- Coronavirus lockdown opens new paths for online education
- The edtech field may see its growth accelerating even faster because of pandemic
- The world of education and worker retraining has been upended by the coronavirus, with many changes that could have long-lasting impacts
Teacher Kai Frazier had a hard time persuading venture capital investors to consider her online education startup, which provides virtual-reality tours of museums and historic sites for children. Then the deadly coronavirus caused societies to shut down worldwide.
“VCs thought that this was only for poor kids who couldn’t afford to go to museums,” Frazier told Karma. “COVID-19 took that argument out” and led potential investors to reconsider Kai XR, she said. Now, Frazier is in the midst of a funding round that may net between $500,000 and $1 million.
With almost 1.2 billion children locked out of schools and millions of adults out of work around the globe, the deadly coronavirus pandemic is forcing the world to re-examine how best to educate and retrain people. That may spur even faster growth of online education, a field that was already expected to surge to $319 billion by 2025 from $188 billion last year.
“COVID-19 is a terrible thing, but what it also did was break down structures that weren’t serving a lot of people,” Frazier said. “Online education may quickly become the classroom experience.”
Her company produces virtual reality tours — like this one of the Obama portraits — that will be viewed online for a monthly subscription fee on a platform that launched last month. The company has seen a 200% increase in people signing up for a free demonstration because of the pandemic.
With VR tours, a child can have a wide range of experiences — from touring a Negro League baseball museum to seeing how a windmill works — that might not otherwise be available because of cost or distance, Frazier said. Online can provide a “diverse education.”
Investors certainly are betting so. A record $18.7 billion was invested in edtech companies worldwide last year, according to research firm Metaari. The pandemic doesn’t seem to have killed enthusiasm for the field. In March, online education company Yuanfudao of China raised $1 billion in a finance round led by Tencent Holdings and private equity firm Hillhouse Capital Group.
According to education research firm HolonIQ, a lot of that growth will eventually be in emerging markets in India, Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa, “where multi-billion dollar funds are being set up to deploy capital into education and other ESG and impact sectors.”
Worker retraining also has become a hot topic, with a White House advisory panel last week saying new pathways are needed for the unemployed to upgrade their skills and learn new ones so they can find jobs in fields that are expected to rebound first.
Guild Education is responding to that need. The edtech company was founded in 2015 to help employers including Chipotle, Disney and Walmart create education programs for workers by connecting companies with higher-ed programs at nonprofit universities.
Earlier this month, Guild launched the Next Chapter platform, which enables employers to
provide laid-off workers with access to reskilling programs and hands-on coaching to help them qualify for new positions in areas where demand will increase as the economy reopens.
“Next Chapter was created to help workers make the leap to higher wage” positions, Rachel Carlson, Guild’s CEO, said in an email to Karma.
Investors are also jumping into the field of worker training. Online training platform GO1.com announced this week it raised $40 million in Series C funding.
“What has been made clear through this pandemic is the importance of disseminating knowledge across borders, companies, and all parts of society,” The World Economic Forum said in a report last month. “If online learning technology can play a role here, it is incumbent upon all of us to explore its full potential.”