Enterprise-focused ed tech is having a moment. As organizations seek to skill up and retain their staff in a tight labor market, corporate learning and development budgets are bursting at the seams. Because of this renewed interest, a once-stagnant industry is now rife with innovation, including live learning, more individualized courses and even ed tech on the blockchain.
Investors spent over $2.1 billion on skilling companies over the past year alone, according to data from Crunchbase. The motivation: helping companies solve the challenge of upskilling, reskilling and training employees.
“I think the needs from employees are all about reskilling and upskilling,” said Esteban Sosnik, a partner at Reach Capital, which invests in ed-tech solutions. “It's such a dynamic marketplace, and jobs are changing constantly. And the best-paid jobs, many times, are in skills that employees — particularly older, but really any employees — don't have yet.”
A presence on decentralized platforms
Web3. Everyone’s talking about it, even if few can tell you exactly what it means. Sosnik said the enterprise ed-tech world is no different. Demand is bubbling up on and around the decentralized platform as people seek to understand how to operate within this space that still mystifies many.
“There's talk of Web3 developers earning, like, seven figures, and it's because there are so few of them,” he said. “There's this huge disparity around skills available in the market and the demand for skills.”
Technology has always moved too fast for training and upskilling to keep up, but the tight labor market means that companies are willing to pay big bucks to find trained Web3 developers or to train their current engineers. In the past year, buzzwords like DAO (decentralized autonomous organization), DeFi (decentralized finance), crypto and NFTs have become more commonplace, and companies have come to realize there’s a real space to build education around these concepts.
Certifying a person’s expertise is another problem new ed-tech companies are trying to solve. Earlier this month, Tim Connors, the co-founder of the now-defunct recruiting startup Pearl, announced that he was jumping into the space. His newly launched company 101, playfully termed the “metaversity,” aims to solve the problem of credentialing skills.
“The premise of 101 is that we need a different mechanism for credentialing based on knowledge. We need to make the process of earning a credential more permanent and transparent such that not all the trust needs to be on the issuer of that credential,” he said.
He believes that in the future, people will be able to create a trusted reputation in the industry boosted by the permanence and transparency that the blockchain offers.
Connors shared with Protocol that he’s still feeling out this emerging space within the ed-tech industry as he grows the company. “It does feel like there's two worlds in front of us … one world being the crypto, Web3 realm where the needs and the style of conversation and everything is totally different, and then the other world being the more traditional [university] education realm,” he said. “But the fundamental means for proving what people know and incentivizing learning is the same, which is exciting to see.”
Unlike many of the traditional upskilling and reskilling courses that are offered through an asynchronous library of content, more educational platforms are launching live content enabling students to interact with instructors and attend classes alongside a cohort of other students.
The introduction of live learning into enterprise services could seem like a no-brainer, but it’s become a major disruptor over the last year, said Sosnik.
“Companies have been buying online learning solutions for the last five to 10 years — like LinkedIn Learning, Coursera and Udemy — but those are libraries of content,” he said. “And [companies] have now realized that while that's great, it takes a lot of motivation to really create impact and true career acceleration.”
Because of this, there has been an influx of live and hybrid programs, with some combination of asynchronous and synchronous course options. Hybrid programs like Fusemachines have dipped a toe into professional-focused skilling programs. Fusemachines focuses on training talent in AI for its corporate partners. It features live courses with designated instructors.
Hybrid learning has existed for quite some time, but is now becoming a more common model for corporate training and upskilling. Merav Yuravlivker, CEO and co-founder of Data Society, a company that provides data training for organizations, has witnessed the shift. Data Society has always been an instructor-led organization, but Yuravlivker said more companies have been attracted to these live courses as they gain a better understanding of employees’ needs.
“There are so many asynchronous resources that are out there, and every single organization that we work with tends to have a platform already in place. But the challenge that they're seeing is that it doesn't fundamentally change the behavior of staff,” she said. “And sometimes it's hard for employees to go in and learn on their own and get that level of motivation and continuous learning.”
More individualized courses via AI for unique needs and neurodiverse learners
Research has found that supporting neurodiversity in the workplace not only boosts inclusion, but neurodiverse teams can also be more productive. Sosnik believes more individualized learning will come via the increased use of AI. He’s observing the trend already in programs centered around “learning in the flow of work.” By this, he means learning applications that assist and instruct people as they do their jobs at whatever knowledge level they’re coming from.
Sosnik uses the AI-powered typing assistant Grammarly as an example of an ed tech-adjacent company that meets people where they are and provides a type of individualized instruction.
“This really is about kind of flipping the learning: As opposed to somebody teaching you something, it's just providing feedback on your work. And your work doesn't necessarily need to be homework or assignments, it can be your everyday work,” he said. “We see that as the most promising opportunity as far as personalizing learning experiences for employees.”
Copilot, the AI code-completion tool for developers, is another example of a tool prompting questions about the future of educating workers. Its ability to help write code while a developer works has managed to both amaze and scare some of its users. But it also signals a future in which more tools are tailored to the specific needs of workers, despite their prior knowledge or skills.
Some enterprise ed-tech companies are tackling this trend toward more individualized learning through expanded course offerings. Australian based e-learning company Go1 maintains a focus on helping educate individual workers with diverse learning needs. The company offers a content hub that features a number of tailored courses with attention to neurodiversity. Go1 recognizes that there is much to be gained from assessing individual learners’ needs in order to better deploy digital learning in the workplace.
The more companies tailor their learning opportunities to all the employees, the more diverse and inclusive they can be.