July - August Edition of the X Report
Not rendering correctly? View this email as a web page here.
X Report Header
Cartoon - Chat lines

In this month's X Report, we look at the power of AI in the classroom, share news on the recent EdTechX Challenge, and explore Q2 activity in the education sector. Each month, we will share a snapshot of key trends, showcase the stars of today and tomorrow, provide some food for thought as well as mergers, acquisitions and fundraising.

X Report Full menu
now and next v2

The power of AI in the classroom – giving teachers the freedom to teach
Satya Nitta -Merlyn Mind

Can artificial intelligence improve education? This question is as old as artificial intelligence itself. When John McCarthy, Marvin Minsky, and other AI pioneers met in the 1950s for a conference that basically began AI research, one of the visions they imagined was intelligent machines that could teach people. I spent most of the past decade trying to bring this vision to life.

I led AI solutions for learning at IBM Research and helped launch the Watson Education division of IBM. At IBM, we made great progress towards developing an intelligent tutoring system that was intelligent enough to teach students. However, we discovered what the AI pioneers also discovered more than 70 years ago, the human teaching and learning process is complex. AI technology is still in its infancy compared to the development of the human brain and human cognition. AI was not (and still is not) advanced enough to teach as effectively as a human teacher.

But we have seen incredible advancements in AI in the past decade. In particular, in the areas of image and speech recognition, decision making, and natural language understanding. AI succeeds when AI solutions are purpose built with a narrow focus on a singular problem. I see an opportunity in education to redefine the problem in order to build AI solutions that can help improve education today. The question I’m now asking myself is not, “Can AI teach?” Today I’m asking, “How can AI help teachers?”

The work of a teacher is very different today than it was 10, 20, or 100 years ago. Today teachers have the same responsibility as they had in the past to guide student learning and cover the required curriculum, but today teachers are also expected to manage ever-present technology as part of the learning experience. Teachers and students can benefit from technology in the classroom that has introduced new and engaging learning experiences. But teachers can also be more distracted and have less time to focus on connecting with their individual students as they juggle their students, teaching, and technology. When they have time to focus on their students, teachers, with their human brains, are able to deal with complex human needs to personalize learning for individual students. AI can help make this easier for teachers so they can be free to spend more of their time doing what they do best, teaching.

I believe in a future where AI will help make work better across different jobs and industries. Innovative companies and organizations will focus on the specific needs of a profession or industry and build focused AI solutions to help with the routines and tasks that make those jobs difficult. Education, too, needs AI built specifically for the challenges teachers face at work.

I founded Merlyn Mind with a vision to create AI solutions for the people building a better future. Our mission is to build a digital assistant to free teachers to teach. In my lifetime, I believe we will see the evolution of digital assistants from fun tech in our homes to indispensable tech at work.

Often asking the right question changes everything, and I hope others will join me in asking new questions about AI and education. For now, I’ll continue to ask, “How can AI help teachers?”

global all stars headerv5

2021 EdTechX Challenge Finalists Imagine The Future of Learning and Work

Earlier this year, we launched the EdTechX Challenge— a virtual competition to source the best ideas that can transform the learning industry. Students from every region across the globe worked on ideas and proposals across our four submission categories: 1. Skills Over Degrees, 2. Learning Management & Tools, 3. Alternate Learning Formats and 4. Collaborative & Community-Led Learning. 

Submissions were judged by an internal panel from IBIS capital and MoocLab as well as an external panel of our sponsors & partners including Google Cloud, Net2Work, Minds Studio, and Transcend Network. 

The top 3 finalist teams were chosen to pitch their ideas live at the EdTechX Challenge Awards Ceremony to compete for our prizes including internship/full-time work opportunities, mentorship, and exclusive merchandise and Cloud credits from our lead partner Google Cloud. 

We are excited to finally share more about the top 3 finalist teams below:

Project 21 — 3rd Place

(Skills Over Degrees and Collaborative & Community-Led Learning

Patrycja Wierzchałek and Victoria Stepanenko, both undergraduate students at Minerva Schools at KGI, presented Project 21— a curriculum of team-based gamified online challenge sessions led by a trained moderator to develop collaboration competencies and prepare students for the challenges of the 21st century workplace. Judges were impressed by the specificity of the program and noted the potential scalability of the curriculum for various audiences. 

QuaesterBot — 2nd Place 

(Collaborative and Community-led Learning) 

Phaina Koncebovski, a Masters student at the University of Basel, took second place with her presentation of QuasterBot— a modern chatbot that understands and speaks natural language built on the principles of learning by teaching. The chatbot’s continual questions can help expose holes in a learner’s knowledge and allow them to delve deeper into different facets of the topic. The judges marked this project highly on its scalability and potential applications/ partnerships with learning institutions or other programs to supplement student learning. 

LitSquad — 1st Place, 2021 EdTechX Challenge Winner

(Learning Management and Tools) 

Asami Wright, an MBA student at the Quantic School of Business and Technology, won 1st place with her pitch of LitSquad— a mobile-first game bringing teens together from around the globe in virtual literature circles to address the issues around a lack of reading stamina in teens and help them develop skills for the 21st century through a creative, gamified approach. Judges were impressed with this comprehensive solution and were excited by the novel approach to this critical issue in the next generation.

The EdTechX Challenge was based on the belief that bringing people together to collaboratively ideate — from students to industry leaders — would have the power to further connect the global learning community and catalyze innovation across the industry. The judges and the EdTechX team were so energized by the ideas and look forward to seeing how these ideas and projects continue to grow. Watch  the EdTechX Challenge Awards Ceremony here >>

market round up header
Market Roundup Logos1-1
Education market round up
Financial Times
Work market round up
World Economic Forum
Holon IQ-1
Open Access Government
investment market round up
The Economic Times
Holon IQ 2
M&A Highlights
M&A Activity >
McGraw Hill Education M&A Question Mark M&A
goodhabitz M&A


(1) Source: S&P Capital IQ



Significant Fundraising Activity >
ApplyBoard Fundraising Cypher Learning Fundraising
eloomi Fundraising


Valuation Benchmarks

Industry Analysis – Q2 2021 Mergers, Acquisitions and Fundraising

Chart 1Key Points

Global education deal making enjoyed a busy second quarter of 2021, with Q2 M&A reaching its highest level in the last five years. While the bulk of the $8.4bn that changed hands can be attributed to Platinum Equity’s $6.8bn acquisition of McGraw Hill in June, even excluding this deal, M&A deal value increased by more than 130% from the second quarter of 2020. With Q2-20 activity being dampened by COVID, there has been a clear turnaround in dealmaking in the second quarter of this year as M&A appetite returned after its pandemic-induced slowdown. Fundraising, however, has experienced different fortunes to M&A. The $1.5bn of capital raised in Q2-21 represents a decline of more than 60% when compared to the same period a year ago.

Chart 2-2Chart 3

Strategic buyers continue to be responsible for the majority of M&A transactions, and accounted for just under 80% of deal volume. Norway’s Kahoot! was a notable strategic acquirer this quarter, acquiring American online platform provider Clever for $500m. From a geographic perspective, North America continues to be the dominant geography, accounting for just under 40% of transactions. Europe followed closely behind, however, and was responsible for a third of deals this quarter, up from around 25% in the first quarter of this year.

Chart 4Chart 5

Unsurprisingly, large deals (defined as transactions with size in excess of $150m) accounted for the vast majority of deal value, contributing a total of $7.7bn. Aside from the McGraw-Hill Education and Clever deals mentioned above, another notable large deal was Prosus’ $257m acquisition of GoodHabitz, a Dutch business which helps corporate clients train their employees in areas such as cultural diversity and time management. On the fundraising side, notable transactions include a $120m investment by KKR into French online driving academy Orinkar as well as General Atlantic’s $80m investment into OpenClassrooms.

1. Relates only to deals with disclosed transaction amounts

X Report  Banner