As we wind down 2020, we say farewell to the year that just keeps on giving. By any measure, this was the strangest year in our lifetimes. What began as a very promising 2020 quickly shifted with news out of China about a new virus, yet no one could have predicted the death and destruction this new virus would bring.
In my end of year column last year, I was filled with hope. In fact, I wrote, “It’s hard not to get excited for the prospects in American education. As dark as the media sometimes makes things sound, the truth is we are on the cusp of a period of educational enlightenment.
EdTech is beginning to come of age. We went through the Gee-Wiz phase of EdTech. The Gee-Wiz phase was the time when all the EdTech buyers bought shiny objects, without a real plan as to how they fit into learning. Rather than creating a plan and finding technology that could accommodate that plan, they bought tech and decided how to make learning fit the tech. Then, we went through the All You Can Eat phase. A lot of districts are still in this phase, where they allowed countless Apps and programs to be chosen by individual teachers and used in home-made lesson plans. Many districts had more Apps than students, mistakenly thinking that free Apps equaled good value for the district. Now, we are settling down into the ‘What can EdTech do to Create A Better Experience?’ phase. This is where the real fun begins.”
Now, with nearly 10 long months of the Coronavirus under our belts, am I still filled with hope? There is a very long answer to that question, but the short answer is, Yes, I am. Here’s why:
Over the past 10 months, I’ve seen the best in American education, and American educators. No one folded under pressure. Teachers worked 16-hour days. Many administrators worked around the clock. No one complained. We were placed in an impossible situation. Yet we figured it out.
In March, many schools closed for Spring Break and never reopened. Educators didn’t just rise to the occasion. They leapt to it. They embraced it. They measured it. And they got it done. To borrow a great line from the old Ghostbusters movie, “We came, we saw, we kicked it’s a**!”
And it goes even deeper. Everyone in the education biz stepped up. When the pandemic hit, there was a great deal of uncertainty in the education business. Many small and mid-sized education businesses did not know if they would survive. Even large companies were unsure about the future. But no one panicked. No one closed their doors out of fear. In short, the education business community displayed a kind of grit and determination that I have never seen before. They asked schools what was needed. And they delivered. Everyone understood what was at stake. This wasn’t about a job. This was about our children, and the future of our country. I have never been prouder of my industry and the men and women who fill its rosters. To us, this was our war. And like the men and women who stepped up to accept the challenge and win World War Two, our education brethren dug in and with selfless sacrifice and accepted the challenge. To each of you working in the ed biz trenches, you are truly our greatest generation.
So, what will 2021 look like? Now that we have at least two vaccines ready to deploy, we should be within shouting distance of controlling the spread of COVID-19. Opinions vary as to the timeline here, but it looks like medical personnel and high-risk candidates will be vaccinated by March, and a majority of Americans will be vaccinated by June. The challenge will be to take what we have learned and incorporate those lessons back into our traditional schooling. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you plan your business strategy in 2021:
- Expect continued growth in the homeschool market. Prior to the pandemic, consumer growth had slowed from 20% CAGR to 17% but is now up again at a roaring rate of 25%. Schools will be forced to compete to retain students, which means upgrades in networks as well as more sophisticated consumer-grade software systems.
- Hardware, major systems and curriculum spend increased by 20 percent to nearly $36 Billion in 2020. Expect increased spending in 2021 as well, with heaviest spending in the first six months. A surge of major investment is expected in workflow systems and LMS purchase as schools see their needs mature past use of SSO and Office Suites only in 2021-2025.
- In 2021, districts have indicated the strongest purchase interest in Esports (33%), Live tutoring systems (33%), Workflow systems (32%), Social emotional systems (32%), Standards tracking systems (29%), Dynamic digital inventory systems (28%).
- 75 percent of districts expect digital curriculum spending to increase.
Many of the changes in the way we do business with schools will not be returning to the pre-pandemic days. Online, remote sales presentations will continue, as well as truncated sales cycles. Schools will remain in the buying mode, and the digital transition will remain accelerated. As we move through 2021, much of the fear we experienced in 2021 will be abated, but the increased sales and increased learning opportunities for our students will remain. Educators have used the pandemic to help them make the kinds of improvements to education they have needed for years, and we will continue to improve education with your help. Thank you for all you do. And Happy New year!
About the author
Charles Sosnik is an education journalist and editor and serves as Editor in Chief at the Learning Counsel. An EP3 Education Fellow, he uses his deep roots in the education community to add context to the education narrative. Charles is a frequent writer and columnist for some of the most influential media in education, including the Learning Counsel, EdNews Daily, EdTech Digest and edCircuit. Unabashedly Southern, Charles likes to say he is an editor by trade and Southern by the Grace of God.