Insights from conference season

Our team at Eyelevel is out there this fall on the conference circuit gathering intel on behalf of our clients and also meeting with existing and prospective clients.  As we do so, it is always informative—and admittedly, fun at times—to reflect on what we are seeing and hearing, so we thought we would share some of the insight that really interests us.

  • Competency based education: there is a lot of debate over what constitutes CBE and even more over best practices for implementing it (and whether it should be implemented), but there is no mistaking the amount of attention and discussion around the topic.  Seat time is taking, well, a back-seat to mastery, proficiency, and competency. Programs from WGU, Capella’s FlexPath, or SNHU College of America are showing results while the availability of new technologies and tools to facilitate self-paced learning is growing at a rapid pace.  In addition, efforts to more effectively attract and retain students are improving.  It is clear that if an institution or company is not making strategic decisions about how they will handle CBE, they should put it on the agenda.

  • Personalized/adaptive learning: this space continues to be a very interesting and rapidly growing one.  It is closely related to CBE, though its application extends far beyond competency based programs.  From major publishers to major corporations to the smallest startups, there is a dogged pursuit of the holy grail of providing the right bit of knowledge to each learner at that point when they need and are ready for it.  Just how that is best accomplished and how the solution fits within the larger educational ecosystem is up for debate as evidenced by the range of solutions from black box algorithms to learning analytics to faculty alerts.  The improvement of authoring tools, better visualization, actionable data, and professional development for teachers to better use these platforms will be areas to watch over the coming year.

  • Big data, little action:  The amount of data being produced by educational companies is vast.  However, most teachers are not data analysts.   More may be better in the future, but right now, helping our teachers to make data actionable is paramount.  We have seen dozens of dashboards and hundreds of reports and very few of them offer real value to teachers and parents.  It appears that most companies start building reports based on the company’s capacities, not what the customer really needs.  Understanding those very specific questions that a teacher asks herself before, during and after a class, a week or a semester would serve a company better than understanding all of the metrics that could be delivered. 

  • Ongoing digital transformation: if you compare the revenue of educational publishers today vs. five years ago, it is not surprising that this topic continues to be front and center, particularly among the major players in this market.  What we are most intrigued by is how some of the startups that have been born digital will compete —or be subsumed-by more established companies—in the battle for student “learning materials” dollars.  We have seen some very promising new products and models, and we have also seen some mixed attempts to transform traditional print products and revenue.  At the same time, distribution, procurement models, and funding streams are also going through their own transformation.  Where will the sustainable growth model(s) come from? Will size be a benefit or a distraction?

  • Solutions in search of problems: It is truly disheartening to see companies pouring their hearts, energy, and dollars into products and services that do not have a sufficiently defined benefit for their anticipated audience.  We see more of this in existing firms looking to pivot in the face of a changing market.  In the past, companies have taken an “arms race” approach to win customers, piling on free options and additional services to gain and keep customers.  But this add-on approach is for too bulky and too expensive to today’s customer.   As the existing companies look to expand (or survive), they would do better to think about solving very specific problems for their customers instead of being a “one-stop” solution. 

  • Novel but naïve: Even more difficult to see are those companies—and here the balance shifts to the startup end of the spectrum—with a truly new and well-thought idea that addresses a real need within the educational ecosystem yet an inability to truly connect with those customers.  These companies are getting so much right, but many will not be here for the next convention season unless they figure out a way to monetize their great ideas.  In some cases, it is a matter of the founding team not being skilled in marketing and sales.  In others, it is a matter of simply not knowing where to start in terms of identifying and cultivating a customer pipeline.

We look forward to exploring these areas with our clients over the coming months and year.  We would love to see your perspective on any and all of these topics.  And of course, if you are struggling to find your way in any of these areas, we are confident we can help.