Employers are consumer edtech’s next beta test

The war for talent is here, and it may need a MasterClass

Remote work may have changed the way we spend our days, but there’s quite a sneaky disruptor among us: burnout. As the pandemic drags on, employees are either soul-searching for a bigger purpose or simply exhausted by the uncertainty and stale culture of their current jobs.

It’s not a small subset of the working population, either: Microsoft estimates that 41% of people are likely to consider leaving their employer within the next year, and 46% are planning to make a major pivot or career transition.

Freshly capitalized, MasterClass and Outschool are looking for ways to grow into their valuations.

Employers are under fresh pressure to retain talent, which has made some turn to more comprehensive and creative benefits, from pre-conception and postpartum support to text-based mental health care and on-demand meditation. As the movement to support employees better gathers momentum, traditionally consumer-focused edtech startups are taking notice.

Over the past few months, direct-to-consumer companies, including Outschool and MasterClass, have quietly spun up products targeting employers. The platforms, which mix entertainment and education, have an unconventional value proposition. Outschool, an after-school enrichment platform for kids, is betting that working parents could use some extra help keeping their children engaged. And MasterClass, which offers expert-led classes on-demand, hopes that a chat with their favorite celebrity could inspire a star employee to stay at the company longer.

The belief that employers will invest in edutainment benefit platforms is a departure from the traditional pitch that edtech has used to break into this market. Companies like Udemy and Guild Education, for example, focus much more on reskilling and upskilling workforces to fill the latest in-demand roles.

As nascent efforts begin to get real investment, consumer edtech’s success will hinge on whether it can effectively, and consistently, translate its impact to employers in the long term. Put simply, entrepreneurs need to convince employers to turn to edtech for a solution even more elusive than education: motivation.

When the struggle is more obvious

Amy Yamner Jenkins joined Outschool last fall as a contractor to grow the after-school marketplace’s business. When schools didn’t reopen in August 2021, she said schools and employers began turning to Outschool to relieve the stress of another year of remote learning.

These early customer signals fundamentally changed Outschool’s priorities. A year later, Jenkins is the head of schools and distribution, in charge of a 10-person team that solely works on helping get Outschool into more schools and employer benefits packages. Today, over 100 companies, including Alto Pharmacy, Mursion and Twitter, use Outschool.

“I don’t think it was easy to be a working parent prior to the pandemic,” Jenkins said. “But it just feels like the pandemic made it even more obvious [to companies] what the struggle was.”