Edtech Europe 2015 Review

David Patterson’s views on the event

This is the third Edtech event and as a delegate at the previous two, this was the biggest and most ambitious to date. The event was well produced and very well attended: Edtech Europe is rapidly becoming the go-to event for investors, aspiring edtech businesses and those of us interested in this exciting market.

The two track plus formula meant it was impossible to see and hear all the speakers and panels and some tough choices had to be made.

This year had more of an American flavour than previous events and I felt I learnt more about the US education systems (and all its failings) than the European market, though the Steve Jobs school, it should be noted is a Dutch educational initiative in the mould of a Free School. We first came across them at BETT, but it was great to listen to the founder at Edtech.

It appears that the US education system is facing some very real problems. While we in the edtech industry certainly do look to the USA for the next generation of technologies, it is to be hoped that the present malaise affecting the US system of further and higher education (which was highlighted by a number of speakers, including the Gates foundation) does not make it across the Atlantic, but I am not optimistic.

As ever the opening address from Charles McIntyre and Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet  was excellent in setting the scene, highlighting the challenges and opportunities the edtech sector faces, and drawing strong parallels with the media industry. Edtech, like the media, will see the “Programmed Death of Purchased Content”, Benjamin argues and we will move to a certification-driven purchase model of courses, driven in part by MOOCs and importantly the brand value of the awarding body. Content will be increasingly streamed and not downloaded.

In our view content will be rented on a Netflix model for short periods of time, rather like our forthcoming Pay as You Train solution.

The LinkedIn purchase of Lynda.com was of course big news and this is believed to herald the beginning of the often talked about Professional Certification Market in earnest. This market, centring principally around ICT skills will create a new market segment worth $30 billion.

This represents a move towards the often discussed, but now real, model of “Lifelong learning”. The demand for Lifelong Learning and the resulting personal development is being driven by the rapid pace of technology making jobs (even tech jobs) rapidly obsolete, and the fact that we are all working in businesses with an increasing dependence on technology. Indeed it was argued that technology is at present destroying jobs at faster than it is able to create jobs…a worrying trend highlighted in the USA, which to add complexity to the conundrum is also suffering a skills shortage.

Benjamin and Charles argue that technology, and edtech in particular, can play a role in re-setting a global economy in which technology is diminishing the number of available jobs. However, the economies best suited to the utilisation of edtech are not the mature economies of the west, but the emerging economies, particularly those in Asia.

In their view, this is in part due to demographics and the Asian education sphere being much more consumer led than institution led in comparison to the West. This is because of the very competitive nature of economies and the overwhelming belief held by Asian families that education and skills are the route to prosperity – a view which is not quite as prevalent in the West. This lack of motivation (or something else ..possibly disengagement and demographics), combined with the dead hand of Western institutional and governmental bureaucracy has slowed the uptake of edtech as a way of learning in the West, unlike the media which is consumer driven. This is further compounded by the view of the modern western student that learning and its use of technology is dated in comparison to the media, social media and video games….causing some disengagement?

So, what are we to conclude: Can the challenge the Western education systems face be re-set by investment in edtech alone? Probably not; in the UK we see the FELTAG challenge is a sign of a change of mind set by policy makers, and in the US the work of the Gates Foundation to empower learners and remove legislative barriers (as show-cased at this event) will help, but will it transform?

It was the Samsung presentation which offered the most informative exposition of the challenge based on some very detailed research into the EU levels of digital literacy of teachers and young people among other things, (the findings of which were worrying enough!). Samsung’s presentation really asked the key questions: Is Europe able to make the changes needed to its education system by applying technology to learning and skills from a governance and financial perspective? Probably not, and therefore what role will the private sector play as more countries seek to withdraw state funding from skills education? Quite a lot…..if Europe is to stay in the game.