EdTech vs Education: How an $89bn David is Conquering a $1.6tn Goliath

Go to school. Get a Job. Get Married. Have Kids. The mantra of life drilled into many of us from a young age. A mantra that is hinged on the first step in that process: “Go to school”. And yet, in recent memory, that mantra has been chipped away by issues with the model. Issues that have been exposed profoundly during the outbreak of this pandemic.

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Q2 2020 hedge fund letters, conferences and more

With the onset of Covid-19, schools rounded out the Spring Semester in a patchwork of Zoom classes. They made it to Summer, barely. But now, Fall Semester returns and American schools are still not ready for a new way of learning. In the midst of this uncertainty for the $1.6 trillion US education industry, a silent & stealthy disruptor has surged and reaped the rewards from the impact on traditional education: EdTech.

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A Spike In EdTech Due To The Pandemic

A relatively small industry by comparison to the overall education industry, at a meager $89 billion, the EdTech and Online Learning industry naturally saw a spike in interest when the outbreak occurred, to the tune of a 233.91% increase in organic web traffic. The reasons for this are self-evident: parents, students, and educators alike were forced to grip with this new remote world and plunged into alternative forms of education delivery overnight.

What has been more surprising is the corresponding rise in revenue of 335.08% for the EdTech & Online Learning space from March to July 2020 compared to the previous year. The lesson for traditional education is crystal clear: EdTech is eating your lunch and if you don’t adapt, you’ll perish.

The EdTech industry itself doesn’t believe this disruption was created by Covid-19, but it definitely sped it up. Gautam Tambay, CEO of Springboard, estimates that, “Due to the pandemic, the trajectory of online learning just got accelerated by a decade”.

Michael Hansen, CEO of Cengage, goes further stating, “The pandemic has forced higher education, which has traditionally been apprehensive to change, to pivot to online learning virtually overnight. It has shown that institutions need to be more flexible in the learning formats they offer. If institutions cannot meet this challenge, they will face an accelerated loss of enrollment and powerful competition from online skills education providers who offer certificates at a fraction of the cost.”

Education vs EdTech Debate

Does this sound the death knell for education as we know it? Not necessarily. It’s worth noting we’ve seen a similar disruption in recent years akin to the Education vs EdTech debate: Financial vs. FinTech.

FinTech was heralded as the great disruptor of the financial services industry, with bold claims that it would, “kill the banks”. Those claims, as it has panned out, have been overblown. Instead FinTech has and continues to transform the traditional Wall Street industry for the better. Those that didn’t adapt and make the right strategic partnerships or acquisitions are quickly being left behind.

Herein lies the lesson for Education vs EdTech. The current pandemic provided the much-needed jolt to the system - an ailing system that’s been plagued with ballooning student debt, archaic teaching methods, and the commodification of standards. EdTech has been filling this void at a small scale, mitigating the concerns of students and parents alike with innovative approaches to learning.

Now, courtesy of the pandemic, the opportunity is ripe for the industry to embrace EdTech to deliver a form of education that is flexible, high-quality and affordable for the modern student. As Founder & CEO of Outlier, Aaron Rasmussen, opines, “The traditional, in-person, higher education experience is suffering.” For the sake of our students’ future, let’s hope that suffering doesn’t endure.