The Great Rationalization and Consolidation of Edtech

An interview with Brian Shaw, Discovery Education’s new CEO.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

He’s not new to Discovery Education; Brian Shaw recently served as Discovery Education’s Chief Financial Officer & Chief Operations Officer. He joined Discovery Education in 2018 and has played a significant role in the growth of the Company as a standalone business. And now, most recently, Brian has assumed the role of CEO. 

‘I believe that at this moment, edtech is in an unprecedented period of change which is going to have major implications for years to come…’

Prior to joining Discovery Education, Brian created and then led the Corporate Development, Investments, and Investor Relations functions at Red Ventures, a technology-enabled portfolio of digital companies. Prior to Red Ventures, he held leadership roles in the financial planning and analysis and accounting functions at Time Warner Cable, and in the assurance practice at Ernst & Young. 

“For the last six years, I have worked alongside an incredibly talented team of individuals to create and distribute high-quality digital learning solutions globally,” says Brian. “I look forward to progressing our tradition of innovation, expanding our impact on education, and building on the foundational initiatives we’ve invested in over the last several years to drive growth alongside my colleagues at Discovery Education as well as our partners at Clearlake.” In this EdTech Digest exclusive, Brian talks about the moment before us, how we can better serve school systems, his past informing his present role, ensuring the “voice of the educator” is heard, technology’s role in education, and the future of learning. 

Great to meet you, Brian!  You are taking over as CEO of Discovery Education at an interesting time. Tell me what you sense is going on in edtech at this moment.

Thanks Victor.  It’s a pleasure to connect with you!

I believe that at this moment, edtech is in an unprecedented period of change which is going to have major implications for years to come, not only for companies like Discovery Education, but also for teachers and students around the world. At Discovery Education, we are calling this moment The Great Rationalization and Consolidation. 

During the pandemic, school districts made unprecedented investments in education technologies. Now, districts are carefully analyzing their edtech spending and rationalizing their purchases through a careful review of the usage data and alignment to outcomes and evidence of learning. With efficacy data in hand that highlights which resources are working, and which are not, school systems are consolidating their edtech spending on fewer, higher-impact services. 

Does this period of “rationalization and consolidation” impact how you look at serving school systems?

Discovery Education has always provided school systems with innovative, best-in-class digital resources.  We pioneered the use of digital content in the classroom, created the first digital-first textbooks, or Techbooks, and we are now leaping ahead again though our AR/VR content and our applications of Artificial Intelligence. 

That said, I think the rationalization and consolidation of edtech spending turns up the heat on Discovery Education and all other edtech providers in the space.  

During a time when school systems are evaluating the ROI of their edtech spending and categorizing it according to value and potential for improvement, Discovery Education is looking carefully not only at how we can demonstrate greater value for our school-based partners, but how we can continue to innovate and bring the school systems we serve the highest-quality digital products that empower educators to create the most impactful learning experiences possible. 

Prior to your current role as CEO, you served as Discovery Education’s COO and CFO.  How did those roles prepare you for your current position?

As Discovery Education’s COO and CFO, I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside talented CEOs and Board members to craft plans and strategies for expanding our impact on teaching and learning. While this was good training for my current role, I think the experience I gained as COO will be most helpful to me moving forward.

As COO, I had the opportunity to work alongside Discovery Education’s talented team around the globe to implement our growth strategies. During that time, I learned—from the inside out and from the folks on the ground doing the work—what [our company] actually does, how we do it, and what impact we have on the teachers and students we serve.  

One added benefit to having served as COO is the opportunity to learn from what I think are some of the most talented educators in edtech.  At Discovery Education, you will find educators in every aspect of our business.  They play an important role in ensuring that everything we do is informed by the voice of the educator and most especially, the needs of students. 

You mentioned that everything Discovery Education does is informed by the “voice of the educator” How do you ensure the educator’s voice is heard when DE designs and builds products?  

Well, as I said, ensuring the educator’s voice permeates everything we do begins with the former classroom teachers and school administrators on our team. Having so many former educators on our staff from almost every type of school system imaginable helps inform everything from our corporate strategies to our decisions on where we place the buttons in our digital services.

‘Having so many former educators on our staff from almost every type of school system imaginable helps inform everything from our corporate strategies to our decisions on where we place the buttons in our digital services.’

Equally important however is input from active educators in the field. Through qualitative and quantitative means— 1:1 interviews, panels discussions, surveys, studies of product usage patterns, third-party research and more, Discovery Education’s team is aggressively working to identify the challenges teachers are facing and create ways to address those challenges through our products.

Finally, the Discovery Educator Network or DEN, one of the oldest and most active professional learning networks of its kind, is a never-ending source of feedback. This year at ISTE, the DEN will celebrate 19 years of connecting members across school systems and around the world through social media, virtual conferences, and in-person events, fostering valuable idea sharing and inspiration. Over the years, the DEN has played a tremendous role ensuring the educator’s voice guides Discovery Education’s path, and I look forward to hearing even more insights from this group in my new role.

What role should technology play in education, and what are some of the challenges leaders face as they consider this evolving relationship? 

I believe technology’s role in education is to empower teachers to more easily scale what we know is best practice, improve student achievement, and save teachers time and effort that is better spent with the students they serve.

When I think about the challenges school leaders face in the evolving relationship between school leaders and technology, I think of accountability. In today’s data-driven world, school leaders are in the position of demanding more accountability from their edtech providers. To do so, those leaders will need to know how to read the data to which they will have access.  Aligning edtech resources with learning objectives and then securing, reading, and understanding evidence of student progress often requires a nuanced understanding of the resource’s impact on learning.  To ensure the level of accountability coming in this new era of edtech is going to require both providers and school leaders to learn some new skills.

We began with a question about what’s going on in edtech at the moment.  Let’s jump ahead. Where do you see edtech in the next 1-2 years?

I believe that the next 1-2 years will provide a new level of clarity as to which edtech resources work. In school systems, there will be a heightened emphasis on selecting products that deliver high quality materials and drive student engagement. The use of data and a focus on efficacy will grow even more critical in the evolution of edtech.

‘I believe that the next 1-2 years will provide a new level of clarity as to which edtech resources work.’

For companies like Discovery Education, this will spur a new era of innovation as we work to continuously improve our products to meet the evolving demands of both teachers and students. It is an exciting time to be working in educational technology and I am looking forward to the challenge!  

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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