Leverage generative AI to redefine the landscape of edtech.
GUEST COLUMN | by Carrie Ryan
In the dynamic field of education technology (edtech), generative AI has emerged as a disruptive force, propelling the industry into a new era of innovation and challenge. Over the past year, the investment group I work for has navigated this new terrain, guiding its family of portfolio companies through the tumultuous shifts brought about by generative AI. This journey not only has provided a wealth of insights into the evolving edtech environment but also highlights the necessity for strategic business model evolution to fully leverage generative AI’s educational promises.
‘This journey not only has provided a wealth of insights into the evolving edtech environment but also highlights the necessity for strategic business model evolution to fully leverage generative AI’s educational promises.’
Here we delve into the evolving trends of generative AI in the edtech space, assess its expansive potential, and propose strategic solutions for businesses grappling with similar transformative shifts. By doing so, we seek to illuminate the pathways for companies to thrive amidst the seismic shifts introduced by generative AI.
The Disruption of Edtech?
Globally, there is an immense unmet demand for education, and despite the best efforts of edtech companies, the gap between need and availability remains. However, GenAI has the potential to drive innovative business models in education that can bridge that gap.
Traditional education has been built around a one-size-fits-all approach to the dissemination of knowledge. Edtech platforms have improved upon that model – often along one (or both) of two vectors. The first is access to more content, whether that is the deep pools of user-generated knowledge available at sites like Stack Overflow or Brainly, or the curated, professionally developed content provided by platforms like Skillsoft or Udemy. Both approaches have successfully enabled self-directed (and self-paced) discovery of answers or fresh learnings.
However, the very nature of edtech seems to place the industry in the crosshairs of GenAI-driven change. The curation and presentation of knowledge that characterizes many edtech businesses is exactly the capability that is at the heart of GenAI systems like ChatGPT. GenAI technology enables learners to find answers to their questions quickly, as well as self-correct, reducing the need for conventional learning resources. For example, a fundamental skill like coding can be automated through AI-driven platforms, making it more accessible to learners. The upshot for edtech companies is that they were seen as being in the vanguard of businesses most at risk from GenAI. The reality is proving to be different.
A GenAI Enabled Future
As understanding of the nature and capabilities of AI has grown, an increasing sense has developed that GenAI in fact has huge upside for edtech companies across several different vectors.
- Language. This was previously a big barrier for edtech as it was very costly to translate content into local language and so hard to access certain markets. Now that barrier is gone, creating big opportunities for geographic expansion and cross-country collaboration. Consider for example Go Student’s GoVR proposition that helps kids learn languages in a real time virtual reality (VR) experience where content gets translated and generated in real time so it feels like the user is speaking to a fellow peer in another country.
- Personalization. One of the biggest barriers to adoption for eLearning has always been engagement. It’s boring to watch a static video and users often just click through a module while doing something else. With GenAI, it is possible to auto-generate content in response to real-time signals and information about the user (e.g. job title, career interests, skill set, prior answers, past usage behavior). This results in far more tailored and effective learning experiences – whether in school or in the workplace. This capability also extends accessibility for divergent learning styles.The technology doesn’t have to be restricted to online either. Classroom teaching seeks to tailor content to the individual, but there is a limit to what a single teacher can do in a large class of kids. GenAI can extend teachers’ capabilities, with kids being offered personalized learning journeys that bring out their unique skills and value them as individuals whilst driving towards better outcomes with less stress (and even making the process enjoyable!).
- Real-time upskilling. In a corporate context, there has recently been an increasing focus on upskilling. This is where training is anchored on the specific needs of each learner with an outcome orientation. GenAI opens up opportunities for enabling that upskilling to happen in real-time. For example, McKinsey Lilli is an AI copilot being rolled out to all consultants that acts as a personal coach. Similarly, GitHub copilot helps technologists learn by doing. The benefit of this approach is instant productivity gains – in comparison to traditional training where Learning and Development (L&D) teams have always struggled to showcase quantifiable outcomes from training. The quantifiable impact of this approach can enable access to new budgets – these copilot tools are now top of the agenda across the C-Suite.
These opportunities have implications for edtech content platforms that were previously thought likely to be totally substituted by ChatGPT. If they can use their data to train proprietary AI models, either in partnership or alone, they are well positioned to prosper in the new age of GenAI.
The key is for edtech companies to not fight GenAI but to make it work for them and their users.
‘The key is for edtech companies to not fight GenAI but to make it work for them and their users.’
AI cannot exist without content from communities of experts and knowledge platforms that are routinely updated. The future will look like a symbiosis of AI and human community, which means incumbents sitting on vast proprietary data sets will have an edge. Harnessed effectively, GenAI promises to take all that content and make it even more discoverable and digestible. Ultimately, despite the initial doomsaying, it feels like GenAI is ultimately going to be a breakthrough technological disruption that could transform education for the better.
Shaping the Future of Business with GenAI
Education Technology is not alone in finding itself facing seismic AI-driven transformation, and the integration of generative AI stands poised to revolutionize many businesses. Our experience has underscored the paramount importance of adaptability, experimentation, and an unwavering commitment to staying attuned to the ever-evolving trends in any market.
The key to sustained success in edtech and other sectors now hinges upon an organization’s ability to not only welcome change but also to proactively seize and monetize the diverse opportunities presented by GenAI. Agility and a willingness to embrace market shifts are no longer merely best practices; they have become imperative for long-term survival.
‘Agility and a willingness to embrace market shifts are no longer merely best practices; they have become imperative for long-term survival.’
As we witness the GenAI revolution unfold, it is clear we are on a collective learning journey. Each stakeholder, innovator, and customer plays a pivotal role in crafting this narrative, shaping the future under the profound influence of Generative AI. Together, we are charting the course for how this GenAI-driven future will unfold across the business landscape.
Carrie Ryan is Vice President of Strategy and Business Development at Prosus, a global consumer internet group and one of the largest technology investors in the world. She is also a Board Member at SoloLearn and was interim Chief of Staff at Stack Overflow. Before Prosus, Carrie held strategic and operational leadership roles at Nike and eBay and was a consultant at McKinsey & Company. Connect with Carrie on LinkedIn.