Edtech solutions that offer fast and economical education and upskilling options are emerging
Although still in its nascent stages, the UK edtech sector registered robust growth propelled by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the need to continue education remotely. Technology has brought much-needed disruption in the age-old education market. While tech giants such as Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Pearson provide all the major support, small and emerging local tech players are offering innovative solutions.
Unlike many other sectors, the COVID-19 pandemic acted as a catalyst for the growth of the edtech sector globally. The edtech sector in the United Kingdom also registered robust growth. According to the Digital Economy Council’s data for the year 2020, the country’s edtech industry was one of the fastest growing in Europe and is expected to reach £3.4 billion by the end of 2021.
The need for virtual classroom sessions and online courses as academic fixtures is expected to grow further globally. Advanced software and digital tools and devices play a vital role in transforming the classroom experience across the globe. However, support and funding will still be continually required for the sector to maintain the same level of influence.
Rising interest in the edtech sector makes it a perfect time to sample new and innovative products such as robots that students can build, code, and instruct; scanning pens that can read books aloud, helping children overcome reading difficulties; and electronic textbooks that can track students’ progress over the computer, mobile phone, or tablet. In the past, one of the key barriers associated with the acceptance of edtech has been the high cost and time required for teacher retraining. COVID-19 imposed lockdown restrictions that left the education sector with no choice but to quickly adapt to advanced edtech tools and the need to learn on the job.
The country is on the path of integrating modern technology solutions into the education system. Optimised learning platforms have enabled the creation of hybrid classrooms. The large social impact, innovative product portfolio, and general attractiveness of the sector make the UK’s edtech sector one of the fastest growing in Europe. The UK is a world leader in this sector, with the fourth highest tech of investments after the US, China, and India.
Additionally, Brexit also presented an opportunity for increased global collaboration in the tech and edtech sectors. The government announced £20 million funding over eight years to constitute a global edtech hub in collaboration with the World Bank, UK universities, researchers, and education experts from across the globe. In 2020, the government also announced the inauguration of the first of the 12 Institutes of Technology (IoTs), backed by £170 million government funding, to provide higher technical education in key sectors.
What makes the UK attractive foreground for investments?
The UK currently houses more than 1,000 edtech startups and established companies. These companies are leveraging innovative and new learning tools and technologies such as coding, artificial intelligence, augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR), to offer an immersive and realistic experience to users. For instance, AR enhances the real-world environment with sound effects, text, multimedia, and graphics. Edtech providers based across the globe are thus competing and often seeking inspiration from the UK’s edtech sector.
New platforms such as Little Bridge—a secure online EAL community, Kaligo and WriQ—handwriting apps, and School Cloud—training software, are some of the UK’s most innovative edtech offerings. The UK’s edtech companies at the zenith of creativity are luring several investors from across the globe. The country currently attracts a large majority of the edtech investment in Europe.
Startups attracted 41% of total edtech investments in Europe, according to Technation’s Data Commons. A major reason for the development of the country as a global investment hub for the edtech sector is its AR knowledge and resource pool. AR is the prime enabler for several education technology firms engaged in providing new and advanced learning experiences. Undoubtedly, the popularity of AR has been bolstered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, even before the pandemic, some of the largest global investors were beginning to notice the UK’s innovation potential.
Deals fortifying the immersive classroom experiences
Digital classrooms are fully dependent on electronic devices and software. Software as a Service (SaaS), a software distribution model, is being used to host applications by a vendor/service provider and gets propagated via the internet to the customers.
Manchester-based Inspyro aims at developing software and apps that would help to teach faculty to provide engaging learning experiences. The company used high-quality AR and VR technology platforms to offer immersive educational experiences for students. In August 2019, Inspyro was taken over by Discovery Education.
Educators across the globe have realised the significance of offering quality and immersive education technology experience aimed at revolutionising learning and broadening student horizons, especially during a time when normal life is restricted. In May 2021, Snap completed the acquisition of WaveOptics, an Oxford-based company engaged in developing AR displays for USD 500 million. The deal reinforced the UK’s reputation as a major hub for AR/VR technology solutions in the global space.
Apart from the providers of immersive reality solutions in the UK, engaging leadership and management solutions offered by software providers such as SCOMIS (managed reporting) and IMP (budgeting) are also instrumental in transforming how schools handle and manage vast volumes of their data.
Post takeover of Inspyro, Discovery Education acquired another UK-based interactive learning platform, Spiral, on 21 July 2021. The platform can be leveraged by teachers for collaboration and flipped classroom activities as well as quick assessment. Post-acquisition, Spiral’s capabilities have been integrated into Discovery Education’s learning platform. Platforms like Bramble offer virtual tutoring for older students and enable teachers and students to interact in real-time and across devices.
As UK-based companies make gradual inroads to revolutionise the global edtech sector, solutions that are more specialised and address niche and complex needs are expected to grow robustly. Edtech solutions that offer fast and economical education and upskilling options are emerging as some of the key focus areas in the UK and global edtech markets.