Adaptive Learning and the Flipped Classroom; An Interview with Roy Gilbert, CEO of Grockit

In the education world, the buzzword of the day is “adaptive learning”. The question for me has always been what is more important – to get the adaptive learning algorithms optimized or to have just great, engaging content? After years building Grockit, Roy Gilbert firmly falls into the latter camp, as shown by Grockit’s newest product Learnist. Below, we talk about adaptive learning, the potential of the flipped classroom and how Learnist can change how people around the globe teach and learn.

QUESTION: Roy, can you tell us a little bit about Grockit? It seems like the business has evolved significantly since you began with some adaptive learning driven test prep products.

The premise behind Grockit is not just our test prep business, which was the first thing that Grockit offered, but also Learnist which is our online social learning tool to give people the ability to share what they know. The fundamental premise behind this is  there are other channels to teach people besides the traditional publisher-driven K-12 model of boxes of books in the schools.

QUESTION: So are you looking to replace the K12 textbook or be supplementary to it?

I don’t think like institutional sales models are going to go away anytime soon. I mean, inertia is an extraordinarily powerful force. But, what you’re seeing from other education technology companies is if you can impact students at home, if you can impact teachers outside of school, if you can help students with tools that they don’t actually get in the classroom, and help them learn, and not necessarily just math facts, but also learn about things that they care about in their world, then that’s where the really truly disruptive tools and education are going to come from. I mean, I would posit that a major textbook publisher, or a teacher’s union, or a school district is probably not going to create a math application where every student is going sit, and learn, and be excited about teaching themselves trigonometry. I don’t consider that possible. It’s going to come from the world of educational technology start-ups.

QUESTION: It’s interesting you have gone from some pretty technical adaptive learning platform to a product in learnist that really aims to engage the learner with compelling content. Learnist does feels a little bit like HowStuffWorks, which Discovery bought years ago. Is that an accurate way to categorize it, and how did you go from there to here?

Not really. I mean, I don’t think it’s totally accurate and here’s why. When Farb Nivi founded Grockit, the original idea was a massive multiplayer game for learning, which has a couple of different elements to it. Like one, engagement that almost engages people in learning so much that they can’t really differentiate between being entertained and then learning. Then number two is the multiplayer portion, the social experience. And so, there’s decades of research in social learning about how people teach each other.

And the idea of using test prep to do this and learning from how people interact to a standardized test was really a huge laboratory for how people can interact and teach each other online. We found a few things that were driving much of the efficacy and much of the engagement on the platform, and if you look at all the things we are doing with Grockit, the number one thing that was driving both engagement and learning was just the pure sharing and interaction between students.

It didn’t matter how many badges or how finely tuned the adaptive algorithm was. It didn’t matter whether we were licensing content or creating it ourselves. It was that social interaction which in many cases was not even related to the fundamental subject area, but social interaction was driving this. And so, as part of our long-term plan to expand to other content types, we refocused the product and refocused the platform as Learnist, which is really driven by social interaction above all else.

And we were right, and we’re pretty excited about how people are sharing content, sharing what they know, but also making a vast repository for knowledge curated around experts and subject areas. We could never, for example, have gotten 100% of the US common core into Grockit in three months, but with Learnist even the couple hundred initial teachers who started testing it from day one helped us accomplish that task, and now we have many, many times that  number of users.

QUESTION: And are those teachers viewing this as the way they flip the classroom? They’re using your content and then working on more experiential types of activities in the classroom?

Yes. One of the most interesting things that we have seen is that my expectation was that a teacher or a group leader would create a learn board and share it with their classes. Instead, we’re finding that much of the real efficacy comes from teachers creating a curriculum or creating a learn board, and then their students adding to it, constructing on it, and building a web of knowledge around it. It was kind of a head smacking moment because that is social learning. That’s how social learning works. It’s the idea of, it’s the line between being a teacher and being a student just constantly blurring and shifting.

QUESTION: Got it. Where is the bulk of the adoption coming? Is it middle school, high school, college, adult learners?

 I’m not going to break it down by age per se, but the demographics appear to be pretty similar to what you see on Facebook, or Twitter, or anything like that, which is young adults. But, we designed Learnist as a tool that can be used by anybody. And so, it’s easy and it’s interesting to use and so it cuts across a lot of different demographic players. But half the content there is pure education and the rest of it I sort of fit in the broader category of general non-fiction.

QUESTION: Got it. So, you came from the consumer web world and entered into education. What did you think you were going to face coming in and kind of what were some of the big surprises?

One thing that I was managing at Google was our education channel for Google Apps and so this is getting schools and universities to use Gmail and Google Docs and that sort of thing. And so, I was aware of sort of the pressure that schools are under. I think one of the bigger surprises for me is when you’re a consumer tech company, people are like excited about their Gmail, their Docs, but when you start talking about people’s education, the importance of it, and the care with which we have to act, is much more than what I would have expected.

I think number two is just like the pure passion that entrepreneurs have for the space. The entrepreneurs I meet through New Schools, which is one of our investors, the entrepreneurs I meet at the GSV conference in Arizona, I’m extraordinarily impressed, not just with their ability, but it’s pure core passion that you don’t see in online payments.

QUESTION: I mean, you have more people who are mission-driven around this than in social media analytics dashboard, right?

Yeah, exactly. By the way, it’s not just on the entrepreneurial level, It’s the bankers. It’s the people who fund these companies. It’s the people who service providers. They all feel like they’re all part of this large ecosystem that makes a difference. And, it’s fairly impressive. There’s this feeling of that we’re all in this together to do something that’s really big. Whether you’re trying to restructure a postsecondary company that’s on hard times, or you’re trying to build the next ad tech start-up, there is this enormous mission-driven motivation.

QUESTION: Absolutely. What’s interesting when I look at your content is there is common core stuff around 6th grade math, and then there’s how to make super simple grilled mushrooms?

Yes. And those are two totally different things by the way.

QUESTION:  Do you have a sense now in terms of kind of where is the bulk of the activity on the platform, or where do you think it’s going

Yeah, we do. I don’t want go like too heavily into details on this, but we’re seeing an enormous amount of activity around peer educational content and an enormous amount of activity around areas where there is, I almost call it a temporal knowledge gap where something happens and people want to learn more fast. So, whether it’s like debates, or I just heard a loud yell out here from our team and the baseball game is on, so, you know, something obviously happened there. It’s filling in information you can’t just fill in with a 140 word tweet.

So, we see an enormous amount of activity in both the education side, where teachers want to use it to have students comment on them and solve problems in areas where there is that high -peed knowledge gap that has to be filled. There is a huge amount of use of Facebook and Twitter to share knowledge from Learnist.

QUESTION: Got it. So, when you think kind of five years out, what’s your vision around the platform? Is Learnist kind of part and parcel to how the flipped classroom manifests itself globally?

In a few years, a teacher can walk into the middle of nowhere with a set of iPads and start school for free with the same world-class curriculum you could get at the most expensive private school in New York just by sharing information from some of the best experts in different fields, and have this aggregation of really high quality, beautiful, educational material organized, not just around the common core, but also around who were the best teachers and who were the best curators of content. And then have this product at their fingertips to share with their class and have it be alive and change in real-time. So, it’s really the ability for any teacher to become better, and anyone to become a teacher anywhere in the world.

QUESTION:   That’s great. Big vision and it’s pretty exciting.

 

 

K12 venture investing – bubble or reality? Interview with Alan Louie, co-founder of Imagine K12

After a small bubble in education investing in the late 1990s, there was a sharp drop-off in venture capital investment in the sector. In 2005, despite education representing a trillion dollars of GDP, there was only $60 million of education-related venture investment. Fast-forward to today and education investing is back – with almost $600 million in venture capital invested in 2012. Much of that funding, in companies such as EdModo and Class Dojo, has gone into K12 education, an area where it has been notoriously difficult to generate venture scale returns.

The fundamental question is whether or not disruptive changes in technology, like the introduction of the low cost tablet, will permanently shift how students learn and enable new companies to displace traditional publishers and edtech vendors.

Alan Louie and his co-founders at Imagine K12 left senior roles at Yahoo! and Google with a strong conviction that these shifts will happen and that bringing consumer Internet expertise to education will help accelerate change. I think you’ll enjoy hearing his perspective on the market.

Interview with Alan Louie, co-founder of Imagine K12

 

QUESTION:  You were three consumer Internet executives with a passion for education in starting ImagineK12. I would love to just get your hit on what’s been the biggest surprise around the education market both positive and negative? What are the things that you didn’t expect going in?

ANSWER:   I had done a lot of homework beforehand and my wife is a teacher, so I was reasonably prepared. But there were tons of surprises in the sense that I didn’t really understand how the teacher world works. I was probably most surprised in understanding that it’s not so much that teachers and administrations don’t want to adopt technology, but for thirty years they’ve had technologists tell them hey, just try out this thing. It’s going to be great. If you just put a PC in every classroom grades are going to go up, or the kids are going to be more engaged. So they have endured a good thirty years of unsatisfied promises. Not that anybody was lying to them, it’s just that everybody’s hopes were not the outcome that anybody was planning for.

QUESTION:  Given these issues, how was the response from entrepreneurs in launching ImagineK12?

We were pleasantly surprised people applied… actually it was a big surprise. We had big hopes, but we were surprised that we ended up with so many quality teams and that there was a big enough interest in K12 because when we talked to our VC friends, most of them said, I think all of them said, “are you crazy? You should really think twice about that whole K12 thing because haven’t you done your homework? If you want to focus on education you should do higher ed.”

QUESTION:  Why do you think there’s been this proliferation of VCs investing in K12 businesses? There have been some nice size exits- Wireless Generation and Schoolnet – but lots of failures. And then but seemingly out of the blue you’ve gone from zero funding at all to a proliferation of top VCs investing capital here.

ANSWER:  I don’t know – I wish I had a good answer for that. I speculate that I think they are getting wind of what is possible in seeing the viral growth of Edmodo and Engrade and folks like that. Before the Internet, the story was get in line with everybody else who is selling stuff to the superintendant, the curriculum, technology director, and oh by the way, there’s about ten people ahead of you and this is not going to be startup friendly. It’s not going to work. The thing that we were exploring was to see if there is consumer web-like behavior that we could tap. The theory was well, the Internet changes everything. Edmodo (not part of Imagine K12) shows that you can go straight to teachers and they can adopt.

QUESTION: Early days, have you seen that kind of growth within the ImagineK12 teams?

ANSWER:   We do have a couple consumer web-type standouts from the summer 2011, and this was a surprise for us since we hoped but didn’t know if any would pop that fast, and these are Class Dojo and Educreations, both of which raised good size rounds from investors.

QUESTION:   I met with Jennifer Carolan from New Schools Venture Fund for drinks the other night, and she had great things to say about what Educreations is doing and the ability it gives teachers to quickly create lessons and have a self-publishing tool where they can have their lectures seen by students globally. Can you tell me how Educreations and ClassDojo have gotten off to such fast running starts?

ANSWER:   I really believe these are much easier times to start a company vs. 5-10 years ago. I mean it’s dirt cheap to start a company, it’s dirt cheap to run a company, and you look at Class Dojo or Educreations – when they first start it’s two guys and a dog running on AWS or Rackspace, and they can dial up and dial down their infrastructure in minutes so they don’t have any of that fixed cost. It’s much cheaper to do, and they can turn on a dime, and they can respond to customer input. So Class Dojo, which is giving teachers the ability to track student behavior and give students real time feedback in the classroom, their numbers are 4 million users signed up between teachers and kids in the last year.

QUESTION:  Has it all been viral word of mouth?

ANSWER:   Yes. Zero marketing dollars.

QUESTION:  Is it similar to Archipelago Learning, which is the case study for creating a product that goes viral with teachers, and then you create the infrastructure to sell into schools and districts? Or is there a parent revenue model

ANSWER:   One option is a parent revenue model for now but they can push on lots of others. Here is one approach that you could use with parents: “So you send home a review that states that Jennifer is doing great in math but is not challenged, so a parent might want to consider these applications, or games, that are pretty well suited for somebody like him. Then they have all this big data that they can mine and figure out like which student uses what, or which kids it really works for, and then they can be in the business of making good recommendations for parents.”

QUESTION: Are there examples of teachers kind of recommending things parents pay for? I mean Net Nanny is the perfect example of where the value proposition makes perfect sense and when it comes to brass tacks the parents just don’t pay. What do you think, are there some comparables where parents are paying based upon a recommendation from a teacher?

ANSWER:  No, not yet. I mean here’s why I’m attracted to K12 is… I can take a contrarian view based on 30 years of mishaps in K12 for technology. It’s not like that for the hardware vendors, so the hardware vendors have never had any problems, it’s always been the software guys. The poor software guys who only get 10% of the edtech budget.

The big value frankly is in the software from my perspective. People want to do something meaningful using the hardware, not just own a hunk of metal and glass. Of course Apple may beg to differ, but that’s fine. I mean why did Reid Hoffman invest in Edmodo? Maybe it was his LinkedIn experience. Maybe he thought Edmodo is like a private social network for a classroom, and now you have so many teachers that are using it, and then since it’s good… it’s really tough to dislodge Edmodo.

QUESTION:  So the other business model, besides teachers, you have mentioned is selling administrative tools and premium products into districts. How are the discretionary budgets of the schools looking in kind of today’s times of budgetary decreases?

ANSWER:   We hear they still seem to have around a $3000 signing authority at the school level. These are state and local government-run schools for the most part and then there are a lot of federal programs. So these things are bucketed and budgeted, so whatever you have to spend on certain things, then it’s reserved for that and typically it’s a use it or lose it situation.

One area with lots of budget is special education where for the most part the money is spent on compliance and not tools that actually help the kids. Have you heard about Goalbook and Daniel Yoo?

QUESTION:   I haven’t met those guys, no.

ANSWER: Oh, okay. So, Daniel was an oracle software developer who decided he wanted to be a teacher so he goes and gets his teaching credential, falls in love with special ed, does that for a while and then realizes oh my God, the tools I’m using are horrible and I can do better than this. He comes to Imagine K12 and we look at it and… special ed kids are about 15% of the population. The definition is very broad. It’s not like just autistic kids, it’s anybody who needs a little extra help.

QUESTION: Yep. Dyslexia, etc. There’s a lot of bucket.

ANSWER: The other broad brush is that this space is so historically laden with baggage that there’s not that much competition. That’s the other thing I love about it. It’s not like I’m going to be able to launch this stuff in the consumer web space and see no competition. In consumer web, what happens is once you launch it, everybody else sees you and then multiple teams spring up to go take you down.

QUESTION: Yep. That’s right.

ANSWER: And it’s pretty damn easy to fast follow. In K12 that’s not happening. It’s not. It’s great. Nobody chased after Class Dojo and now they have a 4M user lead that’ll be hard to catch.

QUESTION: I understand special ed as a focus area. Are there other focus areas you have when you look at teams? Are there certain markets that you like and don’t like, or is it more on an individual case by case basis when you’re selecting teams?

ANSWER: So far the way we’ve selected teams has been the seed stage startup approach of how accelerators tend to do it. Even though we’re a vertical, we tend to focus on teams that we think can code, iterate, or, if they can figure out how to do it without a coding founder more power to them.

QUESTION: And the upside is high powered guys like you and your co-founders weren’t doing this in education previously, and there wasn’t top talent that was going against this market so it’s a sea change. When you’re working with your teams, how do you try to bridge the reality that not every school is a really well funded charter in Palo Alto, and the reality is that you have 50 kids in a 2nd grade classroom in New Orleans and you’re running uphill just to survive?

ANSWER:  This is one of the least of my worries because you go to where your customers are and you don’t have to cherry pick the customers. I mean you can, but there is no need to. I just forwarded you this old e-mail that two weeks after Class Dojo launched. It was from this teacher and said “I found out about Class Dojo on Sunday night and I tried it out in my classroom on Monday and it worked so well that I mentioned it to some of my teacher friends. They tried it out on Tuesday and it worked great for them, and by the end of the week the principal was walking around encouraging teachers to try it out.” Then she goes on, all of our kids are from the projects in Arizona. She said all of our kids are low income, 100% on FRL, free or reduced lunch, and we love Class Dojo as teachers, they love Class Dojo because it really makes the class much more interesting and they’re the most engaged kids we’ve ever seen. We’ve never seen our kids so engaged, so we just wanted to let you know.

I read that e-mail and I’m like oh my God, this is perfect. The reason why I’m in this is not just to make money. In fact money actually is the secondary reason. I’m in it for those kids. I look at our education system and I say… and the same for Tim and Jeff, we see systemically there are dropout rates that are way too high. The kids coming out are not at the academic level that they need for their own lives.

QUESTION:  We’re moving towards a society where we’re going to need have a third more college graduates than we have and you don’t have enough kids who are academically prepared to be there. We have some huge systemic problems, and if you don’t start when the kids are 3 it’s an uphill battle.

ANSWER: That’s right – it would be game over. We could go do higher ed, and I think if I just wanted to make money I would do higher ed because it’s a much easier play. Look, don’t get me wrong, higher ed is not easy either so I’m only saying that on a relative basis, relative in that anything K12 is harder. It is probably 10 times harder than consumer web, and maybe only like 3 times harder than higher ed, but it’s hard.

I also want to just tell you one story from a couple months ago. We got an e-mail at Imagine K12 that was just through our info line, and for some reason they thought we owned Class Dojo. It was somebody in a district and she said “Hi, we need to train all our 1500 teachers and had some questions.” I was thinking holy cow, absolutely they can help you out, so we forwarded that to the founders of Class Dojo. Hi, you have 1500 teachers. That’s times 30 or 40 kids, the whole district is going to do it.

QUESTION: That’s fabulous. That has to be rewarding for you guys to see Class Dojo, Educreations, some early evidence that the program is working in that it has the ability to work across thousands of schools.

ANSWER:  Absolutely! There are other Imagine K12 startups growing like crazy like Hapara (making Google Docs way easier for schools to implement), TapToLearn (mobile learning games), Remind101 (teachers use for mass-texting their students and their parents safely), and BloomBoard (massively improving teacher professional development).  The first 20 companies are listed on imaginek12.com; check them out!

 

How to unlock human potential. Interview with Guy Halfteck, CEO of Knack

Many, if not most, people are stuck in professions that are a poor match for their temperaments. Despite often spending years spent preparing for a career, Americans are largely unhappy at work. Fewer than half of Americans are satisfied with their jobs, with only 15% “very satisfied,” according to a recent study by Nielsen.

Guy Halfteck started a company called Knack to address this issue and “help unlock human potential.” The company is using the latest academic research to create casual games that identify and match people with the careers and activities that temperamentally are a good fit for them. Guy believes Knack can do a better job than tests like the SAT in determining student potential in college admissions and can significantly increase the chance that employers hire employees who will be successful in what they do. It’s a really big idea and a big mission and I think you’ll enjoy learning more directly from Guy.

QUESTION:           Guy, can you talk about how you came up with the idea for Knack?

It’s a combination of my own personal experiences. While I studied, I received my education in a certain field and I later realized that there was a mismatch between my education and my desires and interests.

My frustration was with the fact that once you studied something you’re actually placed into the bucket of that person is a lawyer, or that person can do only those things. It’s a very superficial approach that I was very frustrated with and led me to think how can I can communicate to the marketplace what my capabilities are and what my potential is in a way that is not tied to my education. My potential is much deeper and captures my education, but my education is really a small subset of my potential.That’s what inspired me.

QUESTION:           It feels like a guy that today whether it’s a consulting firm using a case study and testing cognitive skills or whether it’s IBM testing the skills of a potential database administrator, that these tests do not measure whether someone has the personality traits that are needed to succeed within a certain role. Is that the way to think about it?

That’s part of the way, yes. What they’re looking at is skills in terms of knowledge and in terms of actual hard skills. Skills can be acquired and developed very quickly with knowledge being tangible and available and accessible, so I think that targeting specific skills is really missing the big picture. The big picture is how do you get the person that has the capacity both intellectually, emotionally, socially, and in terms of personality to perform very well, and performing very well will differ from one context to the other. It might be performing through innovation, or performing through customer service, or performing through strategic work and thinking in an office.

QUESTION:           Got it. I played your first game called Wasabi Waiter and it feels a little bit like Diner Dash, but there’s a lot more going on in the background. How are you able to tell from this appearingly simple game deep personality traits around who I or who you are?

The relationship between your personality traits and your behavioral traits and how you play the game works in a number of directions. The game starts with you, the player, identifying and recognizing emotions and reading emotions of others and then preparing them and serving them dishes. But there is a big component of multitasking, there is a big component of optimization, there is a stream of micro-decisions that the player has to make over the course of the game, and there is dealing with an interesting cognitive load, mental load throughout the game, and there is openness to experience and exploring the game space, and many other things that are going on in this game.

QUESTION:           Is it grounded in academic research data?

Our work is built on very rigorous science that is part psychology and part behavioral science. An important point, however, is that our technology differentiates people in ways that psychologists have not even been able to label yet. If you take a comparison to the biological DNA of a person, many genes have not been labelled yet so have not been identified by science. Our games enable us to get insight and to measure and differentiate people of all dimensions and personalities, characteristics and traits but have not been given names or have not been identified or recognized by scientists, by behavioral scientists, but those differences still carry indications for what the potential of the person is. So, in that sense we’re going above and beyond the current state of the art of behavioral science.

QUESTION:           So the devil is often in the details here, and I’m curious. Have you… and it’s very early, early days, but have you looked at kind of how your games perform versus what has been used today for employers? Or how are you planning to look at that over time?

We have tested that. A few points that are relevant in that respect. We know that many very sophisticated and thoughtful employers have been using personality tests like the Myers Briggs, which was developed in the 1950s. We know that the Myers Briggs actually has huge problems.Self-report instruments such as Myers Briggs are subject to what is called presentation bias. The person answering the questions in most cases is aiming for what would be the right answer to maximize the chance of that instrument providing a profile of the person that would be of interest to the employer.

So, there are many other biases that go into how we approach and the data that we provide in answer to those questions. Our games and our technology actually eliminate all those biases, eliminate anxiety, and put people in a neutral natural environment. People are behaviorally tuned into the game, but they are not tuned into questionnaires or interviews or something like that. This is not a natural behavior for people. It’s not a natural behavior in the animal kingdom more generally. If you look at humans and others in the animal kingdom that are comfortable playing games, games are part of how we communicate, socialize, initiate values, teach things and share information. That is the power of games.

So, when we look at how our technology is doing relative to the current instruments, this is a very different paradigm. It is a quantum leap. This is something that is a massive fundamental departure from anything that was available prior to that, and the best way to look at that is a revolution in measurement. Our technology introduces into the space and domain of human potential and behavioral data what an MRI introduces into the world of medical imaging. It provides an unprecedented insight and visibility into the deepest layers and dimensions of what makes a person human.

QUESTION:           It’s interesting because human potential isn’t fixed. Traits like persistence, grit, and curiosity can be affected over time, especially at younger ages, so how do you think about that within the context of these games? Are there other measures like persistence, like grit that should be taught within schools? Does Knack play a part in it? Can you talk about kind of the educational K12 components of what you’re doing?

Absolutely. You’re right in pointing out that certain behavioral traits like mindset and disposition can be affected and changed over time, as a result of intervention, educational or other. The value of KNACK in the education space is providing an ability for students, for kids, for parents, for teachers to start measuring and to start quantifying those things. Once you start quantifying things you can also start quantifying and see a measure of progress, or a measure or change, and measure the effect of intervention.

If you don’t have the tools that enable you to track those things, you won’t be able to figure out the efficacy of any intervention. For example, what is the difference of one curriculum versus another, or if you put a key in an advanced program versus a regular program? So our technology integrated into the K12 space will enable teachers, students and their parents to get insight into what is the potential of the person? Where is that kid right now? What might be the right fit for that person in terms of curriculum, in terms of the type of school, in terms of focus on education material, but also in terms of developing and acquiring new fields and strengthening different personality traits? So, the potential of KNACK goes well in advance, far in advance of a person going into college or seeking a job. It really can go all the way to a very young age, and the younger people can start playing games. That’s really how far it can go.

QUESTION:           I realize every career path has different traits important to longterm success, but when you look at the key traits needed to succeed in today’s knowledge economy, what does the research bear those out to be?

The research shows a number of things that drives long-term success, and one of them is the ability to process large volumes of information and the ability to think at that higher level of analysis, but equally so is the ability to learn in a job because the pace of change in business and education is very rapid. Back in the industrial revolution, the state of things was pretty stable.

In our age, there’s not really value in people continuously doing the same thing. It’s the ability to adapt, the ability to process large volumes of information, the ability to integrate that and adjust and adapt and learn.

QUESTION:           It sounds like there are a lot of potential applications for the technology. So as a business, where do you start?

We’re currently starting at working with companies that employ early entry level talent, graduates of colleges and universities, and helping them realize what are the predictive signatures that make for longterm success at performance on the job and also for leadership and innovation. The flip side of that is where we are focusing on working with schools and universities on using the Knack technology first to admit students and then to select the student into programs, but then also to help them figure out their optimal match with the job market. So, we work both with schools, universities and employers. The next step for us is going to be the K12 space.

QUESTION:           It’s interesting because when you think of college admissions in particular where tests like an SAT can give unfair advantages to kids who have access to private tutors etc., do you think that Knack is a way for your top schools to find those diamonds in the rough who haven’t had that same access or opportunities but have the potential to achieve at the same level?

Absolutely. I think that the SATs and other kinds of tests disproportionately advantage people who have access to tutoring. So how do you level the playing field. This is not a problem limited to the U.S. – it’s a global problem. If you think about colleges and universities, the selection problem and the problem of figuring out what does the behavioral makeup of the high performing graduate look like, this is not very different than the problem that employers face in terms of what is the behavioral makeup of a successful employee in one role or the other.

QUESTION:           Can you talk a little bit about business model? Is it a software as a service type of business model?

Our business model is not software as a service, it’s actually data as a service. Our products are not the games. The games are part of the technology, part of the interface, part of the experience, but the product we are selling are data products. Different data products have different value, and the value differs based who is the consumer and how elaborate the data is, so the business model focuses on extracting value from the data product for the buyers of that data.

QUESTION:           Got it. That makes sense. Is there anything else that we haven’t covered that you want people to know about KNACK?

I think we touched upon some of the key things. It is important to note that in testing our product with some companies and pools of students at different universities, we know we already have very solid proof that the technology can very finely differentiate a very broad spectrum of behavioral traits, including the capacity to be creative and to innovate, and can actually predict academic achievements of students as measured by their GPA.

So, we already have solid data that proves the capacity of the technology to discover the unique behavioral footprint of the person and also to discover the predictive signatures of what makes a successful student, or what makes a successful employee – a knowledge employee at a professional service firm or a successful engineer. We already have that data and our goal now is to scale this and collect more data. The more data we have, the more insight we will have.

The new age of personalized learning, an interview with Jennifer Carolan of New Schools Venture Fund

I have avoided K12 education technology investments historically, dismissing them as facing a long and hard slog to adoption. Not only did K12 entrepreneurs have to develop a great product, they had to hire an army of salespeople and push school by school and district by district to get it adopted.

In my interview with Jennifer Carolan, a partner at New Schools Venture Fund, we discuss early evidence that today may be a new age – how a wave of new K12 businesses is flourishing by using viral modes of distribution that go direct to teachers and parents.  These new companies also promise to give teachers the ability to deliver to students a more personalized 1:1 learning experience. As a former high school history teacher, no one is better qualified than Jennifer to parse out what can be impactful versus product that will never succeed in the classroom.

Interview with Jennifer Carolan, Partner at New Schools Venture Fund

QUESTION:         Jennifer, we’ve known each other for years, and you’ve been at NewSchools Venture Fund for the past 7 years. Can you talk a little bit about what NewSchools is and what your focus is today?

ANSWER:              Sure. NewSchools is a nonprofit venture philanthropy fund. We describe ourselves as halfway between a foundation and a VC fund. We were started about 14 years ago by John Doerr, Brook Byers and Kim Smith. The idea is that we make grants and investments in education entrepreneurs with the potential for big impact in K12. We have made investments over the years in some of the most disruptive education entrepreneurs like Don Shalvey at Aspire, Alex Grodd at BetterLesson and Bill Jackson at Greatschools.

QUESTION:         You have an unusual background for a venture capitalist, having started as a teacher. Could you share what got you interested in investing?

ANSWER: I taught 8th grade US. history in high school  for 7 years and then went to grad school and studied curriculum and teacher education. As a teacher and grad student, I was really interested in differentiation and personalized learning. I started seeing all the entrepreneurial activity in consumer tech and the other spaces and I thought wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could meld entrepreneurship and education. That’s when I saw Kim Smith speak and realized that it existed. It was called New School, and so I started working at New School right after grad school.

QUESTION:         A lot of people including myself who invest in education have never set foot in a classroom. Can you talk about kind of the perception of investors around education and the reality of going in everyday and teaching 11-year-olds what they need to learn to be successful?

ANSWER:              Your dad was a teacher so you’ve got it in your DNA. I think what investors don’t always understand is that teaching is a lot more difficult than it looks. You think “oh, yeah, I can go in and teach Civil War to a class of thirty-three 14-year-olds,” but that lesson actually has many hours of thoughtful construction behind it.

It still feels very close to me how difficult teaching is, so I really look to find what are the solutions, what kind of problems can we solve right away for teachers. That’s been the foundational pieces of our investing.

QUESTION:         A lot of people say that the best teachers can advance a student a grade and a half and the worst advance them from nothing to half a grade. Do you think technology can change that?

ANSWER:            I guess there are some out there that think that technology can replace the teacher. I don’t think most investors believe that or most people think that can happen. We look for ways to make the teacher’s time more efficient. Right now, the teacher’s job is just overwhelming. Teachers are working weekends, nights. It’s really an intense job, and there is a lot that can be automated, so we’re looking for ways that we can make the teacher’s time more efficiently spent.

Also I think there has been a big shift in the last 20 years towards trying to deliver a more personalized instruction for every kid. This is where teachers intuitively know that each kid needs something different. Any teacher that has been in a classroom learns the first week of teaching that kids are different, and then when you are a parent you really understand how different kids are. So, I think that one of the problems of technology is how can we give the teachers a set of tools to help them differentiate instruction more effectively.

QUESTION:         One teacher and there are 33 students in a room, how do you personalize it?

ANSWER:              Well, I think there are a number of different approaches. We were just talking about blended education, where companies like Educational Elements are helping give teachers a template on how to set up their classroom so that they can more effectively personalize. Educational Elements also provides a system-wide thoughtful approach to integration of technology so there is some standardization across classrooms and throughout the district

A real life example of how personalization happens in the classroom is through using learning stations- where you put kids in groups and create different tracks for all these different student groups. This is a huge amount of work for a teacher and there can be a lot of benefit to using technology to help do this and allow different students to move forward at different paces.

I was just looking at this company Nearpod recently where the kids are on tablets and the teacher from their tablet they can actually put kids in groups and push out different pieces of content to the kids based on their level.

QUESTION:        How important is the tablet to learning? I mean there are thousands of educational apps. People are saying it’s going to change their classroom. How do you think about the tablet and the impact?

ANSWER:            I’m really excited about the potential of the tablet in the classroom. We’ve already seen how beneficial it is to special needs students. To have that sort of direct connection from brain to finger to learning on the tablet is really helpful to special needs kids.

More broadly, I think that the explosion of content and different tools for teachers is very exciting. I remember when I was teaching you got one textbook and taught the history curriculum out of this textbook. Teachers were always really resourceful and going to the library before there was the Internet to find different content.

Today, the tablet is a really convenient function to more easily deliver a lot of content to the students. For example, we invested in this company called Educreations, which turns every teacher into a Khan. They provide a white board on your tablet. You can create a lesson, voice over, bring in photos or images and actually create a lesson on your tablet and then push it out to your students.

QUESTION:         You know, what you’re getting at is a place where the best lecturers per say are going to be able to reach millions of students instead of dozens of students.

ANSWER:            Exactly. Yeah. There is a company called Megastudy that we looked at a long time ago in Korea. The teachers there are rock stars. They’re driving Lamborghinis and reaping financial rewards for being great. And they’ve been given these incredible platforms through technology where they can reach a much wider audience. I don’t know how far we are in the US from using that model, but definitely the best teachers are going to have a larger platform and be able to reach a broader set of students. That’s very exciting.

QUESTION:         Can we take a step back. Can you give just a little background in terms of the current fund you’re investing and what you’re looking for from all the potential educational entrepreneurs out there?

ANSWER:            The Seed Fund seeks out early-stage education technology entrepreneurs focused on K-12 that are going to have a presence within our public schooling system.  Our seed fund builds from what Kim Smith once called “Around-the-Corner” investing, which sought to look ahead and seek what was coming and to seed investments in newer areas.  More and more we’re looking at founding teams with a technical co-founder onboard, but more importantly, an entrepreneur who is scratching their own itch.  Many of our entrepreneurs are trying to solve a problem they experienced as a teacher or student.  For example, Alex Grodd wanted to get his hands on better lesson plans while teaching in Atlanta so he started BetterLesson to do just that.

QUESTION:         Do you think there is room for big publishing and content businesses to emerge or do you think that’ll be a disperse market, with thousands of small publishers and a number of curation tools and platforms to aggregate this content?

ANSWER:            Yeah, that’s a great question. I wish I could answer that one, but it’s a space that we are really looking at carefully and want to cultivate the ecosystem. We don’t want to sort of recreate the oligarchy, the publisher oligarchy online and on tablets.

QUESTION:         So, last question, what other particular themes outside of blended learning that you are pursuing for investment?

ANSWER:            One of the things that we’re really excited about is finding ways to shorten the amount of time that students are spending for core foundational status-based learning, and free up some time in the day and the calendar for students to engage in more immersive, project-based, real world learning.

That’s what I think actually is one of the huge maybe not talked about as much benefits of blended – is it’s not just about kids going online and learning from technology, but it’s like this sort of totally disrupts the school day and helps us rethink how we want to use that time.

You can envision a school day where the students are online in the morning doing the sort of core foundational pieces of learning, and then in the afternoon they’re engaging in collaborative learning, maybe immersed in something in the local community. These skills are going to be so important for kids to be successful in the new economy, things like persistence and grit.

QUESTION:       You’re learning by doing.

ANSWER:            Yeah, exactly.

QUESTION:       You watch the lectures at home and at school you can do things that are more immersive that really enable your growth and character development.

ANSWER:            Well put, yes. Exactly. Basic learning, and students seeing the connection of what they are learning to the real world.

QUESTION:       Thank you Jennifer. It was great having you here today. I appreciate it.

 

Interview with Gunnar Counselman, Founder and CEO of Fidelis Inc.

Both non-profit and for-profit post-secondary institutions are plagued today by an inability to train students to meet workforce needs. Schools need to help students figure out what career options are best for them, adequately prepare students for those careers and then place students into top employers. My first interview is with my friend Gunnar Counselman, the founder and CEO of Fidelis Inc., a company partnering with schools like UCLA and Arizona State to solve this problem for members of the military looking to transition to civilian life. Gunnar is one of the most thoughtful execs in higher education today and our conversation ranged from philosophical debate on the merits of a vocational vs. a liberal education to discussing the billions wasted on military education today to talking about how Fidelis plans to supercharge the educational and career outcomes of its students.

Interview with Gunnar Counselman, CEO of Fidelis

QUESTION:  Can you tell people a little bit about your background and what brought you to start an education company?

ANSWER:      Sure. I came out of the Marine Corp in 2003 and went to Harvard Business School with no real idea of what I wanted to do. A speaker told us you should find something people spend a lot of money on and are unhappy with the results of and see if you can’t do a better job. So, I started thinking about the things that I knew well, which at that point was just national security from my time in the Marine Corp and education from my time in education.

Then I read Clay Christensen’s book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, and it was an epiphany. I thought that if you applied this framework and the structure to education you’d have a much more coherent system. So I wandered down to his office and asked “have you thought about education?” We decided to do some research together and that kind of laid the groundwork for the book Disrupting Class.

QUESTION:  What were the insights that came out of the research for the book?

ANSWER:      It was about modularizing the system and breaking it down into component pieces-  the whole idea that you don’t buy a drill, or you don’t buy a drill bit, you hire the ability to put a hole in the wall. It occurred to me that the job that the system of education is doing for students is often very different than the job that students want done in their lives.

QUESTION:  You’re talking about a very vocational and career outcome-focused  model of education versus a traditional model where the focus is on giving students a well-rounded liberal education.

ANSWER:      I think that a liberal education serves a really important purpose which is to create a common framework for discourse, a common kind of knowledge set that allows people to connect with one another, but if it’s divorced from purpose it disenfranchises the student. If you’re studying Shakespeare and don’t understand that the reason you’re studying Shakespeare is in order to be able to connect with other people for whom that’s important, then it suddenly gets divorced from a reason for you to be there.

QUESTION:  Essentially it feels like you’re saying that studying for studying’s sake is a liberty that’s available to a few, but not something that is wanted by everyone?

ANSWER:      I definitely think that’s true. To me if the people that I want to impress need to know that I’m generally educated in the liberal arts, great. I just need to understand that that’s what I’m doing there. If you believe in the Malcolm Gladwell thing of you have 10,000 hours to become an expert at something, the question before each student should be what is it that you’re going to spend your 10,000 hours on? If you’re intentional about spending that 10,000 hours to develop in the way that you sets you up for what you want to do, that’s great.

QUESTION:  There are a lot of GI benefits for Marines, and it’s been a huge focus for colleges to try to enroll those students. Can you talk about that process of Marine reentry into the work force?

ANSWER:      The problem of military to civilian career transition has been challenging since the first Spartans first came back from Thermopylae.  Every year you have 200,000 folks getting out of the military. Any time you have people leaving an industry and moving to another it’s a really difficult transition – whether that’s leaving Detroit to try to move to another industrial cluster, or leaving aerospace  defense and trying moving to Silicon Valley. Each of these different work communities has very different rules, very different ways of operating. Your network is no longer valuable to you, your reputation is left where you had it, and it just exacerbated within the military because the military industry is so incredibly distinct from everything else.

The way I always put it is that the military does a really tremendous job preparing people, workers, for its workforce and its needs, but its needs are really far removed from the needs of most industries. So the idea of translating your skills is really popular in the press, but it’s not really about translation, it’s about repurposing, and it’s about rebuilding. A lot of stuff you build in the military, if you took somebody like a Steve Jobs or a Reed Hastings and you took them out of their organizations and their clusters where they work and put them into a military unit, that person could be a liability on a submarine or on an aircraft carrier. They wouldn’t know where to begin.

QUESTION:          Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent by the military at traditional schools and schools like University of Phoenix.

ANSWER:      Billions.

QUESTION:  Have any of these programs been effective? What has worked?

ANSWER:    I think that in pockets you find really good education that service members can go take advantage of. I think for me going to HBS was great. I think that there are a lot of really good trade programs that solders can take advantage of. The problem is that no schools have their incentives aligned with solving the military problem.

If less than 1% of your student population is former solders, then you don’t have enough scale there in order to build the kind of things that are necessary for that population versus the rest of the population you’re serving. I think that’s okay, but I think the opportunity is to take that stuff that’s out there that does work and then pull it together in a way that’s uniquely a good fit for this population because they are very homogenous kinds of needs. They’ve had a very similar set of experiences that’s prepared them in similar ways. It’s again about repurposing their experiences and their capabilities for new outcomes.

QUESTION:   You’ve done a lot of this at Fidelis through a technology platform that connects former Marines with the resources they need. Can you talk about as you were thinking about what type of technology platform to develop how you made the decisions you made and what that platform looks like today?

ANSWER:      I’d say the foundational observation is that clarifying objectives is really critical especially for solders and our platform is built around that. You begin every morning with a mission. Specifically, the platform that we built has 4 different major elements.

  1. First is a capabilities portfolio which combines your talents, your personality type, your interests, your knowledge sets, your skill sets, and scores around your network to allow companies to reach into the student population and find the kind of people that they think they are going to make them more competitive.
  2. The advisory network pulls together mentors for that student that help them engage in their path.
  3. The learning application platform allows us to customize learning experiences that kind of fill in the gaps around the core content.
  4. Then finally the objective discovery and objective setting piece. Make sure that everybody is on the same sheet of music in terms of why the students are there. What are they trying to get out of it? That way the whole thing can be personalized to them.

QUESTION:  I think the hardest thing about mentor programs is figuring out a way to have a bond between the mentor and the mentee that is genuine and doesn’t feel forced. Can you talk a little bit about where the mentors are coming from? Are they new to the student, or are they people from their prior lives?

ANSWER:      I think it’s critical that it be a combination of people you’ve known for a long time along with people who are out there working in the areas that you want to work in. Let me address why. I think that your point is right that fit is really difficult because when you set up mentoring programs they are for a very specific purpose, and people who engage in them have different kinds of interests. We recognize that there’s a certain identity that exists between folks in the military, who serve in the military. If you were a counter intelligence officer 5 years ahead of me and now you’re working in the technology cluster, chances are you’d be willing to help me out and vice versa. That’s a piece of how we solve it.

QUESTION:  We haven’t yet spoken to the academic environment itself. Can you talk about school partners you put together and what programs of focus you’re going to launch out of the gate?

ANSWER:      Up until now Fidelis has said the academics are the purview of the school itself. How the class is taught, who the professor is. We’ll do all of the nonacademic pieces from getting the students, to placing the students in the backend, delivering the support infrastructure that the students need to be successful.

The first program we came out of the gait with was a pre-MBA boot camp. It was with UCLA. The intent of the program was to give students preparation prior to starting their MBA program to get them the basics of accounting, the basics of finance, the basics of quantitative analysis, the basics of Excel programming, all kinds of stuff that if you don’t spend 3 or 4 years at McKinsey and Goldman Sachs, and you come in having spent 3 or 4 years in charge of an infantry platoon or driving ships, you just don’t have that foundation.

QUESTION:  And Arizona State is next?

ANSWER:      Yes it is a degree completion program with Arizona State and that’s really the one that we think of as the core Fidelis program. Students take their first 2 years online through us but from the partner university to build general education credits before transferring to the traditional campus. We coach them through to graduation and back into placement with companies.

The thing that we try to do with all of our programs is to create an end-to-end solution where we slot in the appropriate kinds of learning experiences that help the student get ready for the requirements that they’re going to face in the backend.

QUESTION:  It’s an interesting world where big traditional universities are willing to lay out their academic reputation for young startups like Fidelis. Can you talk about the challenges of how you found your partners, and also what were the factors you weighed in terms of choosing the right partners for your Fidelis students?

ANSWER:      It is actually a really interesting world. I didn’t expect to be able to work with colleges of that kind of caliber. It was really surprising that UCs, the University of Texas, The University of Florida, the ASUs of the world would want to work with us given our kind of stage of development and the fact that we are startup. Really for me it all comes down to the people and it all comes down to reputation.

The schools that we’ve chosen to work with we think have great people who are aligned with the mission and have really strong reputations for delivering great educational experiences.

QUESTION:  Can you talk about business now?

ANSWER:      Sure. First, we share tuition with the teaching partner, and I kind of discovered that that was possible by watching what John Katzman had done at 2tor. Prior to seeing 2tor it had never occurred to me that you could build a business where the company does a lot of the heavy lifting, the school does some of the heavy lifting, and you put them together and you have a 2 + 2 = 5 kind of scenario, so the tuition sharing is one aspect of it.

But, because of the end-to-end nature of what we do in order to keep our incentives aligned with the student’s incentives we also have back-end partners and colleges and companies who pay us a transition coaching services fee. That’s the part of the business that time will tell how important that becomes. My theory is that over time that kind of a business model where the organization that you’ve prepared students for pays you for it becomes a bigger and bigger portion of the business.

QUESTION:   What you are talking about has been the holy grail for many students – entering a program and being prepared for a career right out of school?

ANSWER:      Think about this, the unemployment rate of college graduates six months after graduation is somewhere on the order of 50%. It’s mindboggling. It’s a statement about the product market fit between graduates. Over time value migrates the backend as companies become increasingly insistent on people showing up with the skills that they need, and showing up with the capabilities that they need to hit the ground running.

QUESTION:   Flash-forward 10 years. Is the big vision that Fidelis becomes the de facto transition platform for everyone in the military from officers down to enlisted?

ANSWER:      I think so. If you have a brand that faces the students that the students trust, and you have a brand that faces the employers that the employers trust, then you can organize the instruction in the middle to make sure that the students are being prepared in exactly the right ways for the backend.

When you get the framework right, it’s simply… it’s not simple, but it is a matter of bringing in the right instruction at the right time for the right students which is of course like anything easier said than done. Note that what we’ve built is great for the military, but it’s also great for other populations. We’re not worried about those other populations right now, but we do think that there’s a lot of the approach that we’ve used to build what we built that could be applied to a number of other populations.

QUESTION:  How do you think about standing out from the noise? I mean, tens of millions of dollars are spent by schools going out to bases trying to get students to sign up for their programs. As a small startup, how do you differentiate yourself, and what’s your marketing strategy to reach those potential students?

ANSWER:      It’s a great question because there’s a ton of noise. It’s hard to overstate how much noise there is around this population, and frankly how much noise there is around education with 4600 colleges in the country.

I spent a lot of time in the last year building trusted relationships with the chain of command, and I think something that surprises a lot of folks is how little trust the military has and the military establishment has for schools. They have been burned a lot, and so by being kind of very transparent and keeping the kimono completely open and showing them exactly how we do what we do and what end we are going after, we build trust with the machinery of the military, and that machinery from the military refers students.

It’s really going directly after the chain of command within the operating forces. It’s direct like the Marine Corps, “Hey Diddle Diddle, straight up the middle.” The Sergeant Major in charge of the base and the General in charge of the base are two people who are responsible for their men, and they’re the ones who care about their men and their women, so we go straight to them. Show them who we are and what we’re doing, and get referrals because anybody who has ever worked in higher education knows that a referral is worth… if you can get referrals and you can build your business based on referrals you’re going to get better students, you’re going to get more longevity from those students, and you’re going to get better outcomes from those students.

QUESTION:  You’re playing in a highly regulated industry, one that venture capitalists have often until recently been a little loath to play in. Can you talk broadly about the fundraising environment for education startups, especially those that are within the confines of a highly regulated Department of Education environment?

ANSWER:      The funding environment. It has changed tremendously in the last year. I would say that for the last 7 years that I’ve been in this space, it’s been meager and paltry. A few VCs, yourself being one of them, knew the space well enough to know how to recognize good from bad, and how to recognize who could do it and who couldn’t, but for the most part it was just people were like eh, I don’t really… people have been burned in the late 90s. There was a lot of kind of hangover.

In the last year we’ve just seen a lot of renewed interest in this space and a lot of VCs who are like okay, maybe the time is now. Maybe the context has gotten to the point where there are venture scale businesses to be built here, and I think that folks like 2tor, folks like Altius, folks like Gene Wade over at University Now, folks like Burck Smith over at Straighterline have kind of paved the way for renewed interest in this space.

QUESTION:  Finally, stepping away from Fidelis, what’s the single other education-related startup that’s most compelling to you today?

ANSWER:      I really dig what Coursera is doing. I think that they’re a great team. They’ve done something that I didn’t think was possible which was to get the elite universities of the world to engage in educating the masses.

What’s exciting about Coursera is that they have figured out how to break the mold and say okay, one of the best professors in the world is willing to teach Psych 101 and offer his entire course in an online environment. It allows the person on campus or the person who wants to go into that course online in an accredited format to take advantage of that high quality course and fill in the gaps to make sure that it’s an awesome experience for students.

I think things like that, and I think there are a number of others that are talking about finally doing online classes and trying to make those online classes better than what you can get in a traditional university environment, I think that’s really exciting.

QUESTION:  Well, thank you for your time today Gunnar. It was a pleasure speaking with you about Fidelis.

ANSWER:      Thank you sir.

A VC’s Musings on Education & Education CEO Interview Series

I have spent much of my career focused on education – as an executive at one of the early online post-secondary institutions and as a venture capitalist at Maveron. In this blog, I will publish interviews with education pioneers – those entrepreneurs and leaders who are committed to improving America’s education system, from preschool through lifelong adult learning. These interviews will serve as a way to better educate all of us on the challenges and opportunities facing America’s educational system and workforce today.

My interest in education is rooted in discussions around the dinner table when I was a child.  My dad spent over 30 years teaching physical education in urban Detroit. Every day at dinner growing up, my dad would regale my family with stories about children who grew up in situations vastly different than our own. He had kindergardeners who didn’t know the alphabet, were undernourished and ignored at home. At the same time, all around me in Detroit, I heard the constant drumbeat of layoffs for the manufacturing jobs that were the lifeblood of the American middle class.

Now, thirty years later, these problems have come to a head. Middle class manufacturing jobs have dissipated as the US has moved to a knowledge economy. A high school or liberal arts college degree isn’t good enough anymore and America’s workers have a severe mismatch between workforce skills and needs. Of the 50 million new jobs the Bureau for Labor Statistics projects to be created by 2018, 30 million will require recognized postsecondary credentials. But today only 30% of US adults have a college degree.

Our education system has not been nimble in addressing these issues and has tried to simply throw more money against the problem. Although there has been a steady 3.5% inflation adjusted annual increase in education dollars per pupil over the past 100 years,  there has not been a corresponding increases in student achievement. A single teacher acting as a “sage on the stage” remains the primary form of instruction in many K12 schools and colleges today.

But times are quickly a changing- budgets are now shrinking, technology shifts are beginning to alter how education is delivered and America cannot maintain its prosperity without throwing out the educational status quo. Below is a table highlighting the major trends I see that are challenging many of the “holy grails” of the incumbent educational establishment. Each entrepreneur interview will provide more texture around these trends and highlight ways today’s new education entrepreneurs are working to better America’s human capital and national competitiveness. I look forward to sharing this journey with all of you.

Trend New Paradigm Holy Grail
1. The Data Dividend Use of new IT platforms and data analytics measures teacher effectiveness, improves student performance and eliminates waste  Teaching is an art form where quality cannot be measured 
2. Flipping the classroom Watching online lectures at home while doing group exercises, getting tutoring and “homework” in school  The class lecture is the best way to deliver class content
3. Lifelong Learning Continuing education is essential to workers keeping up to date skills  Formal schooling is the only real means to learn new skills
4. The Star Teacher Students learn from the best teachers globally via massively open online courses and lectures  Classroom as a silo – students only get the teacher from their own institution 
5. Appified and Personalized Learning Mobile apps deliver engaging, personalized content. Learners learn in way best for them – video, multimedia, games, etc.  Same content for every learner via physical textbooks
6. Credential Portfolio  Employers evaluate workers based on a credential portfolio – GitHub followers, General Assembly, Lynda.com or Codeacademy course certifications  Degrees and prior career experience are the gateway to the best jobs
7. Disaggregating Educational Institutions K12 and higher ed institutions outsource certain functions (e.g. online learning platform and services) to private market providers  “Not Invented Here” mindset. Everything done in-house