1 billion questions this year. With each answer, Symbolab adds information to its algorithm regarding students’ most common pain points and confusion. Course Hero, in contrast, is a broader service that focuses on Q&A from a variety of subjects. CEO Andrew Grauer says Symbolab’s algorithm isn’t something that Course Hero, which has been operating since 2006, can drum up overnight. That’s precisely why he “decided to buy, instead of build.”

“It made a lot of sense to move fast enough so it wouldn’t take up multiple years to get this technology,” Grauer said. The deal was made as big companies get in the Q&A game too, he noted. Google acquired homework helper app Socratic in 2019 and Microsoft built Microsoft Solver in the same year.

Discovery Education, a curriculum provider for K-12 classrooms, acquired San Francisco-based K-5 STEM curriculum provider, Mystery Science. Discovery Education has launched a series of other products focused on science education, including Discovery Education Experience, the Science Techbook series and STEM Connect.  However, Mystery Science is largely focused on offering a creative digital solution to science education. The programming, a mix of videos, prompts and projects, cover a range of questions such as, “Where do rivers flow?” and “Could a volcano pop up where you live?” for young students.

Mystery Science CEO and founder Keith Schact explained how his product focuses on kids and educators, while Discovery Education focuses on educators and districts, making the deal feel like a “natural marriage.” Even as edtech goes directly to consumers, Schact remains bullish on the role that institutions play in true adoption of technology.

“You can go straight to teachers and get a certain market share,” he said. “But the institutions still do have a big role.” The founder likened the dynamic to the state of media: With the rise of blogs, you can publish directly and reach an engaged audience, but writers who want a bigger positioning tend to join larger platforms to grow their overall reach. Edtech is the same, in that some startups need an official sign-off from schools before they can reach venture-scale returns.

According to a source familiar with the transaction, Mystery Science was sold for $175 million after only raising $4 million in venture financing.

Using data management and analytics to improve student outcomes

#andrew-grauer, #coronavirus, #coursehero, #covid-19, #edtech, #education, #fundings-exits, #ma, #powerschool, #startups, #symbolab, #tc

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Teachers are leaving schools. Will they come to startups next?

It wasn’t the lingering exhaustion that made Christine Huang, a New York public school teacher, leave the profession. Or the low pay. Or the fact that she rarely had time to spend with her kids after the school day due to workload demands.

Instead, Huang left teaching after seven years because of how New York City handled the coronavirus pandemic in schools.

“Honestly, I have no confidence in the city,” she says. Tensions between educators and NYC officials grew over the past few weeks, as school openings were delayed twice and staffing shortages continue. In late September, the union representing NYC’s principals called on the state to take control of the situation, slamming Mayor de Blasio for his inability to offer clear guidance.

Now, schools are open and the number of positive coronavirus cases are surprisingly low. Still, Huang says there’s a lack of grace given to teachers in this time.

Huang wanted the flexibility to work from home to take care of her kids who could no longer get daycare. But her school said that, while kids have the choice on whether or not to come into class, teachers do not. She gave her notice days later.

There are more than 3 million public school teachers in the United States. Over the years, thousands have left the system due to low pay and rigid hours. But the coronavirus is a different kind of stress test. As schools seesaw between open and closed, some teachers are left without direction, feeling undervalued and underutilized. The confusion could usher numbers of other teachers out of the field, and massively change the teacher economy as we know it.

Teacher departures are a loss for public schools, but an opportunity for startups racing to win a share of the changing teacher economy. Companies don’t have the same pressures as entire school districts, and thus are able to give teachers a way to teach on more flexible hours. As for salaries, edtech benefits from going directly to consumers, making money less of a budget challenge and more of a sell to parents’ wallets.

There’s Outschool, which allows teachers to lead small-group classes on subjects such as algebra, beginner reading or even mindfulness for kids; Varsity Tutor, which connects educators to K-12 students in need of extra help; and companies such as Swing and Prisma that focus on pod-based learning taught by teachers.

The startups all have different versions of the same pitch: they can offer teachers more money, and flexibility, than the status quo.

Underpaid and overworked teachers

There’s a large geographic discrepancy in pay among teachers. Salaries are decided on a state-by-state and district-by-district level. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, a teacher who works in Mississippi makes an average of $45,574 annually, while a teacher in New York makes an average of $82,282 annually.

Although cost of living factors impacts teacher salaries like any other profession, data shows that teachers are underpaid as a profession. According to a study from the Economic Policy Institute, teachers earn 19% less than similarly skilled and educated professionals. A 2018 study by the Department of Education shows that full-time public school teachers are earning less on average, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than they earned in 1990.

The variance of salaries among teachers means that there’s room, and a need, for rebalancing. Startups, looking to get a slice of the teacher economy, suddenly can form an entire pitch around these discrepancies. What if a company can help a Mississippi teacher make a wage similar to a New York teacher?

light bulb flickering on and off

Image: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Reach Capital is a venture capital firm whose partners invest in education technology companies. Jennifer Carolan, co-founder of the firm, who also worked in the Chicago Public School system for years, sees coronavirus as an accelerator, not a trigger, for the departure of teachers.

“We have a system and education system where teachers are underpaid, overworked, and you don’t have the flexibility that has become so important for workers now,” she said. “All these things have caused teachers to seek opportunity outside of the traditional schooling system.”

Carolan, who penned an op-ed about teachers leaving the public school system, says that new pathways for teachers are emerging out of the homeschooling tech sector. One of her investments, Outschool, has helped teachers earn tens of millions this year alone, as the total addressable market for what it means to be “homeschooled” changed overnight.

Gig economy powered by startups

Education technology services have created a teacher gig economy over the past few years. Learning platforms, with unprecedented demand, must attract teachers to their service with one of two deal sweeteners: higher wages or more flexible hours.

Outschool is a platform that sells small-group classes led by teachers on a large expanse of topics, from Taylor Swift Spanish class to engineering lessons through Lego challenges. In the past year, teachers on Outschool have made more than $40 million in aggregate, up from $4 million in total earnings the year prior.

CEO Amir Nathoo estimates that teachers are able to make between $40 to $60 per hour, up from an average of $30 per hour in earnings in traditional public schools. Outschool itself has surged over 2,000% in new bookings, and recently turned its first profit.

Outschool makes more money if teachers join the platform full-time: teachers pocket 70% of the price they set for classes, while Outschool gets the other 30% of income. But, Nathoo views the platform as more of a supplement to traditional education. Instead of scaling revenue by convincing teachers to come on full-time, the CEO is growing by adding more part-time teachers to the platform.

The company has added 10,000 vetted teachers to its platform, up from 1,000 in March.

Outschool competitor Varsity Tutors is taking a different approach entirely, focusing less on hyperscaling its teacher base and more on slow, gradual growth. In August, Varsity Tutors launched a homeschooling offering meant to replace traditional school. It onboarded 120 full-time educators, who came from public schools and charter schools, with competitive salaries. It has no specific plans to hire more full-time teachers.

Brian Galvin, chief academic officer at Varsity Tutors, said that teachers came seeking more flexibility in hours. On the platform, teachers instruct for five to six hours per day, in blocks that they choose, and can build schedules around caregiver obligations or other jobs.

Varsity Tutors’ strategy is one version of pod-based learning, which gained traction a few months ago as an alternative to traditional schooling. Swing Education, a startup that used to help schools hire substitute teachers, pivoted to help connect those same teachers to full-time pod gigs. Prisma is another alternative school that trains former educators, from public and private schools, to become learning coaches.

Pod-based learning, which can in some cases cost thousands a week, was popular among wealthy families and even led to bidding wars for best teacher talent. It also was met with criticism, suggesting the product wasn’t built with most students in mind.

The reality of next job

A tech-savvy future where students can learn through the touch of a button, and where teachers can rack in higher earnings, is edtech’s goal. But that path is not accessible for all.

Some tutoring startups could create a digital divide among students who can pay for software and those who can’t. If teachers leave public schools, low-income students are left behind and high-income students are able to pay their way into supplemental learning.

Still, some don’t think it’s the job of public school teachers, the vast majority of which are female, to work for a broken system. In fact, some say that the whole concept of villainizing public school teachers for leaving the system comes with ingrained sexism that women have to settle for less. In this framework, startups are both a bridge to a better future for teachers and a symptom of failures from the public educational systems.

Huang, now on the job hunt, says that the opportunities that edtech companies are creating aren’t built for traditional teachers, even though they’re billed as such. So far, she has applied to curriculum design jobs at educational content website BrainPop, digital learning platform Newsela, math program company Zearn and Q&A content host Mystery.org.

“What I’m finding is that a lot of edtech companies don’t seem to value our skills as teachers,” she said. “They’re not looking for teachers, they’re looking for coders.”

Edtech has been forced to meet increasing demand for services in a relatively short time. But the scalability could inherently clash with what teachers came to the profession to do. Suddenly, their work becomes optimized for venture-scale returns, not general education. Huang feels the tension in her job interviews, where she feels like recruiters don’t pay attention to creativity, knowledge and human skills needed for managing students. She has created 30 different versions of her resume.

The lack of suitable jobs made Huang decide to go on childcare leave instead of quitting the education system entirely, in case she needs to return to the traditional field. She hopes that is not the case, but isn’t optimistic just yet.

“I haven’t gotten a whole lot of interviews, because people see my resume; they see that I’m a teacher, and they automatically write me off,” she said.

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin (opens in a new window)

#amir-nathoo, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #education, #gig-economy, #learning-pods, #outschool, #startups, #tc, #teacher-economy, #teachers

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ByteDance announces its first gadget in a big education push

ByteDance on Thursday unveiled its first consumer hardware product, a smart light lamp with a display, that it says is part of its education technology portfolio as the Chinese internet giant continues to expand to categories beyond social video.

The Dali smart lamp features a display, camera, and a built-in digital assistant. The Dali smart lamp (in Chinese), which starts at $119, is aimed at school-going children who can use the device to finish their homework, ByteDance said (in Chinese) at a press conference. The camera will enable parents to tutor their kids and check in remotely via a mobile app.

The smart lamp could prove successful in China where, like many other markets, a large number of parents struggle to find a balance between their work and personal lives, and engage better with their kids.

ByteDance said the smart lamp is part of the company’s push into its education category, which it is now calling Dali Education (Dali is Chinese for big force). The Chinese giant, which owns viral short-video app TikTok, forayed into the education category several years ago.

The company today runs a range of education services including GoGoKid, which teaches kids English classes, and Qingbei, which replicates classroom experience. All of these products, including Guagua Long and Open Language, are now part of Dali Education umbrella.

Last year, ByteDance’s TikTok also expanded its education offerings in India, which until New Delhi banned the app in the country in late June this year was its biggest market outside of China.

The company said more than 10,000 employees are already working on its education arm. No word on whether ByteDance plans to launch the Dali smart lamp outside of China.

Rita Liao contributed to this report.

#asia, #bytedance, #china, #education, #hardware, #tiktok

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How to address inequality exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic

The novel coronavirus has accelerated the use of many digital technologies. Forced in the spring to close their doors, most K-12 schools and universities shifted to online learning where teachers lead classes virtually and students submit their assignments electronically.

According to the World Economic Forum, it is estimated that 1.2 billion students around the world this year were “out of the classroom” due to the pandemic, while in the United States, over 55 million K-12 students didn’t receive in-person instruction.

The use of telemedicine and video conferencing also has become a principal platform for medical consultations as a result of the coronavirus. For example, a Forrester analysis projected “general medical care visits to top 200 million this year, up sharply from their original expectation of 36 million visits for all of 2020.” Virtual connections allow patients to get recommendations wherever they are and draw on a broad range of medical expertise.

E-commerce is taking off as consumers abandon small retail outlets and large department stores. An industry study found that “total online spending in May 2020 reached $82.5 billion, up 77% from May of 2019” and those numbers almost surely will increase in coming months as people appreciate the convenience of online ordering and home delivery.

Yet the pandemic also has exposed dramatic inequities in technology access and utilization. Not everyone has the high-speed broadband required for online education, telemedicine and online shopping. The Federal Communications Commission has estimated it would take $40 billion to close the bulk of the broadband gap. But many people also lack laptops, notebooks, smartphones or electronic devices that allow them to stream videos and take advantage of new modes of service delivery.

It is not just that some are outside the online world, but that digital access is spread inequitably across various groups. According to an Education Week survey, 64% of American teachers and administrators in schools with a large number of low-income students said their pupils faced technology limitations, compared to only 21% of students in schools with a small number of low-income students. The problem isn’t simply broadband, but access to equipment and devices that allow pupils to make use of online resources.

There are substantial racial disparities as well. A McKinsey analysis found that 40% of African-American students and 30% of Hispanic students in U.S. K-12 schools received no online instruction during COVID-induced school shutdowns, compared to 10% of whites. These gaps in access to online education and digital services widen the already substantial educational inequalities that exist, but push them to new heights. If continued for a lengthy period of time, such differentials expose our most disadvantaged students to large barriers to advancement and a future of income deprivation or economic stagnation. Even more tragic, there may be a tipping point beyond which the gap is no longer recoverable.

These types of inequities are intolerable injustices that create nearly insoluble gaps with serious social and economic consequences. The variations noted above increase income inequality, widen the opportunity gap between social groups and doom those left behind to low-paying jobs, temporary positions without health benefits or outright unemployment. Not having access to the digital superhighway limits opportunities for online education, telemedicine and e-commerce and makes it nearly impossible to apply for jobs, request government benefits or access needed health or educational materials.

What is required right now is investment in digital infrastructure and improvements in digital access that eliminate unfair disparities based on race, income and geography. For example, the Federal Communications Commission needs to expand its current “Lifeline” program designed to promote phone connectivity for poor people to the internet. Many providers combine phone and internet usage so there is no reason to provide subsidies for phone service without also including internet service. With the availability of Voice over Internet Protocols (VoIP), it is easy for underserved people to combine phone and internet connectivity.

This FCC also should expand its “Schools and Libraries” program called “E-rate” to include home schooling and remote learning. With so many educational institutions closed and providing instruction through online education, the commission should use the millions in unexpended program funds to close the “homework gap” created by the COVID-19 pandemic. That would help impoverished students access online resources and video conferencing facilities.

The Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service seeks to improve broadband service in rural areas but its funding currently cannot be used to improve low-speed broadband. At a time when many lack sufficient speed to access online educational resources, telemedicine or video streaming, that limitation makes little sense and needs to be altered so that rural-dwellers can upgrade their internet service.

In the education sphere, states and localities must ensure that racial and income-based disparities in access to online learning are not a permanent feature of the K-12 landscape. Addressing this issue is going to require much more than distributing free laptops to needy students, as is often advocated. Rather, it will involve making sure families can afford the broadband access that will enable pupils to use the laptops in productive ways, teachers are well-trained in distance learning and educational programs equip young people with the skills needed in the 21st century economy.

As we move into the future, broadband will be as vital to social and economic advancement as highways, bridges and dams were in earlier eras. Similar to the 20th century, improving access requires national planning and public and private sector investments. Indeed, digital access should be considered a human right in the same manner as access to universal healthcare. People cannot participate in the digital economy and online learning systems without high-speed broadband.

As noted in our recent AI book, the United States requires a national plan that funds digital infrastructure, reduces racial and geographic disparities, facilitates universal medical insurance and prepares workers for the digital economy. The list of national imperatives includes closing the digital divide, expanding anti-bias rules for the digital economy, building an inclusive economy through more equitable tax policies and training the next generation of workers.

New digital services or financial transactions taxes could help fund the programs that need to be undertaken to deal with these issues. One hundred years ago, as the United States underwent industrialization, national leaders adopted an income tax to pay for needed services, and as we move into a digital economy, there will need to be new types of taxes to pay for needed expenditures. We cannot allow current inequities in access to education and healthcare to deny opportunities to African-Americans, Hispanics, immigrants and poor people. Leaving those individuals behind as the digital economy grows is not a viable option if we’re ever as a nation to achieve our full potential by empowering all Americans.

Data is the key to many emerging technologies so it is crucial to have unbiased information to develop new services, evaluate digital innovation and deal with the ramifications of current products. Much of the current digital data is proprietary in nature and therefore limits the ability of researchers to improve innovation, close the digital divide and develop remedies that address equity problems. The federal government sits on a trove of data that should be made available for commercial and research purposes on an anonymized basis so that privacy is maintained. In the same way that census data enables research, economic development and program assessment, wider access to digital data likely would spur new products and services while also helping to address equity problems.

In a country that continues to be plagued by the coronavirus, it is vital to reduce the inequities that deny opportunity to large groups of Americans and make it impossible for them to share in the benefits of the digital revolution. As we envision a post-COVID world, it is essential we build an inclusive economy that allows everyone to participate in and gain the benefits of the online world.

The fundamental shifts wrought by COVID are not going to slow even after a vaccine is developed and the effects of the coronavirus dissipate over time. Nearly all of the technological trends generated by COVID this year will remain a large part of ou