Are ed-tech startups a bubble that’s ready to burst?

Pittinsky, one of Blackboard’s founders, also says ed-tech companies are likely in the midst of a bubble, but it’s not clear when the peak year will be, and the lack of MOOC revenue and impressive IPOs won’t do much to slow the tide any time soon.

Even if the bubble bursts, he said, ed-tech companies and venture capitalists have found a “new normal.”

“And the new normal is not the bubble,” Pittinsky says. “It’s the new comfort level by the investing community in education startups. The rate will always be much higher then it was in the mid-nineties. But we are just now getting to the time period for investors where these companies either need to prove they’re real or start flaming out.”

For educators — some who feel like they’ve been left out of the equation as ed-tech companies increasingly reach around universities to connect directly with students — there’s a more important question than if there’s an economic bubble.

Does any of this technology actually work?

Pearson, a giant learning company with far more resources than your average ed-tech startup, is just now beginning to assess its products’ effectiveness with its new efficacy reports. Pearson’s been selling learning products since at least 1942.

Four prominent research universities even recently announced the formation of a consortium, called Unizin, designed in part to address this lack of standards. “It’s tilting the table in favor of interoperability and university control,” James Hilton, the vice provost for digital education at the University of Michigan, says. “It’s about affirming that our faculty and students create unique learning environments, not the technology.”

Beard, of Parchment, says he strongly believes in the power of educational technology to address many of society’s ills, from poverty to health to unemployment. But that means students need to be able to easily find the application that’s right for them and that has a real, proven shot at helping them learn better.

“And I think we’re just now starting to connect those dots,” he said.

Jake New is a former editor with eCampus News.

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