Google Education Business Analysis

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Google Education Business Analysis

Role, Footprint, and Revenue Generation of Google in the U.S. K-12 Education Market

K-12 educators in the United States widely view Google as a provider of practical tools and devices for education and learning. Google’s footprint in the country’s K-12 education space is fast expanding, thanks to its affordably-priced Chromebooks and free G Suite for Education. Google generates some revenue through the sale of Chromebooks, but it is focused more on acclimatizing children to its tools and services.

1. Role of Google in the U.S. K-12 Education Market

  • Google’s role in the U.S. K-12 education market is to provide educators with the tools and devices necessary for them to carry out their jobs more effectively.
  • By offering new and more engaging tools for education and learning, such as G-Suite for Education and Chromebooks, Google hopes to help K-12 educators make a bigger impact on students. These tools are designed to help educators free up time for more important things, including the personalization of each student’s learning experience.
  • From the perspective of K-12 schools, Google is a company that provides them with cheap but effective solutions. Chromebooks, the hardware offered by Google, are very popular among K-12 educators because they are cheap, fast, and easy to use. Additionally, G Suite for Education, the software offered by Google, is completely free.
  • For K-12 leaders, Google is different from other education technology providers. Unlike most other education technology providers that focus on augmented reality, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and other advanced technologies, Google offers practical solutions. Google’s practical solutions include Gmail, Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides, Google Drive, and lastly Google Classroom, which helps both students and teachers manage coursework and assignments better.

2. Expansion of Google’s Footprint in the U.S. K-12 Education Market

  • Google is expanding its footprint in the U.S. K-12 education space, as can be seen in how its share of laptops and tablets had grown between 2012 and 2018. Between 2012 and 2018, the percentage of laptops and tablets bought for K-12 classrooms and accounted for by Chromebooks grew from 5% to 60%.
  • The market shares of Microsoft and Apple, both Google’s competitors in the space, had decreased significantly. Between 2012 and 2018, Microsoft’s share dropped from around 43% to 22%, while Apple’s share dropped from around 52% to 18%.
  • Schools are embracing Chromebooks for several reasons. Chromebooks are affordable and easy to deploy and use, and schools can use Google’s cloud services to enable collaboration among teachers and streamline several tasks, including homework submission and grade monitoring. Additionally, Google, with its regular software updates, offers lower maintenance costs.
  • Several articles, including those published by CNBC, EdSurge, USA Today, and Business Insider, indicate Google’s dominance in the space.
  • A survey conducted by EdWeek Market Brief also found that teachers and administrators in the country strongly prefer Google products over rival products.
  • Google also recently acquired Workbench, a STEM-focused online learning platform, to expand its K-12 footprint.

3. Revenue Generation of Google in the U.S. K-12 Education Market

  • Google’s business in the country’s K-12 education space generates some revenue, but it does so mainly through the sale of Chromebooks. Schools can use the tools and services within G Suite for Education at no cost.
  • It was explicitly stated in an article that Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon do not disclose their revenues in the K-12 education space.
  • Though there is some revenue from the sale of Chromebooks, Andreas Olah, a senior analyst at Futuresource Consulting, says the K-12 education market in the United States is not a key profit center of technology giants such as Google. This sentiment is echoed by Larry Singer, former CEO of Open Up Resources who does not consider the K-12 market a huge moneymaker for technology giants.
  • According to Singer, the K-12 education space is more a branding opportunity than a moneymaker for technology giants. Olah explains that technology giants such as Google are building their presence in the space to exert their influence on students in the earliest possible stage.
  • According to Olah, these technology giants want their brands to be deeply ingrained in the lives of students. Their goal is to get a foothold among the next generation of technology users.
  • Though Google insists that their foray into K-12 education is mission-driven and not motivated by a desire to gain more customers in the future, it is clear that Google’s entry into the space gives Google access to customers whose lifetime values extend far beyond K-12.
  • Zach Yeskel, a product manager at Google, did say that they want students to love their tools and bring these tools with them when they enter the workforce.
  • For Kelly Calhoun Williams, vice president of Gartner Research, Google’s decision to offer G Suite for Education for free makes it obvious that Google’s motive is less about generating revenue and more about acclimatizing children to its tools and services.
  • Some teachers have raised suspicions about why Google offers its applications for free, but they use these applications anyway.

Google’s Recent Initiatives Surrounding Parents, Children, and Education

The launch of Rivet, the launch of a revamped version of Socratic, the launch of App Hub for Chromebooks, the launch of My Storytime, and the launch of the app discovery feature of Family Link are five of Google’s recent initiatives surrounding parents, children, and education.

1. Launch of Rivet

  • Area 120, Google’s in-house incubator for experimental projects, launched Rivet in the United States and ten other countries in May 2019. Designed to help children with reading difficulties, the new app can be downloaded for free from Google Play or the Apple App Store.
  • The app contains over 2,000 free books for children and an in-app assistant that can analyze children’s pronunciation and/or provide the correct pronunciation through advanced speech technology.
  • A child who is struggling to pronounce a word can tap on the in-app assistant to hear the correct pronunciation. He or she can also read the story out loud and let the in-app assistant point out which parts were pronounced correctly or need improvement, just like how a parent would correct his or her child.
  • To facilitate learning, especially among non-native speakers, Google included translations and definitions for over 25 languages in the app. The app also has an optional follow-along mode where stories are read aloud by the app and children can match highlighted words with sounds.
  • Rivet is different from most other reading apps in that it leverages advanced voice and speech processing technologies.
  • To safeguard children’s privacy, Google designed the app such that the app is compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), and all speech processing remains on the device.
  • Points, badges, games, and other surprises encourage children to read. The reading experience is personalized with themes, avatars, and books that match the children’s reading level and interests.
  • Rivet was developed in response to findings that 64% of fourth-grade students in the country are not proficient in reading, and that struggling readers are “four times less likely to graduate from high school.”
  • Rivet is quite similar to Google’s Bolo. Bolo, however, is available in India only.

2. Launch of a Revamped Version of Socratic

  • Google launched a revamped version of Socratic in August 2019. Socratic, acquired by Google in 2018, is an app designed to help students finish their homework.
  • The app, powered by artificial intelligence, enables students to make voice queries or post photos of questions, and receive answers based on information the app locates on the web.
  • The app can also provide lessons that dissect complex concepts into manageable and easier-to-understand topics. It also has subject guides that students can use to study for tests. These subject guides contain visual explanations of a thousand high school and higher education topics.
  • Socratic is available on both Google Play and the App Store.

3. Launch of App Hub for Chromebooks

  • Google, particularly Google for Education, launched App Hub for Chromebooks in June 2019. The App Hub is a repository of apps that K-12 educators can use when searching for supplementary activities or tools.
  • The App Hub, which is a joint effort of Google and K-12 educators, aims to help teachers save time as they search for tools, apps, or activities to supplement their lesson plans. It can also be used by information technology administrators to curate apps that comply with school district policies, and by developers to “better reach the ed-tech market.”
  • The App Hub will reportedly include tips and instructions on how to use apps.
  • The App Hub was launched with apps from Adobe, Epic!, Khan Academy, and others. Epic! contributed its library of books, games, and videos, Adobe contributed Adobe Spark, a visual storytelling app, and Khan Academy contributed its library of lessons across various subjects such as history, grammar, math, and science.
  • When creating lesson plans, teachers often scour the internet for new activities and ideas. The App Hub serves as an app discovery hub where teachers can discover relevant apps, learn how these apps can be used in the classroom, and determine whether these apps comply with district policies.
  • While developing the App Hub, Google consulted several organizations, including the EdTechTeam, the Student Data Privacy Consortium (SDPC), the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), and ConnectSafely. These consultations were done to ensure the App Hub meets privacy and online safety requirements.

4. Launch of My Storytime

  • In November 2019, Google, in partnership with Instrument, launched My Storytime, a new Google Assistant feature. The new feature enables parents to simulate reading to their children when one parent or both parents are away from home (e.g., traveling for work, deployed by the military, or working the night shift).
  • The feature is available on Google Nest devices such as Nest Hub, Nest Mini, and Nest Hub Max.
  • My Storytime was inspired by military spouse Jennifer Oliver who shared the concept behind My Storytime on internet message boards.
  • My Storytime allows a parent to record stories and share these stories with other Google account holders who are at least 14 years old. The person at home with the children can access stories with the command “Hey Google, talk to My Storytime,” view available recordings with the command “What stories can we read?,” and pause the active story with the command “Stop.”

5. Launch of the App Discovery Feature of Family Link

  • Google launched a new Family Link feature in June 2018. Family Link, Google’s Android parental control software, was updated so that it can also help parents discover teacher-recommended educational apps. It now has a section that lists teacher-recommended apps for children aged six to nine.
  • This list was curated by Google and a diverse group of teachers in the United States who were chosen for their child development and learning expertise. All apps in the list are compliant with the program requirements of Designed for Families (DFF).
  • At the time of launch, the list included free apps from publishers such as BrainPop, MarcoPolo Learning, and Edoki Academy.
  • The list does not display all apps at once and is updated on a weekly basis instead. This way, the parent or child is not overwhelmed by a long list of apps.
  • Google has plans to add more apps to the list, including apps for other age groups and paid apps.

Google’s Investments or Acquisitions Surrounding Children and Education

In the past five years, Google has made only three acquisitions surrounding children and education. It has acquired LaunchPad Toys, a company that offers a storytelling app and an augmented reality app for children, Workbench, a company that offers an online library of projects and lessons, and Socratic, a company that offers a mobile learning app. Apart from its previously reported initiatives in the space, Google has also awarded $50 million in grants to various education technology companies or organizations.

1. Acquisition of Launchpad Toys

  • Google acquired LaunchPad Toys in February 2015.
  • Founded in 2010, LaunchPad Toys is a San Francisco-based company that offers Toontastic and TeleStory. It was a graduate of the 2011 class of Y Combinator.
  • Toontastic is a storytelling app, while TeleStory is an augmented reality app that allows children to record their own television shows.
  • Google has not disclosed the financial details of the acquisition, but it has shared that the acquisition was part of Google’s efforts to offer services that are specifically designed for children who are 13 years old or younger.
  • The transaction required LaunchPad Toys to close its ToonTube network and inform parents to download their children’s creations.
  • Prior the acquisition, LaunchPad Toys was able to raise more than $1 million in funding.

2. Investment in Education Technology Initiatives

  • Google, through its philanthropic arm Google.org, invested $5 million in Learning Equality in March 2017.
  • Learning Equality is a California-based non-profit organization that works to give students offline access to digital learning content. It knows that there are plenty of students who do not have consistent internet connectivity.
  • Learning Equality offers Kolibri, an open-source application that gives students offline access to lessons, textbooks, and videos, including over 9,000 Khan Academy videos.
  • The investment in Learning Equality is part of Google.org’s bigger plan to give out a total of $50 million in education technology grants. Other organizations that have received grants from Google.org include Khan Academy ($5 million) and StoryWeaver ($3.6 million).

3. Acquisition of Socratic

  • Google acquired Socratic in March 2018, but it was only in August 2019 that Google publicly disclosed the acquisition. The financial details of the acquisition were not disclosed.
  • Founded in 2013, Socratic is a New York-based company that offers a homework helper app. Shreyans Bhansali and Chris Pedregal founded the company with an objective of building a community that improved students’ access to learning.
  • At the time Google announced the acquisition, it disclosed that it will be relaunching the app on iOS (and later on Android) with improved artificial intelligence (AI) technology.
  • Socratic started as a Q&A platform, similar to Quora, but later evolved to prioritize utility over community-building. It had around 500,000 students when it completed its Series A funding round in 2015. In that round, it was able to raise a total of $6 million in funding.
  • Social features were removed in February 2018 to pave the way for Google’s plan to turn the app into an AI-powered product.
  • Similar to Math apps such as DoYourMath, Mathway, and Photomath, the app enables students to post a photo of their question. The app, however, is not limited to math questions. It can handle questions from other subjects as well.
  • The app also allows students to make voice queries. It acts like a search engine that is customized for homework questions. When a student asks a question, the app answers with the following information: the top match, relevant explainers, a question and answer (Q&A) section, relevant YouTube videos, and relevant web links.
  • Google has improved the app such that it has algorithms that can analyze and break down a student’s question into smaller and easier-to-understand topics. The app also has subject guides on over 1,000 topics.
  • Google acquired Socratic after learning of the difficulties that students encounter while studying on their own. Google knows that the acquisition can help it improve its Google Assistant technology.

4. Acquisition of Workbench

  • Google acquired Workbench in November 2018.
  • Founded in 2013, Workbench is a Baltimore-based company that offers a digital library of projects and lessons that teachers can utilize in their classrooms. Projects and lessons are categorized by grade level and subject.
  • Workbench also provides an interface where students can perform coding exercises or control Bluetooth-connected devices.
  • Before the acquisition, Workbench had already integrated its platform with Google Classroom, one of the most commonly used online tools in education. The integration enabled educators to assign, monitor, or review Workbench projects or lessons.
  • By acquiring Workbench, Google has gained access to a modern learning platform that offers authoring, discovery, and sharing capabilities for projects and lessons.
  • As of October 2017, Workbench reportedly had around 10,000 schools using its platform.
  • According to Jonathan Rochelle, one of Google’s product management directors, the acquisition was part of Google’s efforts to explore how it can help educators discover and share projects and lessons.
  • The amount Google had paid for the acquisition is not publicly available. According to Rochelle, the transaction amount was not big enough to warrant disclosure in Alphabet’s earnings call. It is known, however, that Workbench had raised a total funding of $3 million prior the acquisition.

Research Strategy

To find Google’s investments or acquisitions surrounding children and education in the past five years, we scoured both the corporate website and press coverage of Google. We used MicroAcquire’s complete list of Google’s acquisitions, and determined which of these acquisitions relate to children and education. Given the project goal and context that were provided, we assumed that investments and acquisitions specific to the U.S. K-12 education technology market are of interest.

While it was initially surprising to find that Google has made only three acquisitions in the space, an article confirmed that Big Tech acquisitions of educational technology companies are rare. Technology giants such as Google and Apple rarely acquire companies in the space because they have already developed their own devices and solutions for children and education.

Google’s Key Leaders Surrounding Children and Education

Google’s key leaders surrounding children and education are Kevin Kells, the global director of Google for Education, Tom Gierke, the head of North American K-12 sales at Google for Education, and Emma Fish, the head of business development and technology partnerships at Google for Education. There is no record in the public domain that an outsider has recently been hired to assume a key leadership position at Google for Education.

1. Kevin Kells

  • Kevin Kells is the global director of Google for Education, the unit of Google that serves K-12 and higher education institutions. He was the North American sales director of Google for Education until he was promoted to global director in July 2019.
  • He has been working at Google for 14 years and 3 months now, and is currently based in New York.
  • Before transferring to Google, he was the vice president of marketing at Revlon from October 2002 to May 2005, the director of brand strategy for Diageo’s Guinness from March 2001 to October 2002, the vice president of business development at Priceline WebHouse Club from April 2000 to October 2000, a group marketing manager at Unilever HPC from August 1992 to March 2000, and a consultant for Leveraged Technology from 1984 to 1990.
  • He graduated from Georgetown University in 1985 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration, and from Northwestern University — Kellogg School of Management in 1992 with a Master of Business Administration degree. He majored in marketing and international management.
  • He is skilled in digital marketing, marketing strategy development, and business development.
  • Kells appears to have been working recently on solutions that enable K-12 administrators to measure the impact of Google’s tools on their schools. In Giving Compass and EdSurge articles announcing Google for Education’s launch of a transformation report, a tool that provides K-12 administrators a bird’s eye view of Google tool usage across their schools, Kells’ name was mentioned.
  • According to Kells, Google for Education has learned from its conversations with school districts that instructors want to assess not only the usage of Google tools but these tools’ effectiveness as well. Given the launch of the transformation report, it appears impact measurement is one of the top priorities of Kells.
  • As the head of Google for Education, he likely considers the strategic growth of the unit as one of his top priorities.

2. Tom Gierke

  • Tom Gierke is the head of North American K-12 sales at Google for Education. He was the West and Central region manager until he was promoted in October 2019.
  • He has been working at Google for 10 years and 11 months now, and is currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
  • Before transferring to Google, he was a retail business consultant from December 2005 to November 2006 and an enterprise sales account executive from November 2006 to March 2009 at Apple.
  • He graduated from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music with a Bachelor of Music degree. He majored in percussion.
  • He is skilled in areas such as cloud computing, account management, and sales operations.
  • Gierke’s priorities are not readily available in the public domain, but given his position, he is likely focusing his energies on increasing Google for Education sales in North America, hitting sales targets, lowering customer acquisition costs, and retaining customers.

3. Emma Fish

  • Emma Fish is the head of business development and technology partnerships at Google for Education. She has held this position since January 2018.
  • She has been working at Google for eight years now, and has recently moved from London to California. She started out at Google as a partner program manager for Google for Education.
  • Before transferring to Google, she worked at the Auxiliary Services — Human Resources unit of the University of Southern California from October 2010 to May 2011. She was also a research assistant at the Annenberg School for Communication from September 2020 to May 2011 and a public affairs unit assistant at the Orange County District Attorney’s Office from January 2010 to November 2010.
  • She graduated from the University of Southern California in 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications and a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Policy, Management, Planning, and Law.
  • She is skilled at building business and strategic partnerships.
  • Based on how Fish has described her current job, it appears her priorities are the management of the business development team, the cultivation of strategic, third-party partnerships that will extend Google for Education’s product functionality, and the oversight of the Technology Partner Program.
  • Just recently, Fish was mentioned in an article announcing the upgrade of Pearson Realize to Education Premier Partner status. Pearson Realize is one of the offerings of Pearson US Learning Services, a company that offers K-12 educational content.

Research Strategy

Google for Education is mainly the unit of Google that focuses on both children and education, so we started by scouring for information on this unit’s leadership team on LinkedIn and Google’s corporate website and reports. Our review of the corporate website and reports and the LinkedIn profiles of Google for Education employees was then followed by a press search and an examination of business information databases such as Craft.co and Crunchbase. Only four people stood out as key leaders, and none of them were recently hired by Google. There was no record in the public domain of a key Google for Education leader who can be considered a recent hire.

Apart from Kevin Kells, Tom Gierke, and Emma Fish, who were presented above, there is one other person who figured prominently in articles mentioning Google for Education. In articles published by EdSurge, Business Insider, and EdScoop, Jonathan Rochelle was mentioned as the director of product management at Google for Education. He was the Google for Education representative who was often interviewed by media outlets, and he was the one who led the creation of Google Classroom, a tool widely used by K-12 educators. Unfortunately, he left Google in 2019 and became Zapier’s chief product officer. There is no evidence in the public domain that the position he vacated has already been filled.

SWOT Analysis of Google’s Business Surrounding Children and Education

Google for Education is mainly the unit of Google that focuses on children and education. Its strengths lie in its dominance in the United States K-12 education market and the budget-friendliness of its devices and tools, while its weaknesses lie in its less-than-ideal performance in other areas such as international markets and privacy. Google for Education may take advantage of the growing adoption of artificial intelligence and screencasting, but it must not ignore threats brought about by competition, data privacy concerns, and inappropriate content concerns.

1. Strengths

  • Google for Education’s products and services for K-12 educators are superior to other products and services on the market when it comes to budget-friendliness and ease of deployment, use, management, and maintenance.
  • K-12 schools can use G Suite and Google Classroom at no cost, and Chromebooks are both affordable and shareable.
  • Information technology (IT) administrators can easily set up new policies and devices across the whole school or district, and the cloud-based and automatic management of processes guarantees that all users remain up-to-date.
  • Chromebooks, the devices offered by Google for Education, remain the device of choice among K-12 schools. It accounts for nearly 60% of laptops and tablets that were bought for K-12 classrooms. The free software and the affordability and simplicity of Chromebooks are the reasons K-12 schools prefer Chromebooks over other devices.

2. Weaknesses

  • Google is not as strong as Apple when it comes to international markets, privacy, and other areas.
  • In Europe and China, for example, iPads are far more popular than Chromebooks. Though Apple products and services are typically not the lowest-cost option, they are superior in other aspects such as security and the range of apps available.
  • Google’s stance on privacy is weak compared to that of Apple. According to Dean Hager of technology management company Jamf, “none of the tech companies put as much emphasis on privacy and security as Apple does.”
  • Unlike Google, Apple excels in cases where students need to play games, or move, take, or draw pictures. As Google focuses mostly on the utilitarian side of education, it lags behind Apple in educational areas that require or promote creativity.
  • Some students, particularly teens, say they like using Google products in school but prefer buying Apple products for personal use.

3. Opportunities

  • Google may take advantage of the fact that the United States K-12 education market for artificial intelligence is projected to reach $1.2 billion by 2024. It may develop or acquire deep learning models or domain models, the artificial intelligence models that are expected to gain traction.
  • Google may also take advantage of the fact that screencasting has become prominent in K-12 classroom redesign. K-12 experts agree that K-12 schools are increasingly using screencasting to enable teacher mobility.
  • Screencasting allows teachers to move around the classroom and not be confined to the front of the classroom. It also allows for a more immersive and dynamic experience for students, who can cast their work as well.
  • Other areas of growth in the K-12 education space include immersive technologies, assistive devices, integrated learning, blended learning, digital backpacks, personalized learning, student progress monitoring, digital security, and curriculum building. Google may look into these growth areas to see if there are related tools or services that are worth developing or acquiring.

4. Threats

  • Suspicions as to why Google for Education offers its suite of K-12 education solutions for free pose a threat, as these suspicions may have an adverse impact on Google for Education’s reputation. K-12 educators worry that the business has an ulterior motive.
  • While Google for Education insists that the budget-friendliness of its devices and services is purely philanthropy-driven, many analysts and educators believe that Google for Education only wants as many students as possible to get used to its brand and products. They suspect that Google’s end goal is to ensure that these students will choose Google products when they get older or enter the workforce.
  • Recent reports that New Mexico sued Google for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) indicate that privacy concerns are a threat as well. The COPPA prohibits companies from using the personal data of children under 13 without the express consent of these children’s parents. Based on the reports, Google allegedly collected data on the physical location, search history, browsing history, video viewing history, and other online behavior of students.
  • Google may lose large amounts of money settling these kinds of lawsuits. It just paid $170 million in September 2019 for the settlement of the lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which accused YouTube of using viewership data to deliver targeted ads to children.
  • Even though Google dominates the K-12 education space, it still faces competition from other technology giants, especially Microsoft, which has begun offering free tools. Microsoft, knowing how teachers flock to free tools, recently decided to acquire Flipgrid and offer Flipgrid’s video discussion tool to schools for free.
  • Despite Google’s efforts to make YouTube Kids better, there is still the risk that Google may fail once again in screening inappropriate content. YouTube, a few years ago, was severely criticized for hosting videos that target children but contain violent, sexual, or mature themes.
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