Top Hat acquires STEM EdTech startup Aktiv Learning

Aktiv + Top hat logos
Aktiv is Top Hat’s fifth acquisition, and its first outside of publishing.

Toronto-based digital education platform Top Hat has entered into an agreement to acquire STEM education startup Aktiv Learning. The financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

Aktiv Learning provides a classroom engagement tool to improve student success by using interactive problem-solving activities, assessments, and access to a library of learning resources. Top Hat said that the acquisition gives it expertise in a discipline-specific solution, which customers have asked for, and “significantly increases” its reach in higher education given Aktiv has been used at over 700 institutions.

“With Aktiv, we are providing the specialized tools educators need to engage students in personalized and customized environments.”

Platforms like Top Hat and Aktiv Learning both take student-centred approaches to teaching. According to Top Hat, active learning and low-stakes assessment, while successful in other disciplines, are more nuanced in STEM.

“Uneven preparedness and negative experiences in introductory science and mathematics courses keep too many students from succeeding,” said Justin Weinberg, co-founder, and CEO of Aktiv learning.

New York City-based Aktiv was launched in 2016 and has since been used at over 700 institutions to increase engagement in introductory courses.

The acquisition comes against the backdrop of nationwide digital and STEM skills shortages in Canada, according to a recent study by the C.D. Howe institute. It is a shortage that was intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic, which dropped the number of recent graduates who possessed the technical skills needed for their job from 96 percent in 2018 to 83.6 percent in 2022.

The study suggests the STEM shortages in Canada can be fixed by taking a holistic approach to developing talent. Reforming and modernizing the curricula, closing the gender divide, and encouraging under-represented groups to continue their education, are examples of such approaches.

The acquisition of Aktiv Learning marks the fifth acquisition made by Top Hat, but it’s the first not in the educational publishing industry. Top Hat previously acquired Bluedoor Publishing and Nelson in 2020, and Fountainhead Press and Morton Publishing in 2021.

A spokesperson for Top Hat told BetaKit, the purchase marks an expansion of the company’s merger and acquisition thesis. “Generally speaking, we look for businesses that are focused on improving student learning outcomes – whether in terms of content, student engagement, or digital learning tools,” they said.

Top Hat started acquiring publishing companies around 2020 when traditional publishing houses were having difficulty adapting to a climate of evolving student expectations and needs, according to the company. Top Hat took this as an opportunity to lead a movement from print textbooks to digital content “driven by the need to help students overcome challenges with the cost, accessibility, and relevance of print content,” a spokesperson for Top Hat told BetaKit at the time.

After Top Hat raised a $130 million USD Series E in February 2021, the company last reported its valuation at over half a billion dollars. Aktiv Learning most recently raised $4.6 million in its Series A round.

“With Top Hat, we will continue delivering the innovations faculty need to make STEM more engaging, more supportive, and to foster the sense of community that is so important to the success of today’s students,” said Weinberg.

Feature image courtesy Aktiv Learning.

Michael Edgar

Michael Edgar

Michael is a multimedia journalist working out of the U.K. and a staff writer for BetaKit.

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