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Experiences from Educational Technology Startups

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Educational technology is developing itself, and startups are entering markets with new apps and creative commons content. At the GOTO Amsterdam 2013 conference, the track “rise of the educational startups” had two speakers: Matteo Manferdini on “education is a game” and Nick Grantham on “are you giving teachers blisters? - Finding the right fit for an EdTech startup”.  The speakers shared their experiences with technology in education

In the presentation education is a game, Matteo Manferdini talked about educational apps and videogames.  He gave several examples which show how fun can change behavior, like the experiment in Stockholm where stairs of a metro station were turned into a piano. The result was that more people took the stairs, just because it was fun. Games can help people to learn new things, “in games we become the best version of ourselves" says Matteo. He talked about flow, a state where you can be more productive. To have flow, you need a challenging activity that requires skills, clear goals and feedback, and an uncertain outcome which you can influence. Games can do this, you can get into flow if there is a balance between the skills and the challenge. In that sense, “Learning is what makes games fun”.

As an example, Matteo talked about what the angry birds game teaches us? It teaches us about physics, and how you can by 'slapping and hitting birds' learn what is possible and what not. Matteo concludes that “there is learning ongoing that you don’t realize”, so it has both fun and educational value. If fun is learning, then games would be a part of education. He showed a game that teaches chemistry, which uses the educational material as the base for the game. “Sugarcoat educational material with a game around it” is not the right way to address it, it is rewriting education into a game in a fun way which makes it education. A question from the audience was if chess could teach you to be a general? Matteo explained that it teaches you to think about strategies in general, which is a skill that you can use in your daily life, not only as a general, again showing that people can learn from playing games.  

Nick Grantham presented about are you giving teachers blisters? - Finding the right fit for an EdTech startup Nick says that “It hurts when a product is not the right fit” which is the case when “technology is being shoehorned into the classroom with little regard for the fit”. But how can we make a better fit? One thing is listening to your real customers, which means for an EdTech startup getting real feedback, which is input from real educators. Another thing that you can do is to establish a cross functional teams with people who have the necessary skills to develop the educational product. Finally you need to build up credibility in your consumer community, if you don’t have that then it may be difficult to get your product actually used by customers. “Building connections, relationships and influence is big part of product success”.

Education is global, with opportunities all around the world. And “education is much more then the classroom”, says Nick. But these large opportunities have also some challenges. EdTech startups need to look what their niche is, where they can make  a dent into the education market. Teachers can feel uncomfortable with technical solutions for teaching. And a challenge is that, due to the limited amount of money that schools have to provide technology to their students, they promote "Bring Your Own Device" (BYOD), which requires that EdTech startups provide solutions for multiple platforms. Nick concluded his presentation with 3 tips: “Be in there for the right reasons, be prepared for the long game and be passionate for learning”.


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