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As we enter 2021, the coronavirus refuses to take a hint and in fact, it continues to evolve as new variants emerge in Africa and Europe. As a result, so will distance and hybrid learning—and education technology (EdTech) companies need to be ready for this next chapter.

The EdTech industry grew significantly since the beginning of the pandemic forcing all learning into the virtual space. With the increased demand has come increased competition for media attention. As we discussed in our newly released EdTech Marketing & Communications Guide, new and existing EdTech companies are fighting for a share of voice in this red-hot market. Research in the same report found that the media is writing about several technology topics related to education, but three rose to the top and in this order based on volumes of media coverage: Cybersecurity, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Gamification.

If your public relations and marketing strategy includes these story angles,  you have increased your chances of engaging with the media and in turn school systems, administrators, IT departments and educators.

1. Cybersecurity Concerns Drive EdTech Decisions

On Nov. 25, 2020, the public schools of Baltimore County shut down after being hit with a ransomware attack. Before starting up again this fall, Baltimore County made the tricky decision to keep learning virtual in order to protect its staff and students. Local leaders couldn’t have suspected that their precaution would enable cybercriminals to hold the education and information of 115,000 students hostage.

Cyberattacks on schools were already on the rise before 2020. In 2019, the number tripled from the previous year, and 2020 has seen that number grow exponentially. The incident in Baltimore is only the latest and most dramatic.

In terms of mainstream media attention, cybersecurity heads the list of EdTech concerns, higher than anything else by a measure that might induce altitude sickness. K-12 IT professionals ranked cybersecurity as their number-one concern for the third year in a row. And school administrators, teachers, and other employees are starting to heed their warnings, looking for ways to secure data, educate the community and develop web-blocking solutions that don’t rely on on-premises personnel and devices. Higher education is focused on cybersecurity threats to its community as well. Schools are eager for devices and protocols that let them move beyond password identification, which is all too easily hacked.

EdTech companies can’t neglect cybersecurity without it being a glaring omission. It’s an issue that hits you where you live—which is also where you learn in a remote-education world. PR professionals need to work closely with product management to understand what cybersecurity technology underpins your EdTech solution. Message around those security solutions, certifications and standards to validate your story. It’s also prudent to know how your competitors speak about their cybersecurity capabilities, so you can differentiate your message.

In addition, if you have compelling cybersecurity professionals on staff, they should be media trained so they can comment on cybersecurity breaches that are all too common today. This is a good way to drive and maintain visibility in the media without having to rely on press releases.

2. Artificial Intelligence Attracts Eyeballs

AI technology can help students and educators alike. It can automate certain tasks that used to fall on teachers, freeing up some of their limited time. It can also liberate class time from lecture-heavy lesson plans and steer it toward more interactive work.

For example, AI can enable differentiated learning on more massive scales than previously possible. The philosophy of differentiated learning is a hot topic in pedagogical forums. It centers on providing for different learning styles and different students.

Online learning, superficially ill-equipped to handle competing needs, has proved capable of personalizing the student experience through responsive learning technology. It can offer students immediate and targeted feedback and instruction based on previous performance.

For PR professionals, AI-enabled EdTech solutions are novel from a media perspective; and because COVID has rekindled interest in remote learning, it’s an excellent time to talk about your technology and educate the media. AI applications for education, like AI-augmented learning tools, are emerging and evolving rapidly and will solve important problems like student retainment and teacher shortages. Identify the specific return on investment (ROI) for your solution and take it to the business media. Customer case studies will also interest your media target and help to secure business coverage.

PR professionals should take advantage of this exciting time in 2021 by developing creative narratives for the media and compelling marketing campaigns for their target buyers. In addition to the national press, there are dozens of EdTech publications and blogs that your buyers read. To learn about some of those publications, read this blog: 4 COVID-19-Approved Tactics For EdTech Marketers.

3. Gamification Creates Learning Engagement

Teachers have learned as much as students in 2020. Spring’s awkward attempts at distance learning taught everyone the futility of trying to replicate the in-person classroom experience in a virtual setting. In the time since, educators have gotten better at identifying the possibilities in what is rather than pining over what was.

One of the biggest advantages to online learning is the way it lends itself to gamification, taking students through progressive challenges that have tailored rewards. It, too, allows personalization of the educational experience and fosters a high-touch environment that can accommodate students of different needs and levels.

This new wave of the virus now forces more and more schools to pivot back to a fully online experience. Gamification allows universities and K-12 institutions to maintain a high level of engagement despite the physical separation. For this specific storyline, PR professionals may want to survey their customer base or leverage a third-party survey vendor to conduct research about how gamification can improve student engagement and possibly their grades. Having this kind of data is attractive to the media and provides great fodder for marketing campaigns and social media.

EdTech in 2021

The coming year promises to be an exciting one for EdTech companies. Instead of desperately scrambling to accommodate a cataclysmic event, you can prepare yourself for the challenges ahead.

Journalists’ attention to EdTech depends on their excitement—both fear and enthusiasm. Cybersecurity, AI, and gamification will continue to engage them. With COVID expected to be around for a while, PR professionals can still take advantage of this news cycle, so buckle up as2021 gets underway.

If you have a compelling innovation or a good story to tell, journalists will want to hear about it, so don’t miss out on your chance to grab some headlines in the media. But before you begin your outreach, review your messaging, identify key differentiators of your solution and create some compelling and creative narratives.

Want more information on how to craft your EdTech marketing messaging to reach more potential customers? Download our EdTech Marketing & Communications Guide or contact Suzanne Block to discuss more. 

Photo by Roman Mager on Unsplash

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