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Unbundling Higher Education, A Doubly Updated Framework

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People buy Knowledge Acquisition, Access to Opportunities, Cognitive and Employable Skills, and a Personal Transformation when they buy a degree.

This is what people buy when they’re buying a degree.

Over the past year, I’ve had to update my framework as I realize that the language I use just doesn’t click with the audience.  In particular, I kept describing the service from the service provider’s point of view, rather than they value proposition from the customer’s (student’s) point of view.  So, here’s how I’ve changed a few value propositions.

“The Content Loop” is now “Knowledge Acquisition.”  In the end, people are buying knowledge and the process of acquiring knowledge.  They are not buying the Content Loop.  The Content Loop is what content providers create to ensure they acquire the knowledge they need.  Within that quadrant, I’ve chosen to change Content Authoring to Expert Information.  Again, authoring content is what the service provider does; expert information is what people pay for.

Within Access to Opportunities, I’ve changed “Signals of Achievement Velocity” to “Signals of Aptitude.”  Largely because these are the same thing, people just get Aptitude because of the SAT.  Achievement Velocity, I think, communicates a long run bet on the economic productivity of the student.  That being said, people had to think a minute to understand what I was saying when I said achievement velocity.   When I say aptitude, they get it immediately.

“Metacontent and Skills” is now “Cognitive and Employable Skills.”  Metacontent aslo doesn’t click with people.  It means the subliminal things that are taught, largely by the instructor being an example: how to do a math problem, how to give a presentation, how to respond to complex and tough questions.  Often when you interview alumni 10 years out they remember their instructors because of the metacontent, and they don’t remember the content at all.  However, “metacontent” isn’t really a word.  When I’ve used the phrase “cognitive skills” it seems to resonate.  The education establishment seems to use “cognitive skills” to describe learnings that are picked up earlier in life: Grammar, grit, problem solving – things that get deeply embedded in the brain and character of individuals.  This being said, young adults pick up a lot of behavioral models and life-skills that help them work for economic organizations while they’re in college – and none of them are taught directly.

Within “Personal Transformation,” I’ve changed “A Personal Platform” into “A Secured Life Transition.”  What I always meant was that people need an intermediate step in between where they are now and where they want to be.  A Personal Platform makes sense, but it’s confusing to most people.  A Secured Life Transition has worked better in presentations, that’s for sure.

Sorry for the confusion.  Thanks for bearing with me.  In the end, you always have to test ideas, products and services with the market.  If the market doesn’t get what you’re saying, you have to adapt.





FounderDating comes to Education

It’s the ecosystem, stupid.

FounderDating Education Logo

FounderDating is moving into Education

For a convergence of reasons, the energy buzzing around starting companies in the education sector is coming together quickly.  Being a veteran of the space, working in both Higher Ed and teaching High School, I help others the best I can.

So I’m excited to help announce that FounderDating is having a round to provide a platform for education entrepreneurs to meet one another and make entrepreneurial love and have company babies.  Props to Jessica Alter and a nod to Jessie Arora, Wayee Chu and Jennifer Carolan for helping to bring this together.

FounderDating has high standards for tech and entrepreneurial talent, and if you’re a great designer or hacker it’s a good spot to start noodling around with ideas and scheme with others.

If you have a blog, Tumblr account, please write a post.  Otherwise, share on Twitter and Facebook.

Unbundling Education, An Updated Framework

This is the new version of the popular diagram revealing the value propositions of post-secondary education.   The update is for my upcoming chapter in Stretching the Higher Education Dollar, a book compiled by Kevin Carey, Education Sector, and Andrew Kelly, American Enterprise Institute.  If you’re interested in the book, please leave a comment.

The theme of the chapter is that schools spend a lot of time and resources on things that are about to get eaten by scalable internet technologies.  To bring down the cost of school, schools will have to acknowledge this and reposition, adding value where there is light blue, and relegating the dark blue areas to the Internet.  Obviously, it’s more messy than this.  But this is a good way to think about isolated value propositions as an entrepreneur, and what services and value propositions schools should find a renewed focus on.

Please share and take, attribute please.

A Diagram of Twelve Services of an Education

Twelve Services make up most of the value proposition of School, listed here in the order that technology can replace them. Can the whole thing be replaced?

K12 just got (re)Imagined. Or, notes from Demo Day.

Imagine K12 Logo

Imagine K12 is an incubator for companies unafraid of taking on Education.

I just had the privilege of going to the Imagine K12 demo day. At the beginning, the founder of InstaGrock said something along the lines of “welcome to the revolution.” My eyes glazed over. 5 years ago, I gave up on the idea that anybody was going to “revolutionize” Education. By the end of the presentations, I wanted to give the companies a standing ovation. I don’t know if it’s a revolution, but there is a dramatic shift in Education that is just beginning. And it’s time to get really, really excited.

The take-away, by far, is that companies are getting traction.  Lots of it.  And quickly.  Edmodo and ClassDojo, it turns out, are just the start.

TeachBoost, LearnSprout, Hapara, Socrative, InstaGrok, LearningJar, EdShelf, BrainGenie, Tap to Learn.  All of them (are you ready for this?) know what they are doing.  Gone are the days where entrepreneurs were either completely naive to the Education world or hopelessly inept at building great products.  We’ve got both, baby.  In spades.

Best of all, every single company that had launched had significant growth and traction amongst teachers, students, and districts in the MONTH OF APRIL.  Yeah, you heard me.  They are almost all showing HOCKEY STICK level growth in the Education space.  Granted, they are all early, but there is reason to believe that this time change is gonna come.  And it’s been a long time coming.

Each of these companies deserves their own post, so I’m not going to leave a trail of one sentence descriptions.  Just go to their sites and get the scoop.

Tap to Learn probably won the day, thus their closer status.  In the spirit of Brian Wilson (closer for the SF Giants), they made me giddy.  2 million children are using dozens of their learning game apps on the iPad.  Their games are genuinely fun, AND parents can get learning analytics.  250,000 minutes of “study” aka “game play” got logged YESTERDAY.

So Kudos, IK12 companies. Kudos to Alan Louie, Geoff Ralston, and Tim Brady for collecting a great motley crew of emerging companies and budding entrepreneurs.  This time, the seeds of transformation that are sewn are looking like they’re going to sprout.

Leave your thoughts and your ideas, and give a round of applause for the new talent in EdTech.  And, shouts to my friends at @LearningJar, @LearnSprout, and @TapToLearn.  You nailed it.



Unbundling Education, A Simple Framework

Education provides ten services, listed here in the order of they will be disrupted.

Education provides ten services, listed here in the order they will be disrupted.

You can download a PDF version here.

What is the newest innovation in online learning?

I answered this question, What is the newest innovation in online learning? on Quora.

The actual biggest innovation in online learning isn’t an innovation, it’s the ACCEPTANCE of online learning.  Any numbers of studies have been published that show online learning can be as effective as in the classroom, and hybrid classroom/online models can be more powerful than just the classroom.  The unimpressive reality is that much of what is called “online learning” is just a course delivered online through a relatively mundane Learning Management System (ala Blackboard, eCollege.)  It’s taken so long for this to be accepted, that this acceptance is the primary driver in the market of innovation right now.

There’s one other preface – the INTERNET is the innovation that matters, no matter the product or content. It gets information and capabilities into the hands of people.  We’re all just waiting around for the right products to come along to make it easier than reading the entire Internet.

So, let’s take for granted an ACCEPTANCE of online learning, and that with the Internet nearly anything is possible. There’s a number of really amazing things that are happening:

Scaling School
There are a handful of companies, the most hyped being 2tor, that are taking schools online and doing all the marketing and program development, providing the software and the human resources, and taking an enormous margin off the top.  The biggest online k12 school is Florida Virtual, but it’s a state run school.

Social Learning

  1. Networks of peer-to-peer learning.  My favorite example is the kids on YouTube teaching each other music and songs, and the little cooking shows on YouTube have helped me bigtime. In terms of products, Skillshare just jumped in and is making some noise (on top of EduFire and TeachStreet having moderate success on a similar concept.)
  2. Supplementary materials and tools, some of them crowd-sourced.  Having trouble learning something, don’t worry!  There’s help in abundance.  From on demand tutors (TutorCloud), to resources provided by students for free (Quizlet), to paid notes and answers taken by the smarter kids in the class (Cramster and Notehall are being integrated into Chegg.)  Having trouble knowing which college to go to? Acceptly to the rescue, or need help choosing courses? MyEDU is there for you. There are so many of these it’s impossible to keep up.
  3. Products that emphasize relationships and sharing.  Our Schools App (by Inigral) is an example of a product exclusively focused on this aspect (we avoid learning altogether now), but Instructure and GoingOn are just rethought LMS type things.  MentorMob and StudentMentor are just tools to meet people to help you, they’re not trying to teach you anything.

It’s not just about the content, it’s about the relationships.

Adaptive Learning
Adaptive learning engines are intelligent programs that start to understand what you know and don’t know, what types of content and modalities (look it up) you respond to. They serve content that’s more and more specific to you, building on what you know and repeating what you have trouble with.  I honestly have yet to see a really good one, but it’s in the zeitgeist and all the publishers are taking their shot building one.  Hearsay puts Grockit and Knewton in the battle royale, with my preference for Grockit for their approach to Massively Multiplayer Online Social Learning Games or whatever they call it.  Our investor, Founders Fund, backed Knewton, suggesting there’s something there that’s about to blow up.

Interactive Content and Textbooks
Kno and Inkling have the early lead, but the idea of the textbook is dead already, even though there’s still $14 Billion in textbook purchases.  Textbooks will not be textbooks, videos will not be videos, lectures will not be lectures.  It will all be learning content (or objects), and it will all be interactive and multimedia. It will blow your mind and make you wonder how the hell you ever sat down and read a course reader and think your kids are getting spoonfed learning fruity pebbles instead of the dull pine bark we had to chew when we were growing up.

Optimized Learning
Some learning platforms now actually try to optimize for the way your brain learns.  It’s not just content adapting to your style, it’s actually chunked and formatted to increase the probability of understanding and retention.  My favorites here are Memrise and LiveMocha, with LiveMocha being focused on foreign language learning (and really just iterating off the work of RosettaStone).

All education technology products are increasingly being gamified a little to a lot.  uBoost is a company that gamifies the process of school altogether, and Creative Commons just released open source badges.  Expect more silly points and badges and contests, everywhere.

Massively Open Online Courses
Superprofessors are the way of the future, and so are their big, hairy, online courses.  The intro to Artificial Intelligence course at Stanford has been put online, and over a hundred thousand people registered and over 30 thousand turned in the first assignment.  Ummm… What?  No one knows what to do with this, but there’s a there there.  A big there.

Supporting Schools and Teachers
There are all sorts of tools emerging that support school as we know it. MasteryConnect, ClassDojo, Goalbook, Engrade, and Learnboost are all doing great things in K12. Coursekit and Piazzza just launched for HigherEd. Logrado helps college counselors and academic advisors communicate with their constituents. There are so many of these your head will spin.

Alternatives to the idea of School as we know it.  
Things like Western Governors University and UniversityNow! are popping up as degree granting online programs, and they are presenting the idea that you don’t need to go to school at all.  As a matter of fact, all those silly buildings and professors and courses are just things that have inflated the price.   University of the People and P2P University are pushing here, but not to the success we would hope.  And the idea of UnCollege, catching on like an Occupy movement, is that you don’t even need to be enrolled into a degree program, you can just do everything DIY.  If everyone has a degree than the degree itself becomes meaningless, and there aren’t any jobs waiting for you anyway so you might as well go make your future yourself (with all these cool online learning tools) instead of sit back and party for $25K a year.

Standard Online Degree Programs
(Note, I purposefully avoided big online brands of school.  It’s because other than circumventing the cost model of going to school, I don’t think they do anything all that innovative except for process financial aid.  They still underpay adjunct professors and have classes with small class numbers, on technology that’s generally not proprietary or cool.  I have yet to see anything I would call “innovative” from a product or technology perspective from these big players.  If they have a problem with me saying that, they can call me and I’ll tell them where they can innovate and do better.)

College Readiness and Completion: My Perspective

I made this presentation auditioning for TEDxSFED.  Hope you like it.

In Defense of the Sabbatical

I’ve heard a few stories in the wake of all the budget shortfalls questioning the economic productivity of the sabbatical.

While I agree with that question at colleges focused on teaching and the liberal arts, for those research universities and high caliber programs who attract the brightest scientists and technologists in their field, Sabbatical is an important generator of economic growth by spurring innovation.

There’s plenty of evidence that a really good way to create transformative technology which creates rapid economic growth is to give really smart people lots of free time.  You can look to the ministry of the English church in the 18th century, R&D teams sponsored by companies like Bell Labs, Xerox PARC, etc.

I’ll liken it to what Barak Obama said in the State of the Union: What you don’t want to do in an airplane to gain altitude is to remove your engines to eliminate extra weight.

This is cross-posted on my company blog about Facebook and Higher Ed.

How Would I Spend $100 Million to Save Education?

I have three different paths I would pursue: one to increase the distribution of new technology to institutions, one to open up data to enable great services, and one to subsidize investment into web services that improve teacher collaboration and best-practice sharing.  Given my experience as as a secondary teacher and as CEO of Inigral, this would be my contribution to the dialog.

1. Technology can’t successfully enter a market dominated by institutions that have trouble evaluating, deciding and purchasing.  To address this, I would first create a well-branded call for early adopter institutions to participate in a special league of institutions who try out new technologies.  This would also lead to organizing and plotting institutions in Higher Education and K12 onto a technology adoption curve, so that new companies and technologies know which customers to partner with while they are still early.

2.  A second major problem is the stranglehold on data and information that could be used by web services to provide great technology.  My personal pain has always been with plugging in to courses and schedules, which are nowhere with that can be read and process by computers.  I suggest that institutions receiving state funding or accreditation participate in the Open Data movement (tastefully, while still respecting privacy), and the laws around privacy be revised to provide consistency with Open Data.

3.  Good best-practices and supporting materials to are not getting to teachers and practitioners in ways that are easy to use and adopt.  One way to address this would not require innovation at all, just a real focus on selecting “Master Teachers” and giving them the time to coach and train upcoming teachers.  Beyond that, I would incentivize investment from private investors in web applications that support best-practice sharing and peer-evaluation and feedback.

More Detailed Explanations for the Interested:

1. High profile Foundations should make an official call for Visionary and Early Adopter institutions modeled on Race to The Top, with new technology grants to the strongest applicants.  In order to qualify, these institutions would need to set up a fast track way to make decisions about technology adoption in order to have the privilege of being part of this community.  Institutions that sign up for the Visionary program would make themselves available to entrepreneurs who are literally nothing more than an idea and talented people in a garage. They would work with these entrepreneurs to come up with a Minimum Viable Product and get to a working prototype.  These institutions would not pay anything or would pay a very small amount.  Early Adopter institutions would be willing to pay for products after a working prototype has been iterated upon until it successfully solves problems and gets used.  They must be willing to pay more for a competitive advantage and to have early access to any efficiencies or solutions provided by the innovative product or service.

2. I suggest a national repository as part of the Open Data movement, and require or incentivize schools, post-secondary and K12, submit their planned course offerings to a central repository that can be read by computers (i.e. in XML).  I personally would also create levels of access with secure keys to access more specific data about teachers and enrollments.  Companies could then gain various levels of access, monitored and permitted by institutions themselves.  There are all sorts of online tools, gradebooks, communication tools, etc, and one of their major barriers to entry is that teachers aren’t spending the time to set them up effectively, virtually locking in old vendors who aren’t innovating and preventing new products from getting utilized.

3. I used to teach K12, and its amazing what an isolating experience walls are.  It’s also outlandish how poor teacher training is, even the best teacher training.  It’s presented as all art and strategy, even though good teaching is entirely proven tactics that need to be practiced to the point of perfection.  Nearly half of teachers spend two years getting their bearings and then quit.  It has little to do with salary, and mostly to do with a lack of support, a lack of respect, and a lack of recognition.  Many of these related problems can be addressed through the internet.  These kinds of services need “patient capital.”  Bootstrapping a company requires instant revenue streams, of which there are few in education.  Venture Capital is looking for billion dollar exits within seven years of their investment.  As a result, there are a lot of people that would do something in this space, but just can’t get off the ground

I’ve heard a couple of great ideas in this regard, and I know some of them are being worked on by various folks. For instance:

A.  A K12 teacher-driven web platform that shares best-practices, model teaching, and tactical advice as well as resources.  I’ve seen a million lesson sharing sites, and BetterLesson stands out as a quality product, HotChalk stands out in terms of quantity and breadth, my understanding is TFA has a start on this internally, but they don’t share and they need better product design.  But lessons themselves don’t really do anything.  They’re not chunked enough, they’re not contextualized enough, and a lot of the time its not the lesson itself that makes good teaching, it’s the good teaching around the lesson that new teachers need.

B.  A Yelp-like review system for education vendors.  You’d be amazed the absolutely terrible, unworkable products that get into our schools.  Why?  There’s a budget, and the sales process masks all the terribleness, the buyers are almost never the users.  Technology companies in higher education tend to over-invest in sales (because selling is so difficult) and under-invest in product development.  I’ve heard of scenarios where highly paid sales teams outnumber software engineers 6 to 1.

C.  A $100 dollar stipend for each teacher that they must spend on web applications.  This way, the user is the buyer.

Reaction to “Waiting for Superman”

Waiting for Superman is a great call-to-action regarding the state of our nation’s public schools.  

I agree with many of the arguments within the movie.  For instance, it points out that good policies to improve education include: 

  1. focusing on good teaching with merit-based systems – incentivizing good teaching and good teachers, and maintaining an ability to fire poor teachers.
  2. allowing innovation “outside” the existing systems – promoting independent charter schools with innovative practices.
  3. building strong feeder programs that start really early and carry the relationship through the development of the child.

However, the film does not acknowledge that successful charter schools are actually rare, and many charter schools fail at either creating superior outcomes or building an organization that is functional and sustainable.  That’s a messy reality that the film totally omits.  I’m not suggesting that charter schools are bad, on the contrary I’m an enthusiastic supporter of the movement for charter schools.  I’m suggesting that the conversation about charter schools will have to get deeper than policy and strategy, it will have to get tactical and technological.  

“Waiting for Superman” also does not go any deeper than these aforementioned broad best practices in policy.  There are many innovations and improvements buried in strategies and tactics that can be implemented at schools, departments, within classrooms, or for individuals that create better outcomes.  The film doesn’t seem to acknowledge that these exist – it’s as if the only path for improvement are in these big policy shifts and school improvement cannot be addressed in smaller details.  

The film, in pursuit of building a set of heroes, presumes that their heroes have “found what works,” as if these truths have not been “known” for long.  This is not true.  Setting high expectations, focusing on children and great teaching, and innovating outside the system have long been discussed within education – long before KIPP and the Harlem Children’s Zone were ever dreamed up.  

KIPP and the Harlem Children’s Zone are so successful because these are organizations with good execution and strong leadership, and they have been successful because they did so much more than just talk good talk.   There are a million things they did right, a lot of it buried in technocratic details.  But, we have to acknowledge, that these million details were right only in an environment where visionary leadership is possible – in charter schools.  It’s harder to be a visionary leader in public institutions, it’s too political.  It’s possible, but wherever politics is involved, building a culture of achievement is extremely difficult.  

So, while I support the film and it’s recommendations, it’s not a good prescription necessarily.  To add my own agenda, it’s not really focused on tactical innovation – the pursuit of my life.  But then again, the film-markers objective is to influence voters and donors, and in that regard I think this film is going to achieve more in engendering and focusing our national conversation on education more than anything we’ve seen in our recent history.

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