Back

The EdTech sector in Flanders – report summary

Arno De Kepper, Postgraduate degree in Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Engineering, KU Leuven
EdTech Tools Digital Platforms Digital Literacy Research

Is it possible to map the EdTech sector of an entire country or region? This study delivers an attempt to map Flanders’ EdTech sector, along with the current state of EdTech in Flanders and a comparison with the rest of Europe and the world.

A FIRST OVERVIEW

The goal of this research is to tackle the limited and fragmented documentation of the EdTech sector in Flanders. This report presents a first, centralized overview of all types of tools created by the Flemish EdTech sector, along with examples of providers. This overview can be used to search for tools the Flemish EdTech market offers as well as a starting point for additional research, since the amount of Flemish EdTech providers will most likely grow in the future. Flemish entrepreneurs in the EdTech sector may consult this report to obtain an overview of each market segment, the competition and their technologies in order to distinguish themselves and to keep innovating. The overview of Flanders’ EdTech sector is created by categorizing the names of companies active in this sector. Companies’ business models are beyond the scope of this report.

Figure 1 Visual representation of categorising Flanders’ EdTech scene

VC INVESTMENTS IN EDTECH ON EUROPEAN AND GLOBAL SCALE

In order to obtain a siting of Flanders in the global EdTech landscape, the scene on European and world level is examined first. As seen in figure 1, the VC investment in EdTech has increased tenfold since 2014, hitting a record level of 711 million USD. The European EdTech market has been becoming an increasingly attractive opportunity both for local and international investors over the past few years. This growth in funding originates from increased innovation and adoption as well as demand and supply. The enormous demand for EdTech, exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic,  forces incumbents and start-ups to innovate, pivot and expand to supply its consumers, who are obligated to seek rapid digital solutions. The pandemic serves as an eye-opener to the investor community about the EdTech scene and its potential for significant growth in the coming years [1].

Figure 2 EdTech VC investments in Europe since 2014 (not including growth, private equity, grants and debt financing deals) [1]

The investigation, regarding VC investments in the EdTech scene beyond Flanders, shows the UK as the leader of the European EdTech sector and the potential of the other European countries, including Flanders, as seen in figure 2. For each year, the countries are ranked according to the number of total deals funded. The total value of all deals are provided per country as well. As seen in figure 2, the UK maintains a dominant position in the European EdTech scene since 2016, apart from 2018. In 2020, the UK comprised ± 40% of the total deals funded and took ± 30% of the value of all deals. However, it registered a decline in absolute numbers in comparison to 2019.

Figure 3 EdTech VC investments in several European countries since 2016 (not including Kahoot! 2020 raise to reduce distortion plus growth, private equity, grants and debt financing deals/ NO = Nordic countries) [1]

Beyond Europe, the pandemic has resulted in disruption to learning on an unseen global scale, with the rapid uptake of EdTech supporting education continuity at all levels. VC investment in EdTech has witnessed a corresponding increase, with the market of China as the global leader, surpassing the share of VC investments in the American and European markets. Simultaneously, India has risen to become the third EdTech powerhouse, after China and the USA. Despite VC investments being a part of the total amount of investments, this research provides an overview of the EdTech powerhouses in Europe and the rest of the world.

Figure 4 Global EdTech VC investments between 2010 and 2020 in USD billions [2]

EDTECH IN FLANDERS

Digital use in education in Flanders is currently in its infancy and the potential of EdTech is inadequately exploited [4]. Some general conclusions about EdTech in Flanders can be made:

- The offer of EdTech used by institutions is rather limited and depends on the learning content, the target group, available expertise, time and means. However, EdTech offers and corresponding policies are in full development.

- The potential of EdTech is inadequately exploited. This is seen by:

    • The lack of social interactions between students or trainees in electronic environments, which is highly valued.
    • The possibilities of personalized learning and adaptive learning environments being under-used.
    • Final evaluations being mostly organized on campus with supervision of the teacher or coach and without the use of the digital learning environment, while the last option is used for intermediate evaluations.

- Low skilled workers are a vulnerable group when it comes to the use of EdTech. In order to increase participation in this group, EdTech should be made more accessible. On the other hand, using EdTech requires the trainee’s autonomy and self-discipline to actively participate in their own learning process. This explains a higher drop-out risk from online educations among low skilled workers than among high skilled workers.

- The share of blended learning will grow in the future, although basic digital skills, self-discipline and guidance are required in order to benefit from EdTech.

- Inspiring practices from other countries or regions can stimulate the use of EdTech in Flanders [4].

However, due to the increasing attention of e-learning, blended learning, distance learning and smart learning in Flemish educational institutes and organisations, EdTech in Flanders is on the rise. This is partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which imposes the need to embrace the advantages of EdTech. In order to prevent learning disabilities due to social distancing measures, EdTech offers a solution. If EdTech becomes increasingly embraced, now and after the pandemic, a technological revolution in Flanders’ educational landscape might occur.

MAIN RESOURCES

In order to obtain an overview of Flanders’ EdTech sector, two main resources were consulted. The first one is the number of exhibitors at Sett Ghent last year, which were 61 [5]. Sett Ghent is Flanders’ biggest event regarding education and digital technology. The second resource is the product of a cooperation between the Belgian newspaper De Tijd and Sirris, a collaborative centre for the Belgian tech industry. Together, they created an interactive map of Belgium, with 80 companies and incubators active in the Belgian EdTech industry [6]. Apart from these main resources, other websites of Flemish EdTech companies were consulted, which are referred to in the full report.

MY OWN CATEGORISATION

The content is categorised according to the target groups of the EdTech sector, namely: primary, secondary and higher education, the corporate world and the general public (figure 4). Each target group is further divided into some of the following platform categories: content/instruction, administration, communication, authoring, specific platforms/companies and STEM labs. Some categories are further subdivided into platform types, dependent on the target group. For each category or type, various Flemish EdTech providers are given as examples. The categorisation is based on own initial insights and determinations from all consulted resources. Therefore, further expansion of the content and discussion on the categorisation is promoted.

Figure 5 Categorisation of Flanders’ EdTech scene

RESEARCH INSIGHTS

These initial insights indicate that EdTech providers targeting primary and secondary education develop tools focused on storytelling for little children, differentiated learning, the development of 21st century skills, STEM labs and learning management systems. Hereby, the categories of content/instruction and administration contain various examples of tools, along with specific administration and collaboration tools for teachers, school staff and parents. Different STEM labs focusing on primary and secondary education are present as well.

For higher education, five categories are listed: administration, communication, authoring, specific platforms and STEM labs. Tools designed for higher education are mainly directed towards learning management systems and communication platforms. In spite of the extensive offer for primary and secondary education as well as the corporate world, the Flemish offer for higher education appears to be limited, which is also reflected on European and global level in terms of venture capital (VC) investments in companies targeting higher education. The share of foreign, international tools surpasses the offer originating from Flanders.

EdTech providers targeting the corporate world mainly provide training and technical solutions as well as communication hardware and software. The areas of expertise of these companies can be grouped into three categories, namely: content/instruction, communication and the specific companies. Companies in the category of content/instruction provide learning and training solutions tailored to the needs of businesses. Other companies in this category digitalize the provision of information, create digital solutions for complex technical challenges or develop entirely new digital experiences.

EdTech companies targeting the general public provide tools for the general public and are not bound to primary, secondary and higher education or the corporate world. The EdTech providers presented in this chapter focus on informal learning, more specifically on solutions for visual or hearing impairments and language education. The areas of expertise of these companies can be grouped into two categories: communication and content/instruction. Apart from these categories, the library of informal applications is enormous. In fourth quarter of 2020, Google Play provided Android users with 3.14 million apps, making Google Play the largest app store. The Apple App Store was the second-largest app store with almost 2.09 million available apps for iOS [3]. Therefore, it is unfeasible to identify each informal learning app originating from Flanders and to categorise them. 

In addition, 58% of all mentioned Flemish EdTech providers address more than one target group. Hereby, additional insight into the competition and the offer within each target group is provided, which is positive for the size of the Flemish EdTech market and all institutions in need of EdTech.

Most providers which focus on primary and secondary education do not focus on other target groups. A possible reason is the decision of this type of providers to only focus on children and youth, which is the K-12 sector. Providers targeting higher education, which do not originate from Flanders, target secondary education and corporate world as well. Some additionally target primary education. A major reason for this is the fact that many of these providers develop learning management systems, which can be used by educational institutes as well as by corporates. Some providers which focus on the corporate and professional world also focus on the K-12 sector and higher education. Reasons for this are companies such as Barco, Televic Education and SMARTBoard, providing hardware and software for digital communication which are suitable for businesses as well as educational institutions. Providers targeting the general public also seize the opportunity to target education and businesses, since visual or hearing impairments and dyslexia or other learning difficulties are not restricted to everyday life, but appear during learning or working as well.

Furthermore, it is not feasible to include every single example of a Flemish tool or company due to the large number of providers and their variable notoriety. This is the reason why the content is organized into categories, by which each category is outlined, together with examples.

Lastly, quantitative knowledge of the extent to which organisations effectively use Flanders’ EdTech tools remains a challenge, since no centralized documentation with quantitative information currently exists [4]. This information can be acquired by conducting interviews with representatives from schools, companies, or other institutions utilizing or providing EdTech tools. Websites can be consulted as well, taking into account quantitative information might not be continuously up to date or completely reliable.

In light of the growing investments in EdTech in Belgium and other European countries, innovative EdTech tools, start-ups and companies keep emerging. The amount of Flemish EdTech providers will probably grow in the future, which addresses the need to keep this report up to date by means of future research.

PROMOTION OF EDTECH IN FLANDERS

The Flemish government promotes the use of EdTech in education via different channels. One of them is Sett Ghent, which is Flanders’ biggest fair regarding EdTech in education [5]. The goal of the event is to inspire all actors in education regarding the latest EdTech tools and to promote the adoption of these technologies in their own institutes. Another major example is Digisprong [7], which is a strategic vision note by which the government of Flanders wants to seize the COVID-19 crisis to implement a sustainable digital acceleration in Flemish education. The goal is to improve quality of education in every primary and secondary school in today’s digital era. A third example is Mediawijs [8], which is the Flemish digital knowledge centre supported by IMEC and Flanders’ government. The centre aims to help people to use and understand digital technologies and media in an active, creative, critical and conscious way.

CONCLUSIONS

Although EdTech in Flanders is currently in its infancy, the Flemish EdTech sector is on the rise. The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated this rise, since institutions unfamiliar with digital education are forced to explore the Flemish EdTech market and its wide range of functionalities.

The categorisation itself originates from own initial insights and determinations from all consulted resources, which is not based on previous research carried out by others. However, this report provides a first attempt to map this sector as comprehensive as possible, from which students, teachers, employers, employees, researchers and the general public can benefit.

Thanks to the growth of EdTech in Flanders, this report can never be complete. It is not feasible to include every  example of a Flemish EdTech provider due to their diversity and variable notoriety. Therefore, further expansion of the content and discussion on the categorisation is recommended. In addition, another challenge is to quantitatively map and centralize the effective usage of EdTech tools by Flemish educational institutions or other organisations, since this knowledge remains fragmented or largely unknown.

Apart from the positive support towards EdTech in Flanders by the government through different channels and policies, VC investments are on the rise in Flanders, Europe and the rest of the world. This has a positive effect on innovation and the enlargement of the Flemish EdTech market, since more companies emerge or grow with increase in overall competitiveness. This increase in competitiveness is also highlighted by the majority of Flemish EdTech providers addressing multiple target groups, instead of one.

It remains to be seen whether the Flemish EdTech sector will continue to grow after the pandemic, which rapidly accelerated fundraising patterns in comparison to the years before 2020. However, the importance of EdTech cannot be underrated or ignored. Despite the challenges associated with EdTech and its use, it can effectively facilitate learning and performance.

ADDITIONAL MATERIALS AND SOURCES

On top of this page, you can download the full, detailed report, written by Arno De Kepper and supervised by Prof. Wim Van Petegem within the Postgraduate Program in Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Engineering, at the faculty of Engineering Technology, KU Leuven in Belgium.

[1]     Brighteye Ventures. The European EdTech Funding Report 2021. February 15th 2021. https://www.brighteyevc.com/post/european-edtech-funding-report-2021. Consulted on March 12th 2021.

[2]     HolonIQ. $16.1B of Global EdTech Venture Capital in 2020. January 5th 2021. https://www.holoniq.com/notes/16.1b-of-global-edtech-venture-capital-in-2020/. Consulted on March 20th 2021.

[3]     Statista. Number of apps available in leading app stores as of 4th quarter 2020. https://www.statista.com/statistics/276623/number-of-apps-available-in-leading-app-stores/#:~:text=As%20of%20the%20fourth%20quarter,million%20available%20apps%20for%20iOS. Consulted on March 8th 2021.

[4]     Desmedt, E., De Coen, A., & Goffin, K. (2019). E-leren in Vlaanderen. VIONA-Onderzoeksprogramma.

[5]     Sett Gent. https://www.sett-gent.be/nl/. Consulted on January 16th 2021.

[6]     De Tijd. Silicon Belgium: De Belgische techstarters in kaart. https://multimedia.tijd.be/techbelgie/. Consulted on December 1st 2020.

[7]     European Commission. Eurydice. Belgium – Flemish Community. National Reforms related to Transversal Skills and Employability. March 30th 2021. https://eacea.ec.europa.eu/national-policies/eurydice/content/national-reforms-related-transversal-skills-and-employability-3_en. Consulted on May 25th 2021.

[8]     Mediawijs. About us. https://en.mediawijs.be/about. Consulted on May 25th 2021.