Artificial intelligence Education tech Startups Venture

AI School Tools Aren’t Just For Cheating

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When ChatGPT burst onto the scene last fall, students were among the biggest early adopters. Unfortunately, teachers weren’t always pleased with their favored use cases.

Lately, it looks like educators are getting more tools they might actually like. Amid a surge in AI-related venture funding, sizable investments are going to edtech startups focused on educator-friendly use cases like streamlining lesson-planning and personalizing instruction.

Per Crunchbase data, companies at the intersection of AI and edtech have pulled in hundreds of millions in venture capital over the past couple of years. For a sense of where the money is going, we assembled a list of 41 of these funded companies below:

Pitching personalization

Some of the activity is quite recent. Just this month, for instance, San Francisco-based Ello, an AI startup that helps children learn to read, picked up $15 million in Series A funding.

Ello co-founders Elizabeth Adams and Tom Sayer said the company’s core offering — a platform where children practice reading books aloud and receive helpful feedback — was possible due to recent advancements in voice recognition technology. With software that can understand the nuances in pitch and pronunciation typical of childrens’ speech, they’re able to offer something that comes closer to rivaling one-on-one instruction with a parent or teacher.

Looking ahead, Adams sees potential for AI-enabled personalization in other areas as well, noting that “kids learn best with one-on-one-learning.” And while not everyone can have a personal tutor for every lesson, tech options are much more scalable.

Meanwhile, another personalized education startup, Elsa, picked up $23 million in a Series C round last week, bringing total funding to $60 million. The San Francisco-based company operates an AI-enabled language learning platform that focuses on English pronunciation training and accent reduction.

“We’re not replacing teachers, but we’re offering a solution that just didn’t exist before,” co-founder and CEO Vu Van told Crunchbase News, adding that with AI, students can receive instruction tailored to their specific pain points in learning to pronounce words or use correct speech. She said usage of the platform has roughly doubled annually for the past several years.

Saving teachers’ time

Startups are also rolling out tools aimed at easing or automating some of the more time-consuming aspects of teachers’ jobs, such as lesson planning.

Along these lines, MagicSchool AI, out of Denver, picked up $2.4 million in seed funding last month for a platform it says can reduce teachers’ work several hours each week by helping with lesson plans, writing assessments and other tasks. In July, Brazilian startup Teachy landed $1.6 million for what it describes as “a platform that doubles teachers time through artificial intelligence.”

Startups also want to make it easier to detect plagiarism and identify AI-generated content. On this front, Copyleaks offers detection tools to determine if an assignment was written by an AI bot as well as checks for plagiarism. The Stamford, Connecticut-based company snagged a $6 million Series A round last year.

Edtech funding remains restrained

AI-focused funding rounds come amid a restrained period for overall edtech venture investment.

Per Crunchbase data, venture investment to the overall edtech space over the first seven months of this year was down more than 60% from the same period in 2022. The number of large, later-stage edtech financing rounds, meanwhile, has cratered.

While overall global venture funding is down as well, education has been a bit harder-hit than most other sectors. Potential exacerbating issues include high-profile disappointments in the edtech unicorn crowd, including India education giant Byju’s, and some reversal of the pandemic-driven boost in online learning.

Could AI help turn the sector’s fortunes around?

Certainly the vision of artificial intelligence delivering personalized learning affordably at scale is compelling. So is the idea of offering some useful tools to teachers, members of a notoriously overworked and underpaid profession. Given that so much of the funding we’re seeing lately skews early-stage, however, it will likely take a few years to gauge how well those visions translate into reality.

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Illustration: Dom Guzman

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