The 10 most innovative companies in education of 20238 min read
After the upheaval of the pandemic—and the sweeping experiment in online learning that it forced on schools—this year’s most innovative education companies are finding new, inventive ways to build on the explosive growth of online education. Companies like edX and Multiverse are focused on making tech bootcamps and apprenticeships more accessible to underrepresented communities, while InStride is creating customized workforce development initiatives alongside corporate partners such as Amazon. Purdue University is tackling the nationwide shortage of semiconductor engineers head-on, by creating a suite of dedicated degrees and partnering with executives from leading chip companies.
Other companies are looking to empower educators as they navigate a crowded landscape of ed tech solutions: LearnPlatform runs evaluations for schools and districts that are trying to evaluate the efficacy of their digital tools and now works directly with ed tech companies as well. TPT (formerly known as Teachers Pay Teachers) continues to be a resource for more than seven million educators across the world and is doubling down on content moderation to ensure quality and cultural competency in its teaching materials.
1. Purdue University
For training the next generation of semiconductor engineers
For making it cheaper and faster for edtech companies to prove their products work
As schools have adopted more and more edtech products during the pandemic, educators are looking for evidence that they actually work. LearnPlatform is helping administrators and districts do just that, by analyzing the efficacy of their edtech tools and conducting evaluations more quickly and at a lower price point. As of last year, LearnPlatform had run more than 1,200 evaluations for its school customers, who serve nearly 10 million students and teachers.
With the launch of its new evidence-as-a-service subscription program in February 2022, LearnPlatform is also enabling edtech companies to prove their products are effective—and that they comply with the requirements outlined by the Every Student Succeeds Act, which mandates that federal funding is used for “evidence-based services.” More than 60 companies now use LearnPlatform’s subscription service, including such popular edtech providers as Age of Learning and Varsity Tutors. In December 2022, LearnPlatform was acquired by Instructure, the $3.6 billion market-cap maker of digital learning and assessment systems.
Read more about LearnPlatform, honored as No. 38 on Fast Company’s list of the World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies of 2023.
For making tech bootcamps low-cost and accessible to underserved communities outside of tech hubs
Originally a joint venture between Harvard and MIT to host online courses, edX grew to attract 45 million learners and was acquired by edtech giant 2U in 2021. 2U has largely bet the company’s future on the edX platform, investing heavily in edX tech bootcamps that run the gamut from web development to cybersecurity. In October 2022, edX partnered with Google Cloud to introduce a cloud-computing professional certificate. In December, it teamed up with UC Davis to offer one in search engine optimization.
In an effort to better reach underserved communities, edX also introduced the Access Partnerships program, which brings together local workforce organizations and educational institutions to offer those bootcamps for a nominal fee—or free of charge—and also provide financial support for wraparound services like childcare and transportation. After pilot programs with the University of Oregon and the University of Birmingham in the U.K., edX expanded in 2022 to eight additional states and Canada, with a focus on burgeoning tech hubs such as Denver, Orlando, Tulsa, and Utah’s Silicon Slopes region.
Access Partnerships have already shown signs of success: Graduates in Oregon secured jobs at Microsoft and Nike—with a majority of students finding jobs within 30 days—while the U.K. program saw high rates of enrollment from women and non-white students, who made up well over 40% of bootcamp participants. In the fourth quarter of 2022, 2U introduced more than 150 new edX courses from 57 distinct institutions, and the company credits edX with driving 37% of organic leads, lowering the company’s cost of acquiring new customers.
For expanding its language-learning empire
Since getting its start in Berlin, the language-learning app Babbel has gone global, racking up 10 million paid subscriptions. In 2022, Babbel made significant inroads into the United States—selling more than 1 million subscriptions during Q1—while bolstering its app-based language lessons with new offerings, including live classes and B2B services. Babbel for Business, which has 1,000 corporate partners across the world, launched in the U.S. in 2022 and already counts companies like Airbnb and McDonald’s as clients.
In response to the war in Ukraine, Babbel created free language courses in Polish, German, and English for people who were displaced, along with resource guides to help refugees and hosts communicate. More than 400,000 Ukrainians are now learning a language through Babbel.
For enabling employers to invest in their workers
Since launching in 2019, InStride has served more than 57,000 employees through 2,300 workforce education programs designed alongside corporate partners and academic institutions. Employees who participate in InStride’s programs have a retention rate of 92% (compared with 63% for those who don’t), and they’re also three times as likely to be promoted. In 2022, InStride partnered with Amazon to create the Next Mile program, a $19 million investment from the tech giant that gives 275,000 eligible delivery partners—who are third-party contractors—the opportunity to participate in employer-sponsored upskilling programs. Other companies such as Labcorp have created programs that aim to help frontline workers move into more senior roles. Beyond its work with corporate partners, InStride has also introduced ancillary services like the Career Education Paths program, which maps out the courses and degrees that employees need to qualify for specific tech jobs.
6. One League
For democratizing access to a top business school
One League was founded by Umaimah Mendhro, a Harvard Business School alum who grew up in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia with limited access to formal education. Mendhro’s goal was to make a top business school education more accessible to people from different countries and underrepresented backgrounds. One League, a part-time digital MBA program inspired by Harvard Business School’s curriculum, was developed in partnership with Harvard, and many of its instructors previously taught there.
In 2022, One League launched with a 60-person group of fellows who received full scholarships. (The fellows hailed from 30 different countries and included refugees and first-generation college graduates.) One League has introduced tracks focused on data science as well as innovation and entrepreneurship with MIT and Stanford, respectively, for fellows who’ve completed its core MBA curriculum. The organization’s mentorship board includes more than 50 industry leaders from Harvard and other top institutions, to help graduates of the program establish a network and find work opportunities.
For taking aim at the college and career readiness market
As a college and career-planning platform for students, SchooLinks is betting that it can improve upon existing solutions in the college readiness space. Over one million students are now using SchooLinks, along with 150 schools and districts, and a number of its clients have switched over from Naviance, the major player in the space. Alongside career exploration and internship listings, SchooLinks offers features such as virtual-reality campus tours and financial-aid calculators. For counselors, SchooLinks provides a suite of administrative tools to track applications and oversee course planning.
In 2022, SchooLinks introduced career exploration tools for elementary students, expanding on its use as a K–12 tool. Through its industry partner portal, the company is helping local businesses reach high school students to offer internships and other opportunities. SchooLinks also recently launched the Pulse program, which seeks to give counselors a more well-rounded view of their students by collecting social-emotional data across schools and districts.
For using salaried apprenticeships to give underrepresented tech workers a foot in the door
Multiverse is positioning its apprenticeships—which have placed more than 10,000 students in salaried tech roles at such companies as Cisco, Citi, and Verizon—as a proxy for a traditional college degree or workplace training (and a tuition-free one at that). The U.K.-based company, which was founded in 2016 by Euan Blair, entered the U.S. market in 2021 after a rebrand and now boasts a roster of more than 500 employers, who foot the bill for its services. (Even amid the pandemic and layoffs across the tech industry, Multiverse has seen its client base increase ninefold since 2020.) Nearly all Multiverse apprentices—more than 90%—end up staying with their employers, and a majority of them identify as women or BIPOC.
In September 2022, Multiverse formalized a partnership with the OneTen coalition of Fortune 500 CEOs, committing to place thousands of Black workers without four-year degrees into apprenticeships at OneTen companies such as Cisco and Intermountain Health. The company is also reimagining how to assess and train prospective apprentices to make the application process more equitable, rather than relying solely on grades or other traditional criteria. With an additional $220 million in funding last year, Multiverse is expanding its footprint in the U.S., where the company already receives about 5,000 apprentice applications each quarter.
For helping teachers adapt to digital classrooms through peer-to-peer exchange
Since its humble origins as the brainchild of a New York City public school teacher, the online marketplace TPT (formerly Teachers Pay Teachers) has become a hub for millions of educators who rely on it to exchange—and monetize—their instructional content. Its user base of 7.5 million now includes 85% of teachers in the U.S. and educators across 170 countries. As downloads on TPT have crossed one billion, with teachers having earned a cumulative total in excess of $1.5 billion, the platform has faced challenges with quality control and plagiarism. To address those issues, in April 2022, TPT created the Content Moderation Advisory Board, a group of third-party experts who advise the company on diverse imagery, historical accuracy, and cultural competency in its teaching resources. As schools were forced to adapt to remote and hybrid models, TPT introduced Easel, a collection of interactive digital tools. The company added Easel into its subscription offering for schools in 2022. Since launching last year, Easel has been adopted by 1.4 million teachers and nearly 5 million students.
For giving industry experts an easy way to build live learning communities
Disco is courting creators and industry experts with a platform that makes it easy for them to build and monetize live online courses and foster community-based learning. Since launching in 2021, Disco has attracted such notable instructors as author Margaret Atwood and renowned strategic advisor and author Roger Martin, whose course had been on pace last fall to generate seven-figure revenue in 2022. In March 2022, Disco raised a $15 million series A round led by edtech investor GSV Ventures. A key differentiating aspect of Disco is that it serves not only individuals but also communities that want to take advantage of Disco’s tools to run their own online academies. Examples include the design portfolio platform Dribbble, the entrepreneurial incubator On Deck, and the battery sciences–focused BatteryMBA. In keeping with its mission, Disco is investing in its own live learning community, DiscoU, and an accelerator program to help its creators most effectively use the platform.