M&A market for e-learning
Capital is being dammed up in investment companies and it needs an outlet. I have been doing on-going work for a private equity house across Europe, and believe me, there’s real interest in investing in e-learning. Curiously, the credit crunch seems to have accelerated that interest. I can name four private equity groups who have or want to invest in this area. This is a damn good sign.
Confirming my view that there are sectors that are relatively immune from the credit crunch, Pearson have gone to lapland and bought Norwegian company Fronter. This should be a good Christmas present for Roger Larson, one of the founders.He gave a terrible keynote at Online Educa last week, a pure sales pitch, and the largely educational audience didn’t like it one bit. This was a shame, as the content of his talk was actually quite informative. It was a triumph of bad style over substance. However, they really have done something that works, with large numbers of students in schools. Rather than doing largely useless research they’ve actually done something in the real world that is helping thousands of students to learn.
This pushes their platform into the big time, as the winners in the VLE market tend to be those with sales and marketing clout and global reach. But it won’t be that easy. In the UK, they have proof of concept with the London Grid for Learning but London is not often the catalyst for the rest of the UK market. There can be no doubt that these systems can revolutionise learning in schools. Students, teachers and parents all have access to a transparent online system that provides communications, assignment submission, planning and shared resources for teachers. Homework can be seen to be set online, submitted online, and marked. This solves an eternal problem, often the subject of angst by parents. Teachers, of course, don’t like this function, as it forces them to set and mark homework. Teachers can also reuse materials (the source of much inefficiency in schools). Above all it provides an ‘always-on’ platform for students to structure and advance their learning.
Not all plain sailing
It won’t all be plain sailing. This is a fragmented market. There are dozens of vendors and sales are often down at individual school level, where cost of sale is high and budgets low. Once bought schools rarely have the project management skills to implement these systems efficiently, and there’s fierce resistance from more traditional teachers.
In 2009 we can look forward to some sensible consolidation in this market. There are financially weak companies that need to be bought or merged and, others that could expand by being properly capitalised.