Education by Tech: Moving up the Social Ladder or holding back?

“Education is the most powerful weapon that you can use to change the world”. Nelson Mandela


Does education allow us to move up the social ladder or does moving up the social ladder allow us to be more educated? In this discussion, I am going to detail some ways that technology has impacted the field of Education to the point where it can enhance the process of social mobility and reverse a core component that was holding people back.

Technologies greatest fuel is adversity. When times are tough, we often turn to technology for solutions. Sometimes that technology is already developed, and chance bought it to the forefront, other times new technology is developed to deal with a specific problem.

As a fan of social innovations and a firm believer that when we look at investment opportunities, we must indeed support what we at Emerald have coined ‘sovation’ or social innovations, I see EdTech as an area that has benefitted from covid and will in turn, be a huge benefit to society.

Education has always been dear to my heart and it is fairly obvious that its benefits are compounding across generations. Social change and laddering are often achieved through one generation moving up the educational ladder, which opens up not just the knowledge benefits but also the societal benefits. Social mobility is one of the achievements and recognitions that people aspire to and education is often a benchmark of that. However, if we truly wish for a fairer and more equal society, then we need EdTech to help deliver education to those that cannot afford it. We have to utilise different delivery methods and price points and even such mundane things as time difference in delivery, need to be accounted for. I feel that there are now many options out there and I wanted to touch upon a few of my favourites.

What is EdTech? Is an information delivery system using technology to better deliver inputs and thus improve results and outputs, for example higher salaries. It is type of disruptive technology that has the potential to help increase the chances of a more egalitarian and less elitist society.

University-level education delivery has in many respects gone backwards in relation to cost. In parts of Europe, where higher education used to be free and supported with government grants and loans schemes, has now moved across to a privately funded route. Sometimes these courses set people back tens of thousands of euros. In comparison to the US, where higher education can leave you with a debt of over $250,000, this may seem a bargain. However, this puts university-level education firmly outside of most of us and reserved only for the very privileged in society. Whilst companies such as the Open University in the UK have or decades been championing online, distance learning and novel ways for delivery, this has now become more mainstream.


Here are some of my favourite EdTech applications. Ultimately, education is an information delivery system, which is trying to help retain information whilst turning that information input into a financial output for an individual.

Coursera: offers totally online pre-recorded university specialisms.

This company stands out to me as it offers a wide variety of University courses at a fraction of the costs of both a full-time face to face and part-time delivery method. What I would like to underline here, is that you are getting the same content as a university specialism, say Blockchain or FinTech but at around 5% of the cost of a fulltime campus course and 25% of a part-time online course.

Coursera offers course from as little as $79 per month and even has a scholarship program for those that cannot afford the fees at this level. You are getting pretty much identical content, with a delivery system that is available to most as there is even a mobile application. Those with a feature phone would struggle but for those that have access to a computer, a few hours per week/day to spare and a few hundred dollars, well they have a chance to become a specialist in a field from a well-established university. You have courses from Wharton, Insead, Yale, Copenhagen and University of London to name a few. And courses cover small specialisms all the way through to master’s levels.


GetSmarter: offers a hybrid online & real time program.

This EdTech provider, who markets and package course from Harvard, LSE, MIT, Berkley, Standford and even OxBridge, saw a price and delivery gap in the market and has benefited from the work from home push we have seen recently. Whereas a campus specialism might costs a student around $12,500 for a 10-week course, GetSmarter takes that same course and delivers this via a structured 10-week online program. The classes are generally the same size and the lecturers are also delivered in real-time and you would need to attend as though you were actually at the college. You can connect with your class mates and discuss and share ideas as you go through the subject matter. The difference is that you don’t have the additional travel and living or accommodation costs.


Udemy: online educational marketplace connect buyers and sellers

Udemy takes the concept of a marketplace and attaches this to education. It states that there are over 130,000 courses being used by over 35 million students globally. And I believe these figures. Subject matters tend to more skills-based such as ‘learn the basics of excel’ but there are also many courses where independent teachers have put together the course. The CFA, for example, where you can get the entire syllabus explained with contact details for each teacher so you can engage and ask questions as you learn. These courses would normally be thousands of dollars with a traditional professional body or learning a school and can now be obtained for less than a hundred.


Libraray21: Platform partnering with the best in breed EdTech providers under one roof.

With a core focus on K-12, K-Grey and even teacher training, Library 21’s mission statement is to make the entire teaching process easier and more transferable globally. Its unique Learning management systems attempts to automate the delivery of courses and make suggestions around trading and development. If you add AI and Blockchain to the mix, you have a very intuitive machine that can create immutable learning certificates for its students to carry forward with them.


These are just a few examples which, I think, provide a clear picture of where EdTech is moving and how technology-based delivery systems can greatly reduce costs, allow easier access and level the playing fields for those wishing to upskill or learn a specialism.

If we want to build a fairer more equal society, access to education has to without doubt be a priority. And we need to make sure that availability of basic technology is also a core component of that, access to hardware such as laptops and smart phones have to go hand in hand with the progress being made in the sector and by software.

Technical knowledge in specialist areas, no doubt helps people to acquire higher pay and benefits as well as save towards funding the next generation. This perpetual cycle not only provides additional financial security but also allows for upwards social mobility. This is technology at its very best and where social or impact investing can truly deliver on its potential.

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