Even before the crisis, wiser heads than our own were declaring “life-long learning” would be compulsory for the next generation; employee skill sets must evolve at a breakneck pace to keep up with the constant emergence of new disciplines - and the demise of old ones.
Enter EdTech. Ideal to meet the need for a constantly evolving skillset. EdTech can be broadly defined as any digitally-driven, structured learning programme, usually backed by an accredited body. Night-school meets podcast, or ‘Masterclass’ meets Open University
Now, during the pandemic, as millions of people take to their PCs to start, continue or finish their education, the idea of EdTech as a real disruptor of the traditional education system is gaining ground.
In fact COVID has been a useful sampling campaign for those platforms and services providing an effective ‘virtualised equivalent’ of a real-world experience. In some cases, it’s become painfully obvious that the virtualised equivalent is actually the better option. EdTech might be such an example.
As a proposition, EdTech has been steadily developing over the last few years with the market projected to grow at 17.0% per annum to $252bn by 2020. Initially, the big players in the field were Coursera, Udacity, Udemy and The Khan Academy.
But now tech giants are moving into this new territory. Whereas the previous focus of EdTech was on lessons for school children and mature learners, there is increasing attention on the world of business: LinkedIN has a Live Webinars feature. Apple has iTunes University. Google has their Primer app. Microsoft has started giving lessons inside Minecraft. Seriously.
All this means that EdTech offers fantastic opportunities for brands to get involved with this yearning for remote learning, brought into sharp focus by the pandemic. Indeed, for brands, the benefits of EdTech are legion. Here’s just five of them:
If a brand can find a way to shine light on the brilliance of its finest engineers, dedicated designers, or smartest economists, then it makes a product offering all the more legitimate and compelling. Demonstrating mastery of a field through an academic lens can help make a bold statement about the power of the intellect driving the brand.
Brands can team up with recognised EdTech platforms to emphasise their legitimacy by co-branding ‘academic verticals’ relevant to their field. Alternatively, they could look to manufacture their very own learning series or branded courses, deploying their own specialists and experts to front the courses. Most important, the output becomes a valuable asset for the brand, amplifying related curricula across paid, owned and earned to target B2B or B2C consumers. Consider the marketing power of H & M sponsoring all fashion or textile qualifications. Or Porsche establishing and advertising an Online Engineering Academy. Or Hewlett Packard creating an accredited Certificate of Cybersecurity.
If a key barrier to the uptake of a product or service is that it is not well understood, then ‘explainer’ or ‘Intro 101’ content can prove invaluable in helping to remove that barrier. Brands with a complex offering should consider creating educational content that not only showcases their products, but actively demystifies the way it works or lifts the lid on its internal workings. A small business owner may be more inclined to switch her operation to a cloud-based supplier if she actively understands what benefits the cloud can bring. A cloud-supplier delivering that learning, gets their brand mentally shortlisted and stands a really good chance of winning that new customer when she’s ready to commit.
Coursera often divides its course material into categories of difficulty, and similarly other platforms offer pop-quizzes or mini-exams at the end of sessions. The number of people completing modules or online quizzes of a particular difficulty may give valuable insight into the natural ability of the consumer base to understand concepts or technicalities associated with your brand. This could prove useful in learning how to pitch new or additional products or services.
Similar to the above point, EdTech platforms could also be used for internal training and upskilling of employees. AT&T recently teamed up with Udacity to create nano-degrees for their employees, which they then built into their employees PDPs.
Linked to the previous point, those who seem to be motoring through modules and ace-ing assignments may be a future employee for the brand, particularly if they show a deep regard for the brand.
There will be those who think brands have no business in education, and if a brand’s involvement actively corrupted or unduly influenced an academic programme, this would be totally unacceptable.
But whilst brands can evangelise about their product or service, they can also help consumers improve their prospects in life. In short: brands don’t have to be preachers. They can also be teachers.
And, right now, it seems that’s what people need.
Phil is a Global Innovation Director, Media Futurist & Conference Speaker with 18 years’ experience from London, Dublin & Auckland. His key skills are evangelising about the future, simplifying the complex, energising clients and hastening the inevitable. He is also Co-author of - and speaker for - PHD's book 'Merge | The closing gap between technology and us’. Phil holds an MA, Politics and Media from the University of Liverpool.