Slices of the traditional edtech market
When we set out looking for edtech tools designed to expand and diversify networks, we used a simple litmus test: are these tools offering a relationship that otherwise would not be on offer for students? Studying tools that met that threshold, we started to see clusters of tools in particular pockets of the market: project-based learning tools, college access, success and guidance tools, and academic support tools. It’s pretty intuitive why these categories lend themselves to mentoring and coaching models that reach beyond students’ immediate networks. Bringing additional supports, real-world expertise, and increased guidance are all fundamentally human endeavors. There are still many tools in each of these three market segments are not actually brokering new relationships in students’ lives. Many aim instead to make project-based learning or academic support structures more efficient within existing human capital constraints.
To better understand the emerging market, we started tagging tools by these different market segments and value propositions. On the website users can filter by these different segments depending on the particular problem they are trying to solve. They can also filter by the type of relationship that these tools offer. For example, teachers can find tools that bring industry experts into their classrooms or diversify students’ access to peers and near peers beyond their school. School leaders and afterschool providers can see the range of tools bringing more mentors and tutors within reach.
Sourcing versus coordinating connections
A key distinction in this emerging market is whether vendors themselves supply new relationships and connections or are instead selling tools for schools to coordinate the existing supply of relationships in students’ lives. Coordinating platform companies are not in the business of recruiting new mentors or experts. Instead, they have built software as a service (SaaS) tools that could help schools and communities to more efficiently and effectively organize and coordinate existing supplies of relationships.
For school systems or higher education institutions in areas awash with social capital or that are already running in-person mentorship or internship programs, these platforms can lend crucial programmatic efficiencies. For those systems just getting started or that are in rural or cash-strapped circumstances, sourcing additional connections and supports can prove challenging. In those cases, vendors that recruit those new assets will have a competitive advantage. Some tools—like iMentor and Nepris—fit into both of these categories. Part of their business is to recruit mentors and experts that can connect with students online. But they’ve also been asked by some groups to white label their tool to simply provide the backend software for organizing local and existing connections.
The next frontier of school as we know it
Although still a relatively small share of the edtech market, we believe that network-expanding tools have huge potential. Over time, they stand to unlock classroom and school designs that effectively network students into opportunity in expansive and exciting ways. Innovative technologies could be game-changing tools for schools to invest meaningfully—and at an affordable price tag—in their students’ networks. Given the current landscape of opportunity gaps, these tools’ upside potential is enormous. Powerful webs of technology-enabled connections that diversify young people’s networks are increasingly within reach.
Want to learn more? In my book, Who You Know: Unlocking Innovations that Expand Students’ Networks, we explore how these tools fit into a relationship-centered vision of school. We examine dramatic shifts in the way schools are empowering students to forge new connections—and ultimately opportunities—that would otherwise be out of reach. The book is now available here.
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