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Many educational institutions were ill-equipped to make the transition to distance learning. The education sector has been relatively slow to adopt the technologies enabling digital transformation we see in many other industries. Even schools that had invested in online offerings, had not scaled their technology infrastructure to support migrating an entire student body online. In many respects and for many institutions, the COVID crisis condensed the digital transformation roadmap for the next ten years into a matter of weeks.

These short-term adaptations, however, will have long-term implications. While students, parents and accreditors largely gave institutions a metaphorical “hall pass” during the spring semester, we believe stakeholders expect a more robust, engaging, accessible and effective learning experience in the fall and beyond, regardless of physical location. Technology can help close the digital divide, providing a bridge to ensure equal access, support teachers, engage students and securely deliver academic integrity – enhancing student outcomes through resilient, seamless and consistent experiences at home, in class or in the cloud. This site explores our views informed by thematic research, industry surveys and portfolio company perspectives in three key areas where we see technology making a major impact as schools and institutions navigate a transition to online and hybridized delivery models, appropriate for the new paradigm.


of post-secondary institutions surveyed did not offer significant undergraduate coursework prior to COVID


of K-12 students live in households without an internet connection or devices adequate for distance learning


of post-secondary institutions surveyed are concerned with meeting enrollment goals in the fall

Instructor Enablement

Moving Beyond Video Conferencing

As schools and institutions abruptly shut down, many defaulted to video conferencing solutions in an attempt to replicate the classroom experience, with very mixed results. Many soon discovered that online and hybrid learning environments present unique challenges for educators – the instructional and engagement tactics that work so well in the classroom can often fall short in a remote format. This is especially true for subject areas like science, medicine, engineering and the arts, which require more experiential and hands-on learning approaches. While teachers are experts in their respective disciplines and highly capable of planning for and delivering compelling in-person experiences, many lack the technology expertise and tools to create content that is effective and engaging in online settings.

To help educators succeed in the fall and beyond, we believe schools and institutions will require user-friendly, non-technical instructional design, content creation and collaboration tools to reduce the burden of building out high-quality online experiences. These tools may include solutions for video capture and editing, graphic design and even animation. For subjects more dependent on experiential learning, we see a growing need for technologies that can facilitate online labs or leverage augmented reality and virtual reality solutions to help simulate the hands-on experiences that are lacking in remote settings. To fully enable instructors, many schools and institutions will need to increase their investments in technology infrastructure, connectivity and devices that provide reliable and easy access to these tools, regardless of physical location.

Student Engagement

Powering collaboration, community and well-being

From pre-K to post-secondary, our traditional education delivery models are, by design, social and interactive. Students aren’t just learning from their teachers or professors – they are learning from each other and building relationships that can last a lifetime. This access and the ability to create these relationships are a major draw for private schools and post-secondary institutions especially, and a huge part of the perceived value to justify tuition costs. Across the learning continuum – from private to public, and across grade levels – teachers and students need the ability to connect and engage to ensure concept comprehension, build trust and promote wellbeing.

Schools and institutions will need interactive digital platforms to provide an alternative to in-person engagement, which we believe will be restricted even in hybrid environments. Solutions should allow for both synchronous and asynchronous collaboration between students and teachers, as well as student-to-student and teacher-to-teacher communication to accommodate individuals separated by geographies, time zones and schedules. For private and post-secondary institutions, the need to create a rich online environment and community is even more acute as they seek to maintain enrollment numbers and convert prospective students for future school years.

In addition to supporting learning outcomes, many institutions see an acute need to promote overall wellbeing as students return to school this fall. At the pre-K-12 level, social and emotional learning tools (SEL) will be needed to help assess student engagement and identify at-risk students. Similarly, at the post-secondary level, institutions will need to develop secure channels to provide counseling and psychological services that had been previously offered on campus.

Academic Integrity

Measuring success and maintaining security

Across the learning continuum, educators have been deeply concerned with academic integrity in remote environments – from ensuring that students are completing day-to-day assignments to delivering secure and compliant assessments. While we saw many public schools across the U.S. postpone or cancel standardized testing throughout the spring — and a growing number of colleges and universities temporarily drop SAT and ACT requirements – administrators and boards will need to find new solutions to meet accreditation standards moving forward.

With the closure of in-house and out-sourced testing centers, the market has turned to digital solutions such as computer-based assessment platforms and eProctoring solutions/services. These technology solutions offer tools to confirm student identities and monitor tests in real-time – whether students are on-campus, in the classroom or fully remote — and can therefore serve to help schools and institutions administer tests in a safe and compliant manner.

The COVID pandemic forced the education sector to rapidly accelerate toward a future state that inevitably relies more heavily on digital solutions. Across the learning continuum, the sudden shift to online learning models revealed many gaps that schools and institutions are racing to address before the fall semester begins – from connectivity and accessibility to engagement and assessment. COVID conditions and physical distancing requirements will continue to persist for some time, raising the stakes for educators, administrators and school boards to ramp up their investments in technologies, tools and infrastructures to support the success of teachers and students in all learning environments.

We believe this unprecedented time provides a significant opportunity for educators, schools and institutions to more fully embrace and prioritize technologies that facilitate learning continuity in the short-term and bridge the digital divide over the long-term.

Closing the Digital Divide

“As schools and institutions make the changes necessary to facilitate learning continuity, we believe it’s imperative to develop and deliver solutions with a mind toward broad-based equitable access. Simply put, innovative technology solutions and business models have the potential to close the digital divide and support online and hybridized learning models.”

Len Ferrington

Managing Director, Summit Partners

“COVID has presented an unprecedented opportunity – an imperative, really – to digitally transform our industry and accelerate the mission of reaching students, wherever they are. Moving forward, the expectation will be for a more consistent, frictionless and unifying experience across digital and physical channels.”

Sumit Nijhawan

CEO, Ruffalo Noel Levitz

“A child’s first eight years form a critical foundation for school success, underscoring the importance providing parents, caregivers, teachers and children with resources, tools and support to extend the joys of classroom learning and exploration to the home setting. Digital solutions can bridge that gap, helping teachers, caregivers, and parents keep our children engaged, learning, and developing.”

John Olsen

CEO, Teaching Strategies

Related Experience

View additional education experience on summitpartners.com

Portfolio Perspectives

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