Entrepreneurs Disrupt the Classroom…Again

Listening attentively!

You know the story; the class-clown who teachers thought would amount to nothing ends up as a successful actor or business leader. Now, with technology offering the opportunity to disrupt our present-day education model, the time has come for these resourceful and passionate people to jump in and take part in the creation and execution of this change!

Last week we were at the SVC2UK  (Silicon Valley Comes to the UK) education technology event at Cambridge University. SVC2UK is a fabulous initiative  founded by Sherry Coutu (of LoveFilm and numerous other successful businesses) and Reid Hoffman (of LinkedIn) who want to bring the links and entrepreneurial spirit that Silicon Valley has to offer to the UK entrepreneur community. Their annual event leaves thousands of entrepreneurs inspired to continue on the bare-knuckle ride into start-updom.

The panel at the EdTech event consisted of not class-clowns but, a bunch of highly educated and visionary “geeky” types who are paving the way for what education might look like in the next ten years:

– Mary Lou Jepsen, founder of 1 Laptop per Child and PixelQi.

– Crystal Hutter, COO of Edmodo

– Angela Lin, Head of YouTube Education

– John Katzman, Founder of Noodle

– Edward Fidoe, Strategic Advisor at KP Fox.

The answers to the questions raised were as enlightening as they were warning signals for the issues that we might have to start thinking about if we are to take the opportunity to shape our future in a manner that befits the economic and structural changes that we are currently perceiving.

Firstly: What will be the network benefits of online learning? Jepsen stated that “in a population of 1.45 billion people who should be in education, 1 billion people in the world are illiterate. If, by using the power of the internet, we can place children online and onto e-learning programmes, we will be able increase the numbers of those who are literate and open the way to developing those societies in the world who might be lagging because of the lack of education”. Jepsen’s proof of concept is demonstrated by the fact that out of all the kids in Ethiopia who have been learning the alphabet on her laptops, over 50% are passing the tests just two months into the learning process”. Furthermore, Ferreira corroborated that the positive externalities of education amount to the resolution of the big problems that face our planet: “Questions of poverty, world hunger, the sustainable usage of our resources could be solved because we would have more people on the planet who are conscientious of the long-term thinking approach that is required for the social development of our world”.

Secondly: How will the opening up of education affect the status of elite universities? If more students are able to acquire the education from elite universities, how will we preserve the signalling that our education from different institutions provide to prospective employers? (Aha! The big question.. how does one preserve the status quo). Katzman argued that, “Ivys will release all their content online because, if people are willing to pay for the videos, they can make a 100% profit margin on it”. In addition, he commented that the number of physical institutions will decrease so that there will be, “fewer than 1000 higher education institutions with people only turning up once  in a while to seminars or talks on campus”. This statement drew gasps from the audience. Will that mean that a lot of the current teachers would be superfluous? The question could perhaps be answered by Angela Lin who stated that with the creation of the education videos, teachers have to be more engaging and entertaining. That truly will be a questions of survival of the fittest for teachers – only those with pizzazz will survive! (Thank God. :P) Will this develop the cult of the celebrity teacher? Perhaps… I’d rather have a celebrity teacher than a celebrity WAG or footballer…

This leads us to the third question: What will be the role of higher education institutions if all of the teaching is done online? A member of the audience answered this one:  ”We must not lose sight of the fact of what the purpose of universities is for… for conducting high-level research and answering questions that are fundamental to societal development”. Perhaps teachers should not be spending their time solely marking and teaching but, acting as facilitators and inspirational leaders for further learning. Their purpose is to keep researching. Ferreira argued that the curriculum at present is set in a way where students must keep up to date with the speed of the class. If anybody misses a class, learning is not personalised in such a way that allows students and teachers to go back to topics and aspects of the curriculum that one student did not ‘get’. Ferreira’s proposition is that through the collection of data via the online learning, we will be able to know what students know and do not know in order to personalise each and every education experience. “No student will be left behind!”. This type of data will also revolutionise the way that we learn because we will have more up-to-the-minute, live information on student’s progress, the difficulties they may have and what concepts are important to teach around the world. The learnings from the data could be immense and really affect how we learn at the global scale.

The final main question related to where the money can be found in education. Fidoe argues that any company looking to add value to the e-learning market, will need to develop tools for in-course assessment as well as gather data and analyse it in order to offer conclusions and for the learners and educators.

See below:

Entrepreneurs and Venture Capitalists must pay attention here.

I think that the future of e-learning is very promising and one that offers a lot of opportunity for enriching our culture and societies. Any maximisation of revenues that can be made for researchers in institutions is something that should be promoted. After all, we can solve the big issues of health, psychology and natural resources we could prevent a lot of conflict in our world. Online learning is not only practical because it is easy to access but it is an immensely powerful tool that could produce a whole range of new Einsteins and Beethovens in the world. If more people have access to education, we will be creating a smarter future. As a result, why should we consider that the only indicators of success are the institutions to which we go to and whether one gets in or not? Perhaps it is time to change our measures of success.

Changing Education Paradigms. How can tech fit?


Written by Yolanda HB Halston Marketing Manager at Educational App Store

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1 Comment

  1. Heidi,This is a truly beautiful and iiraisptnonal piece. I can relate whole-heartedly to your message, both as a parent and a teacher. Yes .our children are so precious. I often watch my daughter go off to school with her heavy back pack, looking like she’s carrying the cares of the world on her shoulders and wonder . How does she fit in? Do her teachers like her even a little? Will she feel successful, supported and encouraged by her teachers and peers?Then, as a teacher, yes . I try to create an environment that will nurture every child who comes into my room. There are times, however, when I feel I am inadequate for the huge task at hand. Sadly .no ..I don’t always reach my students. As hard as I try, I cannot provide for them in a way a parent’s interest in their well being, their education can do. There are many who experience so many obstacles to being happy and successful that come into our rooms .You have put an enormous challenge out to us all .parents and teachers alike. You have given us all something to think about in a unique and poignant way. Oh, if only all parents could express the same level of passion in their children’s education as you have for your children’s education. But while many parents are just trying to keep their lives afloat, at least they have you to be their spokesperson to speak up for their children. They are, after all, the whole reason behind what we do!Thank you, Heidi, for creating this and sharing it!


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