New programs launched by training companies DDI and Kahoot! are expanding the definition of “training provider” and providing funding and other support for education technology (edtech) startups.

Last fall, leadership company DDI announced the DDI Innovation Fund, a venture fund to invest in “cutting-edge companies with innovative digital, mobile, and leadership-focused capabilities that complement DDI’s existing suite of leadership selection, development, succession planning, and consulting solutions,” according to the press release. Later that year, Kahoot! announced Kahoot! Ignite, an accelerator program for “a diverse family of apps for iOS, Android and Windows platforms who will help Kahoot! build the world’s leading learning community,” according to the press release.

The DDI Innovation Fund is a result of recent changes to DDI’s business strategy, according to Doug Reynolds, executive vice president of innovations and technology. While DDI has worked in aspects of talent management as well as leadership, it’s been getting back to its roots with “a much tighter focus on leadership.” The company closed the part of its business that dealt with employee selection and used the proceeds of that spinoff to launch the fund.

Kahoot!, a newer player (founded in 2013), is a gamification platform for K-12 and corporate learning. Asmund Furuseth, CEO, says over 50 percent of teachers and students in the U.S. use Kahoot!, and the company also has almost half a million business accounts with over 20 million corporate learners. “We would like other companies to also get that opportunity to reach out to a big audience,” he says, pointing out that the challenge when launching a great product is cutting through the noise.

Investing in Innovation

Reynolds says DDI is considering a range of companies for its investments, including startups with a new technology or with products or customer bases that align with DDI’s. “We’re looking really broadly at companies or products that add value for the identification, assessment or development of leaders,” he says. “If it’s a piece that we don’t have that we think is valuable, then we’re interested in it.”

How DDI then partners with a company will depend on that company. “I think the ideal case is that there will be some synergy between the products that DDI offers or our research and development road map and what the company offers,” Reynolds says.

As for Kahoot!, Furuseth says the goal of the accelerator is “to make sure that learning is more engaging worldwide.” One company can’t accomplish that goal by itself, he adds, so Kahoot! is looking for companies that complement its game-based learning offerings. “Of course they need to be similar to Kahoot! in the sense that they are highly motivating and engaging,” he says, and “it has to be some sort of software … for us to be able to do knowledge-sharing and have something to contribute.” But other than those criteria, Kahoot! is looking simply for a good product, with any specialization.

Technology is, of course, innovating across the training sector, but even in an area like leadership, emerging technologies can play a role. “A lot of folks are experimenting with things like virtual reality, the use of machine learning, other forms of artificial intelligence, natural language processing, that lets the computer do a little more of the work, and I think that has great potential for aiding the learning and development process,” says Reynolds. “There’s good stuff out there that you’re just starting to see emerge, and that’s one of the things we’re looking [at].”

Furuseth says Kahoot! is not quite ready for those types of technologies, though “of course it could be interesting.” Especially given that 2018 research found that learners believe on-the-job training and coaching, instructor-led training (ILT), and gamification are still effective learning methods, Kahoot!’s and DDI’s more conventional training programs and tools are likely not going anywhere anytime soon.

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