Education Opinion

30 Years Coming, The Revolution is Here

By Tom Vander Ark — April 17, 2013 4 min read
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It took 30 years from the first shots of the American revolution to an operating constitution of these United States. Michael Moe, in his keynote at ASU/GSV Education Innovation Summit, noted that it has been 30 years since A Nation at Risk--and a lot has
happened since then. It’s clear that the revolution in learning is here. As one example, Moe noted the traction of new tools:

  • Dreambox taught 65 million lessons last year;

  • Edmodo serves 18.7 million users;

  • 2U delivered 1,146 courses every week last year;

  • Knewton had 5,000 users last year, 5 million this year; and

  • Kno serves 6,000 universities.

In the old days, edtech vendors sold to districts who provided tools to teachers. Since the introduction of iPads in 2010, 90,000 education apps have been
developed. Now, according to Moe, “The market has flipped.” Parents, teachers, and students are finding and adopting learning apps at an astounding rate.

“Today, knowledge is currency,” said Moe. “It’s knowledge not college that matters.” Moe sees learners creating a “personalized knowledge portfolio,” an
unbundled sequence of learning experiences from multiple providers.

Moe sees an innovation ecosystem emerging, and calls it KaizenEDU. In this emerging ecosystem, it’s the “return on education” that matters. Moe argues the
entrepreneurs that help create great learning gains are the ones that will create great shareholder value.

Healthcare gives us a picture of what that could mean for edtech. In 1970 there were 3 companies worth more than $1 billion. Last year, health care made up
13% of U.S. GDP and there were 398 companies with a market cap of more than $1 billion. Education is about 9% of GDP but there are only 5 public companies
worth more than $1 billion. The difference is a result of dramatic under investment in R&D, but that’s changing!

Creating the Context.
Jim Shelton, recently named (acting) Deputy Secretary of the Department of Education said, during his lunch keynote, about success and failure of reform
initiatives and new technologies--"it’s about the ecosystem.”

Shelton said three things need to happen to create a conducive context for innovation and improvement:

  1. Infrastructure: ubiquitous and affordable broadband connections and devices; and widely adopted data and interoperability standards.

  2. Performance-based market: rigorous models of defining and validating competencies; common measures of performance, productivity and return; smart
    aggregated demand/accessible and markets.

  3. Significant and disciplined R&D: about an order of magnitude increase with much clearer focus on current pain points and future opportunities.

“We need to get the context right so that edtech can flourish like like biotech and health tech,” said Shelton. In that regard he encouraged edtech
entrepreneurs to become (and employ) real experts in education and to demand excellence in student outcomes. Shelton said that, in addition to boosting
domestic achievement, we should be “building for the global opportunity--some country is going to lead on this and it should be the U.S.”

Education needs to get better at asking for infrastructure. For example, Jim said, “everyone would benefit from better broadband.” He suggests that
healthcare and telecom have been more effective at garnering support for sector research and infrastructure.

The three emerging areas requiring more attention, according to Shelton, are early learning tools and resources, summer and out of school learning, and
course redesign in higher education.

On grading the Department, Shelton thinks they earned a B+ or A- in the all important role of creating an effective context for improvement, “We will never
go back to running schools with a lack of data, with no focus on student outcomes.” On higher education, Shelton gives the Department lower marks in terms
of leading a shift to outcomes, but he adds “I don’t understand why the industry doesn’t lead, why wait for the government to set the metrics?”

Shelton also introduced Karen Cator, former OET head, as the new CEO of Digital Promise. In her first words as CEO, Karen
Cator said “The mission of digital promise is to spur innovations”. Digital Promise is encouraging investment where there is not high enough ROI to attract
private capital. The nonprofit also sponsors the League of Innovative Schools, an important market signaling effort that aggregates demand on behalf of
more than two million students.

Shelton thinks each sector has important work to do. “Government needs to work on infrastructure and context setting; philanthropy can work on problems
that won’t create a great return; together philanthropy and industry should set standards setting.” He stressed the importance of knowledge management and
execution, “We need to get better at taking what we know and putting it to work.”

The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.