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Category: EdTech

EdTech 101: A Guide to The Education Technology Industry

Ed Tech is one of the hottest fields in the greater tech sector. Individuals who are new to the industry or making a career pivot between roles within Ed Tech need a bird’s eye view of the industry, but don’t know where to start, spending many hours researching the field..  

This blog provides a quick onboarding tool for this mission-focused industry, with a focus on the potential for rewarding careers in this impactful field.

Emergence of Ed Tech 

Investment and growth have been rapidly accelerating over the last few years, and many experts forecast massive growth in the future. Some predict a CAGR of +15.4% through 2024, with others pointing to estimates of a CAGR of +18.3% or +17% through 2022.  Other forecasts project a global education market worth at least 10 trillion dollars by 2030.  Although the specifics vary, there is analyst consensus on significant expected growth for the Ed Tech industry--growth in investment, a growing slate of global players, new companies, innovative products and services, vast customer base potential, and with all the industry growth, the increase in accompanying job and career opportunities.

A strong sense of social purpose sets Ed Tech apart from many other fast-growing tech fields and drives many of its most successful professionals. . Ed Tech is filled with people who want to make the world a better place and provide access to education for underserved people around the world, lifting them out of poverty and providing them with skills, experiences, and perspectives to improve their lives. Scalable, rapidly-evolving technology has made it possible to reach vast numbers of people in previously unserved locations. The mission of Ed Tech is lofty, and its impact are far-reaching.

Ed Tech emerged from multiple disciplines, its early growth primarily driven by educators, technologists, and business leaders. As a field, Ed Tech is arguably about 30 years old, counting from the late ‘80s/early ‘90s when products like educational games, software, and CD-ROMs began to proliferate. As a relatively young and fast-growing field, it has been marked by dynamic instability and rapid growth.  Different waves of products, technologies, and paradigms, have arisen and promised to be “the next big thing” to transform the industry, but widespread adoption has often been elusive.

Some challenges have included:

  • Businesses create great products/services that meet educators’ needs, but administrators and organizational cultures struggle with implementation or prove resistant to adopting new technologies.
  • Certain insightful educators strive to impact the Ed Tech field as independent bloggers, but a disconnect sometimes exists between these thought leaders and business leaders.
  • Technologists create exciting gadgets and programs that focus on the Ed Tech field, but sometimes lack a tangible proof of educational impact , making it difficult for educators to embrace their offerings.

Ed Tech blends nonprofit and for profit perspectives, a union that’s sometimes  harmonious and sometimes tricky to navigate. However, there's been a concerted effort by all sides of the community to collaborate to achieve better learning outcomes. Despite different perspectives, there is often a sense of unity, as sense that everyone is working toward one goal - having a measurable impact in the lives of learners. Given the rapid expansion of the market and the excellent growth opportunities, Ed Tech has attracted talent and needs to attract more talent from other areas and fields into this exciting multidisciplinary industry.

Ed Tech originally started focused on the traditional education field: K-12 educators and schools and higher education. These broad customer groups obviously include many subgroups, such as classroom learning, distance learning programs and online degrees, ESL and other language-training, home educators, etc. As the Ed Tech field has evolved, more time and money have been focused on broadening into education for corporations and individual consumers.


Key Dates in the History of Ed Tech

1971: First educational video game: Oregon Trail. Developed by 3 teachers; personal computers didn’t exist yet, so not mass-produced for home use, but floppy disks shared and copied, school by school

1977: Apple II computers go on sale

1983: IBM PCs and Apple II computers start proliferating and entering classroom setting; Steve Jobs donates 9,000 Apple IIEs to 9,000 California public schools, laying early foundation for the relationship between education market and Apple

1984: IBM launches mass market consumer laptop

1985: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? released by Brøderbund Software, initiating tidal wave of “fun” educational video games

1986: K-8 schools mainly using Apple II and Macintosh computers, high schools mainly using DOS-based PCs

1988: 60% of all US workers using computers

1988: Microsoft bundles Word, Excel, and PowerPoint together for a suite of applications that will eventually claim 1 Billion users

1990: Proliferation of Ed Tech products: multimedia PCs, videodiscs, CD-ROMs, educational databases

1991: Digital smartboard enables teachers to display information from their computers

1994: Most US classrooms have access to at least one computer for instructional delivery

1995: Emergence of internet and world wide web in popular consciousness

1996: Many schools become wired for internet access; Ed Tech tools developed for internet delivery

1996: Texas Instruments releases TI-83 graphing calculator, which becomes industry standard for working complex math problems in school

1997: Google Search launched, revolutionizing learning and search methodologies for the world; curiosity and answers to most questions could be almost immediately satisfied through the internet

1998: Emergence of wikis – web pages that are open to editing by anyone

1999: E-learning spreading for both distance and conventional universities

2000: Emergence of learning objects: media content that is “plug and play,” reusable, easily searchable, and manageable for tracking and updating; never achieved widespread adoption in Ed Tech field, perhaps because complexity was too high, but concept continues to resurface in field

2002: MIT pioneers (OER) Open Educational Resources with goal to give free internet access to all course resources used in its 1,800 courses, allowing others to use and repurpose content

2003: Emergence of blogs; Ed Tech bloggers like Audrey Watters ( have had enormous influence in shaping the field (usage, offerings, standards, etc.)

2004: LMSs (Learning Management Systems) emerge, replacing former method of delivery (disconnected web pages, bulletin boards, content, etc.) with integrated enterprise systems

2005: YouTube founded, pioneering cheap, accessible video methods for education

2005: Nicholas Negroponte launches One Laptop Per Child initiative, with goal to transform education by providing one laptop per child around world; goal not realized, but vision proves transformative for future education spending and focus

2006: “Web 2.0” influences Ed Tech with its shift from a web with prepared, orchestrated content to an organic, user-generated dynamic experience, with all of the potential for risk, authenticity, and inauthenticity that creates; Web 2.0 suggests that historic quality control methods for educational content (degrees verifying expertise, peer review methods, etc.) might disappear

2008: Salman Khan, after creating simple YouTube videos to tutor his young cousin thousands of miles away in math, notices a viral swell of interest on his YouTube pages and creates Khan Academy, with goal to deliver first-class education worldwide for free; now 100M users every year worldwide

2008: E-portfolios (a way for students, academics, & certain professionals to store and showcase evidence of learning) garners significant investment and interest; product never really takes off, perhaps because complexity is too great and lack of user appeal

2009: 97% of classrooms have at least one computer, 93% of classroom computers have internet access

2009: Widespread adoption of Twitter and other social media; disrupts credentials within education world, as contributors are judged based on what they produce in the network, rather than other measures of expertise

2010: Schools begin experimenting with previous year’s creation, the iPad, substituting expensive textbooks with iPad content/access

2011: App stores proliferating wildly, offering vast, cheap Ed Tech applications and games

2011: Minecraft released, with ability for teachers or parents to customize, engaging children’s learning in wide variety of subjects and curricula

2012: MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) emerge as popular method for online learning; open textbooks follow—free digital versions

2014: Learning Analytics develop to help educators understand the behavior of students and the effectiveness of content and learning tools (e.g. How much time are students spending on which pages? Do some certain jumps between pages indicate a lack of understanding? etc.); questions arise over what will happen with this data in Ed Tech world

2015: Google Chromebooks overtake Apple iPads as #1 education device in US; “Googlification” of the classroom continues with widespread classroom usage of Google Classroom and Google Docs (driven by teacher adoption who like collaborative features); ethical questions raised as Google uses different business model than Apple or Microsoft’s approach in classroom (selling devices or applications) because Google’s revenues come from advertising and data collection

2015: Digital badges concept gathering interest; started in 2011 and positioned as a replacement of CVs or resumes; open badges or digital badges visually symbolize learning, skills/expertise, experience, achievement, trust, etc.; could revolutionize Ed Tech or die--uncertainty whether this will gain currency and acceptance

2016: Resurgence of interest in Artificial Intelligence: after three decades of development, AI technology has become more sophisticated in its ability to accommodate the multiple choices and responses inherent in the learning process; questions about whether AI teaching and tutoring will become central to Ed Tech

2016: Significant amount of research indicates that most teachers essentially have not transformed the way they teach, despite the transformation of their field by technology-enabled education; 30 years into Ed Tech, fundamental questions remain: Is Ed Tech having a measurable impact? If so, is the impact positive?

2018: Higher ed institutions make significant investment in virtual reality (VR) technologies for possibility of opening vast range of educational experiences (from climate change observations, to medical settings such as surgery, to experiencing other cultures, to space travel, to dangerous chemical experiments, etc.)


Broad Areas of the Ed Tech Field

Just as traditional education has been structured somewhat by age and developmental stage, Ed Tech can be divided into three broad areas:

  1. PreK-12 Learning
  2. Post-Secondary Learning
  3. Lifelong Learning + Workforce Engagement

Within those broad categories, Ed Tech can also be grouped by product or technology:

  • Online Courses: free/ paid, audit/for credit online educational courses, K-12, higher education, and continuing education
  • Learning Management Systems: systems coordinating the communications, scheduling, content access, assignment submissions, grading, and progress/completion tracking of educators with students
  • Educational Operations: primarily for use by school administrators to manage school operations and connections between administrators and teachers, other school employees, parents, and/or students
  • Online Program Management: systems which support universities in online learning; range from soup-to-nuts (including development and delivery) to a la carte (perhaps, for example, only marketing or course enrollment management) 
  • STEM/Coding and Technology: applications teaching science and math skills, with strong subset in coding and technology skills for all ages
  • Language Learning: tools and apps for learning language
  • Social/Emotional Learning: not necessarily geared towards credit, degree, or marketable skills, products that enhance lives or promote wellness for all ages
  • Gaming: games with educational focus—some tied to coursework, many not
  • Immersive Tech: applications based on VR (Virtual Reality), AR (Augmented Reality), or MR (Mixed Reality)
  • Corporate training: adult learning products/services in a B2B environment, driven by institutions’ goals and strategies
  • Credentialing: emerging area that could conceivably disrupt traditional credentialing similar to the way blockchain threatens to upend traditional banking


Major Players in Ed Tech Field

The US is overwhelmingly the largest investor in Ed Tech (US provided 58% of investment in 2017). But growing investment from large countries like China and India indicate changes to come. China is currently the second biggest investor (19% in 2017) and India is third (4% in 2017).

The market share for Ed Tech could be grouped into three types:

  1. Technology companies where Ed Tech is a portion of their business83% of the market is dominated by Google, Microsoft, and Apple (in that order). Amazon and Facebook are increasing their presence in Ed Tech and could be poised to dramatically alter the field. Other tech companies with a significant presence in Ed Tech include Cisco Systems, Dell (EMC), and Samsung. 
  2. Large education companies – Big companies such as Pearson, McGraw Hill, HMH, and Cengage have historically been known as educational publishers but have made a pivot in their branding and are offering digital solutions to continue to have a big share of the market.  They are seeing a decline in print sales while their digital presence continues to grow.  Companies like Pearson also gained rapid presence in Ed Tech through acquisitions, having acquired 28 companies
  3. Start-ups. Hundreds (~700 or ~800) Ed Tech start-ups are funded each year. With hundreds of startups focused on single, specific niches (e.g. math products), expect consolidations within niches as part of a regular life cycle (expansion and contraction) of an industry.


Investor Community in Ed Tech

RepresentativeVenture Capital firms in Ed Tech that supply a majority of the funding include:

  • Owl Ventures-particular emphasis on companies that seek to improve student scores and achievements, but la
  • GSV - broad range of investments, with Ed Tech a major portion
  • Rethink Education - fund companies that meet this vision of rethinking the ways we learn and teach
  • Learn Capital - funded more than two dozen Ed Tech companies
  • Reach Capital - fund range of Ed Tech companies with broad definition of what education means
  • Emerson Collective - mix of educational focus and political/social change focus, as well as environmental issues, health, and journalism
  • University Ventures - focused on higher education ventures
  • New Markets Venture Partners - innovation-focused, early- and growth-stage
  • NewSchools Venture Fund - nonprofit that focuses on K-12 Ed Tech; provide grants in addition to venture funding
  • Chan Zuckerberg Initiative - another blend of educational and political/social change, with mission to fund companies that close gap on societal inequities


What Does This Mean for Your career?

The Ed Tech field has been dynamically evolving since its beginning. The industry continues to experience massive growth, but the nature of growth is changing recently. The growth in the number of start-ups appears to be finally reversing as consolidation of smaller companies increases--a normal part of an industry life cycle. These changes are causing Ed Tech professionals to shift to new roles within a company or look for new opportunities in other EdTech companies. More than ever, Ed Tech professionals need to stay current and informed about the industry and pay close attention to their career narrative.

As with any fast-growing industry, equity (or stock) is a key part of compensation for key early hires in Ed Tech startups. Understanding how startup equity works can not only help you rationally evaluate job offers, but stand out as a candidate who asks knowledgeable questions about financial topics beyond their narrow job description. Check out our guide on Ed Tech Equity here to learn more. 



Other Ed Tech News Sources to Follow:

EdSurge the Ed Tech industry news source
Hack Education for high level summaries of Ed Tech trends
Getting Smart for the educators’ perspective on what’s happening in education

Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation Education Weekly Digest
disruptive innovation in education and other market segments
GSV Education Daily - news and events that GSV Capital finds significant

International Ed Tech News:

Edtech Times (India) Ed Tech happenings in India
JMDedu Ed Tech news for China

Higher Ed News Sources:

Inside HigherEd news, career opportunities, events, reports and data specific to Higher Ed
Chronicle of Higher Ed a leader in Higher Ed journalism


Tom Vander Ark 

Michael Horn 

Ryan Craig 

Tony Wan 


GSV TalentED Newsletter

University Ventures News

Ed Surge



Where is Ed Tech going next? Here are some trends and questions we’ll keep an eye on: 

  • What will be the impact of the greater focus on and investment in consumer learning and corporate learning? 
  • How will the K-12 and higher ed environments continue to adopt and integrate technology? 
  • Will VR and AI technologies begin to fulfill the promise to transform learning in everyday life?

How quickly will consolidation of the many small companies within the field happen and how will that affect investment and talent needs? What will the rapid growth of Ed Tech in countries like China and India do to the supply and demand of talent, as well as the entrance of new countries all over the globe?

What will be the transformative power of Ed Tech in places like Africa, where Ed Tech offerings hold the promise to dramatically improve life for a generation of young people? The potential for rapid change that this industry has demonstrated means it will be exciting to follow all of these trends!