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Startup Ideas for the Post Covid World: K-12 Education

Posted on Wednesday, Jul 15th 2020

In the Spring of 2020, parents of young children have suddenly woken up to a world where kids have to be homeschooled. They are supposedly guided by the teachers. These teachers have no experience of teaching online, and are thus learners themselves of a new education paradigm. They are scrambling to make things flow without losing the limited attention of the youngsters that are already difficult to command in normal times. 

The key issue I observe is that the teaching tools are not designed for this usage model.

The education world has made a shift in the last decade from a sage-on-stage model to a guide-on-side model. In the former, teachers lectured to students in an auditorium format. In the latter, kids were assigned YouTube or Khan Academy videos as homework, and they did exercises in class with the teacher assisting as needed.

Now, we’re making another giant paradigm shift in an accelerated pace: kids are at home, teachers are at home, parents are at home. The learning is happening at home, and the teacher is a virtual presence.

As in most paradigm shifts, the best way to consider them is by looking at the opportunities they present.

Throughout the Covid quarantine, I have preserved a daily routine of studying French on DuoLingo. There’s much that I’ve observed in their approach that can be applied to other types of subjects at various levels. For K-12, the most interesting of these is gamification.

Children tend to hang out in groups. One of the key success factors of K-12 gamification could be to tap into this natural tendency and turn these organic affinities into study groups with built-in gamification.

Let us think through a use-case. 

Say, a group of six kids are fast friends in a particular class. The most natural study group to form would be to let this group come together. In Algebra I, the strongest of the group is tasked with tutoring the weakest, and the other four average ones simply collaborate. In a class of 30, there could be five such groups competing with one another in a tournament style. Math tournaments have been known to be great fun. What if there’s an app that is equipped to provide all of the above functionalities: (1) Peer-Tutoring (2) Peer-Collaboration (3) Team Prep (4) Class Tournament?

The other opportunity in this new paradigm is to make parents a part of the learning process, and give them tools with which to engage. Of course, this needs to take into account that parents come from various backgrounds and educational levels.

Again, let us think through a use-case. 

Continuing with the same example, what if the parents of the kids were part of the process of getting these teams ready to compete? What can they do to help the kids practice and improve?

I’m sure that tremendous amounts of creativity can be injected into building playful models of collaboration and competition that makes learning fun and engaging for these kids.

Some of these models have already been explored, others would need to be.

In summary, remote learning and teacher-assisted homeschooling would need to become part of routine K-12 pedagogy going forward.

The pandemic will end one day. But some of these paradigms may last if these experiments become successful.

I’m particularly keen to see the impact of engineering organic friendships into study groups.

Similarly, I’m keen to see what deliberate parent involvement does to learning outcomes.

Beyond the product design, we also need to consider the Go To Market strategy for such products. 

Today, it is generally understood amongst EdTech investors that the best kinds of businesses are those that find viral adoption via online teacher communities. Teachers are highly engaged, influential members of the K-12 ecosystem. They drive adoption of new technologies decisively. They make parents and schools pay for new technology. They exchange notes with other teachers and are highly influential viral spreaders of new products. 

So, rather than selling school by school, the most successful products find their champions in communities of teachers. 

What about the numbers?

Let us say, an Algebra I app, led by the teachers in charge, finds adoption in 1000 classrooms of 30 students each. That’s 30K units, say, at $10 per install. If the product succeeds, these 1000 teachers would virally get it to 10,000, which puts the revenue at $3M from the app. 

Once a product takes hold in a classroom, it would likely be used year after year.

There are about 3 million students per year who are in the target market, so the TAM for the app is $30M ARR.

Now, once the paradigm has been established as successful, all other relevant math subjects would fit into the same framework. With 10 such apps, we’re looking at a TAM of $300M.

With 100 such apps that go beyond math, and traverse middle school and high school, we’re looking at a $3B TAM for the US alone.

Thus, this is a Unicorn idea that can attract venture capital.

However, you need to establish, with one app, the validity and success of the methodology. And before you can raise serious money, you need to show that teachers are willing to get behind it.

So, some level of bootstrapping would be required before you can raise financing.

Nonetheless, in the post-Covid world, a new learning paradigm needs to emerge.

If you can come up with such a paradigm, you can build a kick-ass EdTech company for the Post Covid world. 

If you want to work on these ideas and are looking for mentoring, start by going through our free Bootstrapping Course, especially the Bootstrapping with a Paycheck module, and then come to our Free Public Roundtables. We hold them weekly.

Photo credit: Alex Evans room/

This segment is a part in the series : Startup Ideas for the Post Covid World

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