Digital content, intelligent and optimised learning, collaborative cloud tools, etc. The educational landscape has been radically transformed by edtech innovation. The entrepreneurial projects that have been able to anticipate and lead these changes are shaping a new paradigm, as in the case of the Spanish scaleup ODILO and its solution for creating unlimited learning pathways.
Going back to school is not what it used to be. Education is advancing with the addition of new technologies in the classroom and the emergence of all kinds of digital platforms to facilitate learning, the result of edtech entrepreneurship. A sector whose importance is reflected in the figures: with a compound annual growth rate of 18.3%, the global education technology market could grow from from $133.55 billion in 2023 to $433.17 billion in 2030.
The impact of edtech is not only linked to technological innovation, but also at the business level. This is the case of the Spanish startup ODILO, known as the “Netflix of education”, although this comparison does not cover all the verticals of this company founded in Cartagena in 2011. Today, it is the world’s largest aggregator of educational content, and also offers tools to create, distribute and measure the impact of personalised learning experiences.
Its company vision is clear: “Everyone should have the same opportunities in terms of education and training,” states ODILO’s business development manager Alberto Abel.
How did ODILO start? How has the company grown?
ODILO started as a library digitalisation project, but has evolved over the years. Today, we create unlimited Learning Ecosystems for all types of organisations and institutions: schools and universities, both public and private, business schools, etc. We also work at company level, in personal and professional development programmes for employees and managers, supporting Human Resources in such an important area as training. We also create learning ecosystems for the Government, for example, in projects for the digitalisation of skills. Our mission as a company is to enable everyone in every organisation to become the best version of themselves, in a way that is efficient and adds value.
We currently serve more than 170 million users worldwide, more than 8,000 academic organisations, companies or government organisations, and we have global agreements with more than 6,300 content providers. We have a very strong presence in Spain and Latin America, as well as in several countries in Africa, Southeast Asia and Europe.
How does ODILO’s ‘Digital Content as a Service’ offer differ from other e-learning solutions? How do you rely on technology to drive the customisation and scalability of training content and pathways?
We have three main areas: content, technology and services. In terms of content, we have more than four million resources, including e-books, courses, podcasts, audio books, summaries, videos, etc. This is a very important part of our value proposition. And if an organisation creates its own content, it can also upload it to the platform. We also have a Learning Factory team that is responsible for creating tailor-made courses where there is interest. For example, there is now a big demand for artificial intelligence topics using ChatGPT or language models.
The second pillar is technology, which is not only the platform (the web or the app where you can have all this content in the palm of your hand), but also that we are able to provide aggregated data on student behaviour. We also use artificial intelligence to adapt to the user’s learning ritual, suggesting resources in areas, formats and languages that really adapt to the user’s pace.
In terms of services, we have a team of specialists who offer advice, as well as growth teams who help create and activate campaigns to mobilise content and incentivise the user. Ultimately, we want to make the experience attractive, and to achieve the goal that all organisations have and that we share: to increase the number and quality of learning hours.
ODILO has signed up to the Global Compact and is accredited in several United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG 4, quality education. How do solutions like ODILO contribute to a more inclusive and accessible education?
Having multi-format content already removes a lot of barriers; for example, you can listen to podcasts if you are visually impaired. In addition, we are building certain functionalities into our platform, such as open Dyslexia software [which allows the use of a font designed to make reading easier for people with dyslexia] or text-to-speech technology to listen to texts in audio form, which also allows the transcription of videos. We are working on many projects where inclusion is very important and we want to reach as many users as possible.
In 2022, ODILO closed a financing round of 60 million euros, the largest ever for an edtech company in Spain. What is the level of investment interest in the sector and how has it evolved over the years?
There is still a long way to go in the education sector and its intersection with technology. There are big players, but also many traditional players who are adapting to the new times. The pandemic has helped to make technology and user needs visible, to realise that education does not always have to be paper-based, but neither should it be 100% digital, and to overcome the mental barrier around a hybrid model.
That opens a lot of doors for innovative ideas, and of course, there are a lot of investors looking at it. In the case of ODILO, the main value we bring to investors, and especially to society, is that on the one hand, we are multi-vertical, with a product that can adapt to the needs of any person. On the other hand, we have a competitive advantage in terms of content, being a great aggregator that allows organisations to offer the best content available to their users.
BBVA Spark has identified generative artificial intelligence, a technology with the potential to have a huge impact (for better or worse) on the education sector, as one of the most important technology trends for 2023. How do you think this or other technologies will change the future of education?
Artificial intelligence will affect us at all levels. Teachers will learn about it in order to pass on this knowledge, and artificial intelligence itself will in some cases even bypass the teacher in order to reach the user. In any case, we see it as something we need to be open-minded about. Technology has always been disruptive; I think back to the case of the printing press, an innovation that greatly facilitated the spread of knowledge and that many would probably have been reluctant to embrace in its day. We need to embrace this change and adapt to it.
At the content level, we are moving towards a world in which anyone can be a creator and educator. The challenge will be how to identify the quality of that training, through reviews that build a reputation, the scope of that training, and certifications that validate that seal of quality. Technology also plays an important role in separating the wheat from the chaff.
If you had to give advice to other entrepreneurs who are considering launching their own project, what would it be?
To fully understand the need before you develop a solution. What you need is to understand the problem, to fall in love with it and to become obsessed with it.