When I tell people what I do, I often get this question: What is edtech? 

This might seem like an overly broad question, but I hear it a lot from people who are outside the industry, and even from some of the people who are part of it. I also had to figure out the answer for myself when I stopped being an education reporter and started writing content for edtech startups. I’m a content writer, so for me the answer boils down to keywords. Specificity is key when you’re writing content, especially in an industry this large and varied.

It’s fair to be confused, because the edtech market is big,and rapidly growing; EdTechXGlobal has projected the edtech market will grow to $252 billion by 2020.

A show like Bett, for example, showcases many different faces of the industry. There are giant companies like Microsoft, and startups with just a handful of employees. The show features everything from the makers of computers to smart floors for grammar school kids to assessment software that prevents plagiarism in college, and that’s only a part of the industry.

So what is edtech? The answer can be as broad, or as specific, as you need it to be, because like education itself, edtech means a lot of things.

The short (and kind of pedantic) answer

Edtech is any education-related technology. (If you want to get more into the word and its spelling, there’s a post for that here.) There are all sorts of similarly named industries: fintech, medtech, govtech, and so on.

Simply defined, edtech is any technology that can be used to support education of any kind. Which means, technically, chalk and a slate can be considered edtech, and so can a pen.

The longer answer

As far as I know, no one has ever meant a piece of chalk or a pen when they talk about edtech. Instead they’re talking about software, machine learning, computers themselves, or even a pedagogy based on machine learning. And you can, and should, drill it down even further.

Education itself covers a lot of ground. When we talk about education, we could be talking about K-12, or post-secondary learning, or grad school. Or maybe we’re not talking about the education system, but learning outside of a school, like workplace training, or corporate learning.

That’s the case with edtech as well. Google edtech and you’re likely to find a mixture of K-12 and college edtech, but there are also businesses who use edtech to describe the products they create for training employees.

That keyword doesn’t always help those organizations, at least not in the U.S., where the keyword “edtech” is mostly read as  “software or hardware used in schools to support education.”

The importance of being specific

Technically, technology used to train people in the workforce is edtech. Employees are being taught, or educated, using online platforms. That’s edtech, right?

Practically, however, “edtech” isn’t used much in SEO for the companies who make that technology. Instead, those businesses tend to use other keywords, like “L&D,” “training and development,” or “workforce training.” Often, rather than focus on the act of training employees using technology, companies will focus on the technology being used to do that training. They tend to use keywords like “e-learning software,” or “mobile learning platform.” For these companies, it’s all in the long tail.

The keyword “edtech”, however, has largely been co-opted by schools, from pre-k to grad school.

But the specificity of those businesses is an important model for those of us who write about some part of this industry.

Why? Pre-K- through grad school is a wide swath of education, and weirdly, you’ll often find K-12 and postsecondary lumped in together. This always bugs me, because obviously, the tech you’d need to teach second grade is different than what you’d use to teach a class of college freshmen.

So if you’re writing edtech content (like me) or trying to optimize for SEO (like my clients) or even trying to search for something, you need to take a page out of the corporate book, and be specific. Use long tail keywords. What kind of tech are you looking for and what level of education are you searching for? I specialize in postsecondary edtech and online training for the workforce, so mostly, I search for whatever kind of technology I’m researching. Adaptive learning platforms, for example. Or mobile learning in higher education.

It’s helpful for me, and it’s helpful for my clients, and for readers who might need to find out about one very specific piece of a very big market (“internet of things for college sports” “postsecondary self-paced online learning”) without having to wade through the rest of a multi-billion industry in a Google search.

Need some help writing about your edtech (or e-learning) tech? Contact me. I’m here to help you develop great content.

Image of Bett 2008 by zenilorac, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.