How I think everyone in edtech feels after the past 4 years!
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Accenture’s Acquisition of Udacity and the Future of AI in EdTech

Trey Ditto

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In a significant move that underscores the importance of AI in the edtech space, Accenture has announced its acquisition of Udacity, a once-pioneer in online learning, with a specific focus on creating a learning platform centered around AI. This acquisition is another proof point about how important it is for edtech companies to get ahead of the AI trend and narrative. And no, it’s not too late to start!

Udacity: A Case Study in Evolution and Opportunity

Udacity’s journey from its MOOC roots to the development of nanodegrees has been quite a fall from grace. Initially hailed as a revolution in online education, MOOCs faced criticism for their perceived lack of efficacy, notably from The New York Times’ Tom Friedman. In response, Udacity’s pivot to nanodegrees was an attempt to put lipstick on a pig because the critical link between obtaining a nanodegree and securing a better job remained tenuous. This underscores a broader challenge within the edtech sector: the need to not only innovate in how we deliver education but also in ensuring these innovations have a direct, positive impact on learners’ career trajectories.

The B2B Pivot: Necessity or Strategy?

The story talked about Udacity’s lackluster enterprise solution. The evolution from B2C to B2B models among edtech firms is nothing new. Over the past decade, many edtech companies who couldn’t drive revenue with their original consumer product offering pivoted to targeting coporations and universities. Despite the soundness of this strategy (going to where critical mass already exists), many edtech startups struggled to get in front of enterprise customers, which includes the longer sales cycle. Additionally, while parnterships were secured and announced, I’m unaware of many — if any — positive outcomes that benefited both partners business.

Still, this moment in edtech acknowledges a critical reality: the immense potential of upskilling and reskilling within organizational contexts.

COVID-19: EdTech’s Moment and Missed Opportunities

The pandemic presented an unprecedented opportunity for the edtech industry, likened to its very own Super Bowl. Yet, the anticipated surge in adoption and revenue fell short of expectations and the promises these companies had made since they were founded. We saw this in declining stock prices and valuations and even executive leadership changes.

AI: A Beacon of Hope

Fastforward and AI has given edtech companies a new breath of life! Tend years ago, we said “Every copmany is a tech company.” And now, edtech companies can say the same for AI. Just as learning to code was the biggest indemand skill a decade ago, AI education, literacy and modeling is creating a second chance for edtech companies to upskill people to get the highest paying jobs on the market. Moreover, AI equips edtech firms with “superhero powers” to enhance their products, enabling personalized learning experiences and more effective student retention and success strategies.

Navigating the Narrative Challenge

The challenge for edtech companies extends beyond product development. The ability to articulate the value and impact of their new AI services and products is paramount. This ranges from how they explain a problem they are solving to differentiating from competitors. And it’s all about rising above the noise, just like we saw in the coding bootcamp boom. Also, instances like Chegg’s earnings call misstep versus Khan Academy’s proactive engagement with building AI products exemplify the delicate balance between the growth of a company and its underlying problems.

One Piece of Advice: Don’t Wait!

I have been in the education space longer than most people who actually read this, starting in 2006 as the spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education in the Bush Administration. I have worked with edtech companies in the K-12 and Higher Education space for the past decade helping them with messaging and positioning and generating media coverage to support their positioning. Seven edtech companies were acquired as a result of Ditto PR building up their brand awareness, and we have worked with dozens on pre and post fundraising communications strategy — resulting in over $125 million raised.

The best advice that I can give somone in the edtech space:

1. Bring in communications professionals that have deep experience in the edtech space. I’ve seen too many start-ups hire an AI or a consumer or a tech PR firm who knew nothing about education and edtech. Make the right decision the first time.

2. Don’t wait! Get in front of this topic now even if products are still being built. I’d argue it’s better to get in front early — without the marketing getting ahead of the product — to plant seeds for future announcements and to show stakeholders that the business will thrive again in the near future.

3. Build (or re-build) relatioships with reporters, leverage the tools and resources online to build out your awareness ecosystem (LinkedIn is cool now!), network with AI leaders who can help in the future.

Companies like Credible.com and Flatiron School thrived and were acquired because they were either first on things like their job report and job guarantee and they dominated over their competitors in the media. Flatiron School averaged over 100 pieces of coverage every year for four years!

Hope you found this interesting!

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Trey Ditto

CEO of Ditto PR, A Fast Moving PR Firm the combines Strategy + Results AI / Web3 / Fintech / Edtech