Tag Archives: Innovation

Where are the giants of edtech in K-12 education in Europe?

We’re committed to playing a leading role in renewing education for the next generation and believe we can add value by supporting pupils and teachers on three fronts:

– Achieving excellent learning outcomes
– Enabling efficient ways of working, and
– Supporting engagement and motivation.

Technology can be a key enabler on making progress on each of these three fronts, Today, Sanoma Learning is one of Europe’s leading edtech companies, with roughly € 40 M of pure-play digital and € 100 M of multi-channel sales.

We’re ambitious and like to partner with and acquire other edtech companies to help us to support customers on the three fronts mentioned above. Significant amounts of money are being spent on education each year, of the order of 6% of GDP. This is approximately € 800 bn per year in the EU: the market is sizeable and K-12 is a big slice of that. Yet there are relatively few edtech companies established on the continent today that generate more than € 25 M of annual sales. To be honest, I couldn’t name 10 off the top of my head.

Plenty of talent, ideas and capital

IBIS Capital estimates that there are approximately 3,000 e-learning ventures in Europe today. These companies employ a lot of entrepreneurial talent, many of them working on potentially high-impact ideas. Also, it seems to me that it’s not impossibly difficult to find funding for promising edtech ventures. In the USA in Q1/2014 about $ 500 M was committed in new funding to 99 edtech ventures – the biggest quarter for the last five years.

“The market is rich enough in talent, ideas and venture funding.”

So why hasn’t this large and transforming market in K-12 education spurred the growth of a handful of European edtech giants?

To be frank, I don’t know. Let’s start by looking at the context for K-12 education in Europe today. The great majority of the money in the market is spent (directly or indirectly) by the government through schools, many of which are not yet ready for e-learning. Also, the great majority of overall funding is spent on the salaries of teachers; this is absolutely right – teachers are the most critical factor in providing excellent education.

Within this context I think there are probably three main reasons that make it difficult for an edtech giant to emerge from the European continent on the short term:

1. A rather immature ecosystem
A well-functioning e-learning ecosystem can be built if we can make progress on four dimensions in schools: i) a clear vision on what we want to achieve and committed leadership to make it happen ii) good ICT infrastructure iii) availability of content and software and iv) teachers equipped with the skills to get ICT to work for them and their pupils. Although good progress has been made in many countries on many of those dimensions in the last ten years, most of these ecosystems are still relatively immature. In many ways progress needs to be made on each of these dimensions simultaneously in order for the ecosystem to flourish. There are a lot of data available on this. To name one important element – today there are of the order of 5 devices per household in northern Europe but five pupils per workstation at school. The home is a much more advanced digital ecosystem than the school. Surely this is just a matter of timing? Maybe BYOD tablets will provide the impulse the ecosystem needs? In any case, the early stage of the ecosystem hinders the adoption of educational technology.

2. Long sales cycles but narrow sales windows
The great majority of spending on education in Europe is channelled through institutions. Most of those institutions are organised around an annual cycle. Sales processes into them tend to be long and complex and the window of opportunity rather narrow. If your service is great, but you are not well-positioned to make the sale, the opportunity can be lost until the next year, or for many years. This can be killing for start-ups managing their monthly burn rate and can be a big disincentive to some investors and entrepreneurs.

3. Lack of scale
The final area that is probably hindering the emergence of new European edtech giants is the lack of scale in the market. Education systems tend to be organised very locally and can be prone to political influence. There are relatively few things that scale across multiple countries. Even if your business does brilliantly well in one country, it will be very hard to capture that same position across the continent. Edtech ventures from the USA or China enjoy a clear advantage, with large home markets that can attract significant funding.

How can we improve?

Europe has many natural advantages in the edtech space. For example, it’s home to some world-class education systems such as Finland and there’s a rich start-up scene in a number of leading cities. There’s also a reliable and significant commitment to spending on education.

I’m sure there are lots of smart options about taxes and skills and common standards and so on that the EU is working on in building a big single European market, and I imagine many of those things will help. In addition to that I would like to see us getting more proactive as an industry in two areas. Firstly, it would be good to get more transparency on the market. Which of these new ventures are really starting to fly? Initiatives such as Edtech Europe and Sanoma’s Start-up Challenge help, but are not enough. It’s hard (but not impossible 🙂 ) to see the wood for the trees amongst the 3,000 of today. Who should we partner with? And secondly, are there ways for us to create a European network that can bring scale to the market so that we can more rapidly deploy new technology for the benefit of our customers?

I’m interested to hear your views on this. Feel free to drop me a line if you have inspired ideas.

Looking forward >>

Labster wins Sanoma’s start-up challenge on future of learning at TNW Europe

Mads Bonde, CEO of Labster, pitching at TNW

Mads Bonde, CEO of Labster, pitching at TNW

Last Friday at TNW Europe, Labster (www.labster.com) won Sanoma’s start-up challenge on the future of learning. Congratulations to Mads Bonde and the Labster team on winning not only € 25,000 but also eternal fame!

Labster runs 3D virtual labs in the life sciences and allows students to run their own experiments in a concept inspired by flight simulation. They claim their labs are effective in teaching theory, cost 1/10 of a physical lab, help to motivate pupils and yield rich learning analytics for teachers. They have been working together with leading institutions including UC Berkeley, Stanford University Online High School, University of Copenhagen, University of Hong Kong and Novo Nordisk and are currently used by more than 10,000 students worldwide.

Alongside Labster from Denmark, four other promising edtech start-ups pitched for the crown in Amsterdam, including:

i) Eduvee (www.eduvee.com) from England – an intuitive learning and tutoring platform that integrates and delivers personalised curriculum-mapped content to learners on any device
ii) DragonBox by We Want to Know (www.wewanttoknow.com) from Norway – a fun, game-based solution for learning maths
iii) Jumpido (www.jumpido.com) from Bulgaria – a game re-imagining education through games combining physical exercise with engaging maths problems, and
iv) EduKey’s Class Charts (www.classcharts.com) from Wales – a behavioural data solution supporting teachers in identifying how students interact with eachother and how this impacts their learning.

We chose Labster as winner of the challenge for two reasons:
i) excellent potential impact on the future of education, showing good proof-points on learning results, cost efficiency and engagement, and
ii) a strong “make it happen” team

We were really impressed by the quality of all five of these start-ups – they all did themselves proud in the pitching and we had a heated discussion about which of them would be the ultimate winner. Thanks to you all for having joined the challenge – you are all winners!

Sanoma sponsored this initiative since we are determined to take an innovative position in creating the future of education. We were delighted to have attracted more than 100 edtech startups from 24 countries across Europe. I also appreciated the good collaboration between Sanoma Learning, SanomaVentures and VentureScout in running a successful and spirited challenge: thanks to the teams for making this happen!

Learning outcomes accelerator: co-creating new solutions with schools

The future of learning is personal

personalAs we move from the industrial age to the knowledge age, our ways of working in education will change too. Amongst others, technology will enable us to tailor pedagogy, curriculum and learning support to the needs and aspirations of each individual learner. Developing the talents and potential of individuals and helping them to make progress in their lives will be key.

Our thinking needs to shift. From inputs …

Governments have traditionally put a lot of emphasis on the inputs into education. How much do we spend? How many pupils per classroom? How many hours of class time? How much do we spend on learning materials? How many devices in the school? These things are all important.

… to outcomes

input-to-outcomesHowever, the value is in the outcome not the input. Are we helping individuals to make progress in their learning career? Are we preparing them for effectively for work? Are we enabling them to become good and fulfilled citizens? These are the big outcomes questions.

Maybe these questions are so big that we only know the answers when it’s too late. Therefore, on a more practical level, we should break it down into something more manageable. For example, for each activity (“course” or “lesson”):

– does this contribute to a good learning result for all of the individual pupils?
– in a way that is engaging and motivating for pupils and teachers?
– and in a way that is effective in terms of time, cost and energy?

By bringing these outcomes into focus, we can reshape education for the next generation.

Enter the Learning Outcomes Accelerator

At the OPPI Learning Festival in Helsinki last week (great initiative!), we announced the launch of an open Learning Outcomes Accelerator:

“how can we improve and evidence the impact of education in the new era?”

In each of the countries in which Sanoma Learning operates (Finland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Poland and Sweden) – pretty much an all-star cast for PISA 🙂 – we would like to work with one school where at least one teacher/class would participate.

Also, we would like to ask academics (with expertise in outcomes, learning analytics, pedagogy and so on) to join us to bring an extra richness to our thinking and approach. And 75 professionals from Sanoma, with expertise about course and curriculum development, design and user experience, and lean startup methodologies will join us in creating new prototypes.

How does the accelerator work?

Participants at bootcamp

Participants at bootcamp

We will launch (in September, dates to be finalized) with five “live” kick-offs, one in each of the main schools participating. This will be followed by a seven week program of ideation and training, during which hundreds of ideas will be created, tested and improved. Towards the end of the process the best five ideas will be selected by public voting and the winners will be invited (expenses paid) for a four-day bootcamp in Amsterdam to build their prototype. I’ve previously blogged about how an accelerator works and what happens at bootcamp. It’s really exciting and inspiring to be part of it!

What is it, what isn’t it?

The accelerator will be above all about learning by doing! It will be fast-paced, highly practical and we will go from idea to functional prototype in less than 10 weeks. It will be structured in terms of the goals, process and support. And open in terms of ideas. It will be a journey of discovery and experimentation and this is what makes an open accelerator so exciting.

It’s not a big academic exercise. We won’t write a book about it. (Even if books are good too.)

Register and help us co-create new solutions for outcomes

If you would like to join the accelerator and you’re either a teacher at a school in one of the five countries mentioned earlier, or an academic from there or elsewhere, please let us know at sanomalearningoutcomes.com. We will strive to have decided which five schools to work with on this particular accelerator by the end of June. Participation is free of charge. We will be accepting applications until 1 September.

I was positively surprised by the interest from other groups at OPPI too. For example, some Foundations, Universities, other companies, schools in other countries and educational journalists also wanted to get involved. If you are from one of these groups and have something exciting to bring to the accelerator, then please take contact with me and let’s see if there are possibilities for us to adapt the program so you can join us.

Looking forward >>

I believe that by bringing outcomes into focus, we can reshape education for the next generation. I hope you will join us on this exciting journey!

Flipping 2.0

flipping 2.0I’m curious about how we can ‘personalize’ learning: how can we help each individual learner to best develop their talents?

‘Flipped learning’ has caught my attention as one potential route, characterized by a more student-centric classroom, higher-level thinking as a goal, and good use of face-to-face interaction between students and teachers.

For this reason I recently read Flipping 2.0: Practical Strategies for Flipping Your Class, compiled by Jason Bretzmann, with authors contributing to sections on 1) Flipping in the core content areas, 2) Can anybody flip? and 3) Just for teachers.

I would like to recommend this book to teachers interested in flipping their classrooms and to other creators of educational resources looking to support personalized learning. I thought it was surprisingly accessible and there were three things I particularly appreciated about it:

1. Expert

All of the contributors have in-depth and first-hand experience of transitioning to a flipped classroom and describe that transformation clearly.  I thought the cases were helpful and real-world descriptions of the benefits and pitfalls. This is not a book of idealized concepts written by hands-off consultants but a very credible “how-to” handbook.

2. Practical

I especially liked the practical nature of the book. Amongst others, it’s a great resource for working out which technical resources might work best for teachers and students. There’s a lot of useful practical advice on creating learning materials, engaging students and dealing with challenges connected with flipped learning such as access to technology.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

3. Passion for teaching and learning

I love it when people are passionate about what they do. The contributors to this work share a passion for teaching and learning and that oozes through the pages. You feel throughout the book that they are striving to be great teachers and are constantly looking for ways to excel and improve in that role. Respect!

By the end of the book I personally wanted to create my own lessons and I’m not even a teacher! Apart from thinking how we could support the flipped classroom at Sanoma Learning, it also made me wonder if I could use some of these learnings in my own job. Somehow a ‘flipped board meeting’ doesn’t sound quite right :-), yet we do say that we want to spend less time going through powerpoint slides and more time on discussing and improving the strategies. Worth an experiment …

Sanoma Startup Challenge: the Future of Learning

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We recently announced the launch of a startup challenge, focusing on the future of learning. The goal of the challenge is to identify Europe’s most promising startups in K-12 education and to work with them in finding ways to help them to grow.

We’re encouraging applications from European startups that have a live product and growing customer base, but are still smaller than € 2 M in annual revenues and have been established within the last five years.

The application round is now open and will close on 1 March. Five finalists will be invited (expenses paid) to Amsterdam on 23-25 April to work with executives and experts from Sanoma Learning and SanomaVentures and to pitch their startup to The Next Web Conference audience and jury. The final winner will be announced immediately after the pitches and will receive a cash prize of € 25.000. We will also explore the options with the finalists for closer collaboration with Sanoma in supporting their growth ambitions.

Education is at the dawn of a new era, partly enabled by technology. As interim CEO of Sanoma Digital and CEO Designate of Sanoma Learning I am excited about working together with high potential startups in the edtech space and hope that we can build some successful and long-lasting relationships through this initiative!

For more information on the learning startup challenge, including the application procedure, click here.

Good luck to all applicants and I hope to see you in Amsterdam in April!