By Nihat Anwar (SSE), Gurneek Gill (UCL), Mustafa Bayramli (Wharton), and Roshni Padhi (Stanford)
I. Industry Background
The education technology (“edtech”) industry refers to the integration of digital tools and processes to improve learning environments. Currently valued at $89.07 billion, the market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 18.1% to $285.23 billion in 2027.
The industry can be broken down into three large segments: preschool, K-12, and higher education. While the preschool segment is projected to grow at the fastest rate with its focus on app-based learning for younger students, the K-12 segment currently accounts for the largest revenue share, providing experiences such as virtual field trips, online collaboration for group projects, and digital lab-based experiments. The higher education segment is the most heavily funded with the goal of connecting students to employment opportunities, as well as preparing students for them. The concept of lifelong learning using Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) has also been a growing trend among adults, allowing for increased flexibility. That being said, the majority of end-users in the market are businesses, indicating that the number of partnerships between edtech startups, content developers, and educational institutes are projected to increase through M&A.
One major tailwind accelerating progress in the industry has been quarantine measures related to the pandemic. COVID-19 outbreaks caused school closures in 190 countries, impacting 1.6 billion learners globally. The transition to fully remote learning has required a fundamental shift in the way that edtech tools operate in the classroom, resulting in the number of worldwide education app downloads surging 90% since Q4 of 2019. Teachers have also shifted from focusing on just one online learning tool to building a collection of edtech tools to better serve their teaching needs.
II. Discovery Education Acquires Mystery Science
On October 30th, 2020, Discovery Education announced the acquisition of the Mystery Science curriculum. The terms of the deal have not yet been disclosed to the general public, but according to EdSurge, the value of the transaction was approximately $140 million. Mystery Science will keep its brand and operate as a subsidiary.
Discovery Education provides digital educational content for 45 million students around the world. Mystery Science provides creative multimedia science and STEM lessons for K-5 classrooms. Mystery Science’s lessons are unique in the sense that they help students and teachers explore science “mysteries” by collaborating together through different activities. The company aims to be the future of education and is considered to be the global leader within the K-12 market segment -- the contents and materials are used by four million students in the U.S. on a monthly basis.
With this deal, Discovery Education wishes to further develop its strengths in the K-5 segment by using the target’s creative digital solutions, while Mystery Science can catalyse its growth by utilizing the acquirer’s global reach and district relationships.
The transaction is an example of the buzzing M&A activity in the sector, specifically the recent wave of edtech consolidation. According to industry experts, smart and targeted content is considered to be a key competitive advantage moving forward. It is therefore vital to become and remain differentiated; from the eyes of the acquirer, this deal could be their move into a more differentiated product offering.
III. PowerSchool Acquires Hoonuit
On October 29th, 2020, PowerSchool announced the acquisition of Hoonuit. The financial details of the deal have not yet been disclosed by either company. PowerSchool is the largest provider of K-12 education application technology in the U.S. and supports around 45 million students in over 80 countries with its current services. Hoonuit mainly provides data analytics, warehousing, and visualization tools for schools and education agencies. It supports almost 15 million students in the U.S. with its leading K-12 analytics and data management solutions.
Although this merger will most likely benefit PowerSchool in terms of an increased customer reach, the main reasons for the deal are more about software than a larger customer base. For instance, PowerSchool CEO Hardeep Gulati hopes to utilize Hoonuit’s leading machine learning technology to better understand how academic achievements and outcomes depend on student engagement, behaviour and accountability standards. The key reason behind the acquisition revolves around gaining more insights in order to expand its edtech portfolio, facilitate and enhance distance learning, and further improve its services by using collected data more effectively. Hoonuit hopes that the transaction will help more people gain access to their predictive analytics solutions in order to improve student outcomes and further personalize learning in the sector.
The acquisition is further proof of the increased consolidation in the industry. Most importantly, however, this deal functions as an example of the growing focus on analytics and data-powered learning sessions amid the pandemic. Mastering data management and analytics to improve student outcomes, especially when remote learning is the new normal, is essential to create more differentiated businesses.
IV. Course Hero Acquies Symbolab
On October 27th, 2020, Course Hero announced their acquisition of Symbolab for an undisclosed fee. Course Hero is essentially a question and answer platform, providing more than 40 million course materials, tutoring and support resources. Founded by a college graduate in 2006, the company hopes to assist students in feeling confidently prepared by creating a subscription-based community where they can collaborate by simultaneously sharing resources. Symbolab, on the other hand, is an advanced calculator and complex question solver; powered by artificial intelligence. The integration of Symbolab’s calculator-based programme will add a whole new dimension to what Course Hero has to offer. It will most certainly increase subscriptions as automated step-by-step in-depth solutions can be provided to complicated mathematical problems that arise from Course Hero’s ‘most popular subject.’
This is a big step for Course Hero, which will look to build upon the recent boom in the edtech industry due to the coronavirus-related surge in demand for remote learning. Course Hero will look to build and consolidate on their recent growth, a rarity in a sector that has historically seen relatively slow progress due to severe underfunding. However, this looks set to change as yearly acquisitions in this sector did in fact double from 2013 to 2018; Course Hero seems to be spearheading this movement. Their Series B capital raise added a huge amount of capital to their balance sheet, fueling future expansion. Given that many other edtech companies sought to raise capital to meet heightened demand during COVID-19, a higher frequency of similar acquisitions could very well be on their way.
V. Campus Management, Campus Labs, and iModules merge into Anthology
On July 7th, 2020, three higher edtech companies -- Campus Management, Campus Labs, and iModules -- announced their combination to form a new company dubbed Anthology. The deal has been reached by New York-based Veritas Equity (majority stakeholder) and Leeds Equity Partners (minority stakeholder) in a move that will consolidate the edtech portfolios of these two PE firms. Jim Milton, the former CEO of Campus Management, leads Boca Raton-based Anthology with 1400 employers and customers that include over 2100 education institutions across 30 countries.
The deal offers a unique opportunity to capitalize on revenue and cost synergies and strengthen the strategic positioning of the new firm. According to the CEO, the three companies offer distinct applications with “virtually no overlap.” Campus Management provides a student information system, enterprise resource planning tools and customer relationship management services. Campus Labs offers software for students and campus leaders to manage clubs, events and other student-affair activities. iModules develops alumni engagement software to help colleges fundraise. Drawing on the interlocking nature of these activities, the new company will offer 14 administrative software tools to help college officials attract, support and engage with faculty and student communities.
In an environment where more than 50% of all students are estimated to be in remote-only schools, demand for edtech products keeps surging at an unprecedented rate. In that regard, Campus Management, Campus Labs, and iModules are emblematic of edtech startups in the sector looking to M&A activity to quickly scale up their platforms and take advantage of the customer need for higher virtual engagement.
VI. IXL Acquires 3P Learning
IXL’s $135 million acquisition of 3P Learning, announced on August 13th of this year, will be the fourth deal they have completed in 3 years. With more than 10 million users worldwide, IXL is known as a K-12 personalized learning platform, offering support in a wide range of subjects across the curriculum. 3P Learning is a global edtech leader based in Australia, with 5 million student users in over 17,000 schools across 132 different countries. The online learning platform offers resources and interactive digital content in math, literacy and science subjects. The strategic morale behind this acquisition is clear; IXL is primarily based in California and is looking to increase its geographical footprint. By acquiring 3P Learning, they can build upon their newly established presence in Australia. Moreover, the addition of 3P Learning’s innovative online software will enlarge IXL’s already expansive product portfolio and going forward, both firms can continue to strive towards their collective goal of shaping the digital future of education, be it in the classroom or at home.
This is another prime example of the aftermath of the pandemic-fueled edtech surge, where schools were forced to close, meaning that students and tutors turned to the edtech sector in hope for a viable solution. IXL has increased in value during this period, and as more and more ‘unicorn’ type edtech companies are emerging from this style of growth, it is clear that IXL may follow suit. This trend may run into 2021, as we are seeing a huge increase in acquisition value in the edtech space as companies continue to grow via horizontal integrations in order to increase the effectiveness and quality of their services.
VII. Carnegie Learning Acquires Scientific Learning
Scientific Learning Corporation announced on September 14th, 2020, that it has been acquired by an affiliate of Carnegie Learning, Inc. in an all-cash merger transaction valued at approximately $15 million. The combination will strengthen the edtech portfolio of both entities to further drive their joint mission of improving student learning outcomes through leading-edge technology built from and validated by rigorous research.
Scientific Learning is a leading SaaS education company that delivers neuroscience-based educational technologies. Scientific Learning's programs have been used by more than three million learners in more than 2,300 K-12 schools in the United States and Canada, almost 300 private practice clinicians, thousands of students via a direct-to-consumer channel, and in over 55 countries via value-added resellers.
Carnegie Learning is the leader in artificial intelligence in education and formative assessment. Born from more than 20 years of learning science research at Carnegie Mellon University, Carnegie Learning delivers powerful math, ELA and world language blended learning solutions, the award-winning MATHia® platform for grades 6-12, project-based digital solutions for computer science, and best-in-class K-12 professional learning services.
The merger between Carnegie Learning and Scientific Learning is another example of edtech startups accelerating growth through the integration of complementary capabilities. In today’s challenging environment, Carnegie Learning’s blended offerings are proving highly effective, particularly as schools continue to operate in a hybrid and remote learning environment. Scientific Learning’s offerings complement Carnegie Learning’s portfolio of research-based offerings that offer educators leading-edge instructional software and advanced data-driven insights.
VIII. Future Outlook
Post-COVID, remote learning is expected to still play a major role in the classroom. For example, hybrid learning models will reinforce the belief that digital tools can complement in-person learning. More than 90% of teachers believe that tech in the classroom is here to stay. Universities, in particular, will likely adapt this model in order to make classes available more broadly and on a more flexible basis, while K-12 institutions could design more comprehensive and multi-faceted curricula for students.
As internet connectivity goes global and becomes more easily accessible, as artificial intelligence and machine learning platforms become more advanced, and as IoT devices become more widespread in the classroom setting, technology is set to penetrate the education industry even further, spurred onwards by the pandemic. Edtech will be a substantial component of the movement to ‘reskill’ workers in the digital revolution. Therefore, the edtech market is expected to continue to grow at a rapid pace, even after the pandemic comes to an end. In that vein, mergers and acquisitions in the industry will likely lead to additional consolidation between new startups, edtech monoliths, and educational institutions at an unprecedented rate.