Desire2Learn, an education company trying to bring traditional teaching devices like textbooks and lesson plans into the 21st century, has raised $85 million in venture funding to build out more predictive and personalized learning tools.
The new round includes existing investors, like NEA, and a handful of new investors, including Columbus Nova Technology Partners, Graham Holdings, Four Rivers Group and Aurion Capital, according to Desire2Learn CEO John Baker. It’s the largest funding round in the company’s 15-year history, although not by much. Desire2Learn took $80 million in its only other funding round, a Series A back in September 2012.
Desire2Learn specializes in taking out-of-date teaching tools like chalkboards, paper tests and textbooks, and moving them into the digital world. For example, schools that use Desire2Learn technology might ask students to submit assignments online, or provide feedback to students through video messages, says Baker.
The company will use its new funding to expand more aggressively into predictive models and personalized learning, he added. Desire2Lean already offers a tool called Degree Compass, which aims to predict a student’s final grade throughout the quarter. The object is for teachers to identify failing students before it’s too late to save their grade. The tool isn’t widely available yet, but these are the types of projects Baker plans to focus on.
Another use for the money: International expansion. Desire2Learn wants to grow globally, a plan that might hit some roadblocks as the company ventures into emerging markets where technology still lags in the classroom. In the U.S., many schools and students have Wi-Fi or personal tech devices like smartphones (or both). That’s not always the case overseas.
“We’re not seeing much of a barrier in North America in terms of adoption, but in other markets, Internet connectivity and having a device that’s capable of being used will continue to be a barrier until that’s corrected,” said Baker. “We don’t think it’s that far way.”
Baker wouldn’t share a specific valuation for the company, but says Desire2Learn has 1,100 customers — school districts, universities, and even corporations included — and reaches more than 15 million students.