As the title of the event says “Industry, innovation and investors in one place for one day” this event indeed delivered, and IBIS Capital and Edxus Group deserved to be congratulated for this event that indeed brought all these parties together for an informative day.

The delegates represented the industry….innovators in the world of edtech and e-learning, making up roughly a third of the delegates, with well know UK companies such as Virtual College, Line, Epic, Caspian,  Desq, Kaplan and Brightwave attending, along with a number of emerging players such as Twig and Soundbite,  as well as established European companies such as Alison, Infomentor and SIVECO, and exciting newer European companies such  Sofatutor, iversity, and Serious Games Interactive.

The investor side was well represented, with delegates from Index Ventures, Sovereign Capital, Ironbridge Capital, Summit partners, Providence equity, Phoenix equity partners, DFJ Esprit, RJD Partners and Leaf as well as IBIS Capital and Edxus, and more.

The presence of the publishing industry in one room was a notable feature, with Pearson, McGraw Hill, Macmillan, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Mendeley (now part of Reed Elsevier), D C Thomson, Holtzbrinck and Microsoft…not quite a publisher but a serious player in education none the less.

This mix proved that there is huge interest in the edtech and e-learning market, as publishers have taken a growing interest in the innovators, and indeed have been more pro-active in investing and incubating than many of the investor houses to date.

Stars in alignment….innovation now needed and investment will follow

It was on this point that Charles McIntyre (CEO of IBIS) commenced the opening key note presentation with a very high level overview of the compelling changes that are sweeping the global education market, and the fact that education is still under innovated in comparison to other markets.

The media industry will show learning the way…but will it be pain free……

This theme and parallel was further underlined by Benjamin Verdenne-Cloquet, CEO of Edxus drawing some strong parallels about what had happened in the media industry, and the opportunities and issues this will bring to this industry. There is no doubt that the lessons from the media industry will need to be learnt quickly in the edtech industry as Benjamin pointed out, and institutions, education providers and education publishers should prepare for a wave of disruption and change.

Pearson….a publisher position

The next view of the world was given by Pearson’s Juan Lopez-Valcarel, who illustrated how a company like Pearson is addressing the change in the market, and attempting to bring the disparate  islands of interest together (that is the web developers, the telecoms providers and the educationalists) to address future developments.

Pearson’s view of how the market will need to emerge in its provision of learning was summed up by their EPISODE mnemonic:

 Engage, Personal, Instant, Social, Open, Data, Efficacy.

The most interesting comment I felt was on the need for Instant learning, as we now live in an “attention deficit economy”.

Pearson has been active investors in edtech, and offer an Open Innovation interface with the innovators in the industry, and this was reflected in their presentation.

A quick look at a MOOC

A master class in speed and imagination was provided by iversity in developing a MOOC, conceptualised as the e-bay for education. Europe is now having to run very fast to catch up to the US with MOOC offerings, and iversity appears well on its way.

While MOOCs were well discussed, the attitude of investors was sceptical in some ways, as defined business models are not quite what MOOCs are at this moment, and this topic was of considerable concern to the panel discussion later in the day.

Microsoft:  Innovation in the cloud and the classroom

Microsoft, a major player in the market provided a useful overview, with many of the same themes as Pearson being presented. Microsoft is focusing heavily on its MLX cloud platform for ICT training. Microsoft see LAAS – Learning as a Service as the emerging trend, and believe that a 15 fold growth in the market is quite possible in the next decade.

Disruption, or the already new reality is being driven by BYOD, but only in part, device disruption by itself is not enough, argues Mark Stewart who is very, very right to make this point. Personalisation will be key, and how the role of the teacher develops in managing and integrating the huge choice of learning devices and content  will be the key differentiator ….there is still a lot more classroom flipping to be done! The management of content will be as key as the management and integration of devices.

The key features Microsoft foresee in learning are: Bite Sized, Portability, Gratification, Collaboration, P2P, diversified roles, Gamification, Device choice, with an exponential increase in content, Driving the nature of hands on learning into the cloud. Mark Stewart was also quick to point out that innovation in the classroom will not go away, and should not be forgotten.

Return on Education        

After lunch, and if by magic the event turned to address the unanswered question… do we know all this will work… can we measure the benefits, what is the Return on Education (ROE)  and therefore sell the solutions…..this was to be about big data and analytics.

Adaptive learning platforms….the future is payment on results!

Dr Christensen, of Area 9/ Mcgraw-Hill education detailed the data being generated from the LearnSmart Adaptive Learning Platform and how the Return on Education can be measured.  Look out for these platforms, we are going to hear a lot more about adaptive learning platforms, with data points and analytics. This is much more than adaptive e-learning development, this is running into Learning Record stores and the detailed analysis of data to manage learning resources at the micro level to add a new dimension to the impact of e-learning. While I did not hear the term “Tin Can” in wide usage, the scene is set for a revolution in how learning is measured, and quite likely new business models for learning beyond SaaS and LaaS but payment on performance change or qualification result…..will emerge.

Given the impact that Dr Christensen could prove in pass rate and grade increases by using an adaptive learning platform, the present print media fuelled debate about grade inflation could become even more interesting as this new dimension emerges.

Infomentor – a pan European provider going beyond national curriculums by using technology

InfoMentor, an Icelandic /Swedish company presented the importance of capturing and analysing data closely aligned to the curriculum. Again the value of education could be measured and dynamic performance improvements measured.

More Questions than Answers                  

Prior to the announcement of the edtech winners, a question and answer panel chaired by Jonn Elledge of Education Investor and including Dany Rammal of Providence equity (investor into Blackboard), Scott Sage another investor from DFJ Esprit, Herve Marchet, CTO at Gems Education and Stephan Bayer founder of German based Sofatutor .

There is an overwhelming interest in investing in innovative businesses, and in the more maturing businesses with defined business models, edtech is under invested, and under innovated at present in the panels view, and given the conversations with the panel,  corporate e-learning is some way behind edtech, under invested, under innovated and not well understood, and that was a worry, but events and interactions and more edtech events in particular will allow this understanding to grow.

The edtech winners:

You can learn more about the winning companies from the videos at edxus and read the press release,

For the record, 10 of the 20 companies in the edtech long list were from the UK, you can read the full list of entrants here.