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Justin Da Rosa  |  April 9, 2020
Online Education is Having its Moment in a COVID-19 World: Part 1, K-12

The world we’re living in now would have been unimaginable just a couple of months ago. Across the globe, the coronavirus is changing the way we live and work at breakneck speeds. The highest priority is to meet the tremendous health and public safety challenges ahead. We are truly all in this together, and everyone can (and must!) contribute to this effort and support ourselves and our respective networks.

At Battery Ventures, that means doing our part to ensure our companies are well prepared, managed, and capitalized at this time. Another – more uplifting – part of our job is recognizing that the current circumstances might represent a watershed moment for certain categories and social behaviors. This post is the first in a multi-part series in which we explore such categories, utilizing data and conversations we’re having real-time with operators in these sectors.

The first category we will dive into is education, a sector we’ve been deeply interested in for some time now. The current crisis is shining light on many of the incredible ed-tech tools and resources that exist for online and remote learning. Given the plethora of innovative companies, we’ve split this post into two parts: Part I (this post) addresses companies focused on K-12 learners, while Part II will focus on businesses that address the needs of workforce and lifelong learners.

Online learning for K-12 steps into the spotlight

Elementary and high schools have closed across the nation, leaving working parents scrambling and wondering how to continue their kids’ educations at home. Teachers are doing heroic work creating new lesson plans on the fly, reading stories to their students over video chat, and helping parents navigate home-based learning. And of course, parents are doing a heroic job trying to manage all this, many while working full time from home.

I was living in Hong Kong during the SARS epidemic in 2003 and remember how dislocating it was to suddenly go into lockdown. During that epidemic, schools closed for months, and what little instruction occurred happened over email. Today, the imperative to slow the coronavirus’ spread is the same, but new digital and online educational products offer many more new solutions to the problem.

This is perhaps made no clearer than the interest in “online learning” based on Google Trends. As you can see below, school closures across the nation during the second week of March correlate to a massive spike in online learning interest.

Areas of K-12 online learning we’re excited by

We are particularly excited by four major areas within K-12 online learning right now:

The first is companies that enable a remote teacher-student classroom experience. That might mean one-on-one tutoring like Varsity Tutors, which has released a free Virtual School Day product, or one-to-many instruction, like Outschool, a marketplace for live online classes. To broaden access during this time, Outschool began offering $100,000 worth of their classes for free on March 13. Two weeks later, on March 30, they increased this ten-times to $1M!

Community and communication tools also have shown significant spikes in downloads and engagement in this environment. ClassDojo, Seesaw and Remind are a few good examples, connecting teachers, kids, and parents together and creating community within physical –or now, virtual – classrooms. When kids are in school, teachers can use these tools to document kids’ projects or anecdotes and share these live with parents. COVID-19 and school closings have reversed the communications vector for these products, enabling teachers to see how kids are doing at home and where they could use support—as well as provide instruction around homework assignments and communicate with parents. It’s incredible to see how much value these tools can offer, whatever direction they operate in.

Our third area of interest in education technology is study tools, such as Quizlet (offering free teacher subscriptions through 6/30), Brainly, Course Hero, Photomath, Prodigy and others that enable more DIY learning. While each tool serves a slightly different use case, what they all have in common is a goal to enable students to better learn and tackle difficult challenges while studying on their own, and often outside of the classroom. In times like now, these platforms can provide great supplements and help students plug gaps or minimize skills and knowledge erosion while they’re out of (physical) school.

The fourth area is reading and language learning. Giving your kids access to books is a challenge right now, with libraries and bookstores closed in most states. Platforms like Epic! offer younger audiences unlimited access to a library over 40,000 children’s books and, right now, the company is offering free remote student access to Epic! through June 30, by teacher invitation. Meanwhile, apps like Babbel and Duolingo bring gamification and fun to learning a foreign language, not to mention widening students’ access to many more language options than they can choose from in a regular school environment. As a free app, many language teachers are assigning Duolingo to their students. Just last week, the company released Duolingo ABC, a brand-new literacy app aimed at teaching young kids basic reading and writing skills. Like the Duolingo language learning app, Duolingo ABC is also free to use.

Ed tech for adult learners

In part II of this series (coming soon), we’ll focus on companies addressing workforce and lifelong learning and outline ideas we have seen work well for ed tech businesses navigating this rapidly changing environment and positioning themselves for longer-term success.

Battery Ventures provides investment advisory services solely to privately offered funds. Battery Ventures neither solicits nor makes its services available to the public or other advisory clients.  For more information about Battery Ventures’ potential financing capabilities for prospective portfolio companies, please refer to our website.

Content obtained from third-party sources, although believed to be reliable, has not been independently verified as to its accuracy or completeness and cannot be guaranteed. Battery Ventures has no obligation to update, modify or amend the content of this post nor notify its readers in the event that any information, opinion, projection, forecast or estimate included, changes or subsequently becomes inaccurate.

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