By Carolyn Gray Anderson
“Educational technology” often makes headlines when K-12 schools fail to implement computer learning in the classroom or when distance learning programs don’t deliver what they promise. That said, advances in technology have created a more global economy that needs a globally minded workforce. Lifelong learning is, increasingly, the key to adapting to career demands well after classroom instruction has ended for many professionals and it’s here that such technology is essential.
Impact@Anderson and the Easton Technology Management Center recently invited leaders in EdTech to discuss their efforts to bring the global education landscape into the 21st century. Dean Judy Olian moderated the panel, which included Michael King (’96), VP and general manager of global education industry at IBM; Deborah Quazzo, founder and partner of GSV Advisors and GSV Acceleration; Kirk Werner, director of content production and instructional design at LinkedIn and Lynda.com; and Kenny Berlin (’11), CEO and co-founder of the 12Twenty career services software platform.
Panel members were unanimous in their optimism about the future of technological innovations in learning, including in public schools. IBM’s King and GSV’s Quazzo named districts in the U.S. that are making strides — D.C., Atlanta, New Orleans. And Werner and Berlin cited the unprecedented access to information as the key to more effective teaching and learning. Werner, a veteran of popular online tutorial platform Lynda.com — which was acquired last year for $1.5 billion by LinkedIn, which was in its turn acquired by Microsoft for just over $26 billion — said this accelerated spread of information vastly expands the traditional classroom and the potential for both study and instruction.
Berlin singled out the availability of data — and, more to the point, what data tells us — as a major driver of change because it enables people to prepare better for careers by directing their studies and the development of crucial soft skills early in their track. “The infrastructural backbone of many universities is 20 years behind how other organizations do things,” said Berlin, whose company collects data for more than 200 programs across 75 universities around the world.
Used by staff in Anderson’s Parker Career Services Center, the 12Twenty software integrates on-campus recruiting, employer relationship management and student job tracking in a single system, revealing industry and salary statistics to guide job searches and negotiation. This can help diminish gender disparity in compensation packages, among other positive outcomes. Berlin said that ever since Parker started using 12Twenty’s employment analytics, students’ salaries have gone up seven percent a year.
The entire panel acknowledged persistent infrastructural and cultural impediments to ed tech, among them a dearth of materials to teach instructors how to use software and platforms, ill-equipped classrooms and ingrained practices of using sticks instead of carrots to influence performance. “A successful district views ed tech as a process, not a product,” said King.
Equipping library systems with ed tech, said Werner, “gets it into the hands of just about anyone. “Most schools have base level technology,” he said. “After you leave school is when the digital divide really kicks in.” To that end, LinkedIn’s Week of Learning provides free courses like test prep to anyone for one week. Were libraries to subscribe more widely to online learning, access for populations traditionally deprived of educational advantages would expand.
What’s lacking more than funding, it seems, is a robust innovation structure to reduce achievement gaps. As King explained, philanthropy is problematic in the sector because “it can’t be scaled, there’s no business model for it.”
Quazzo, whose company connects education entrepreneurs and growth companies with strategic investors and partners, offered that, historically, education is “a problematic investment sector.” She said GSV is “adamantly not an impact fund. To legitimize the education sector, it has to stand on its own as an investment proposition. People define impact investments as taking longer, not delivering as much. We are careful with the terminology because it doesn’t do the investment the service it deserves. We explain how every investment impacts our funders.”
If, as King said, “education is the precursor industry to solving every problem on the planet,” it will pay to convince private funders of the returns. As for the place of an MBA in the industry, Anderson alumnus King stressed again the need for viable business models where there currently don’t exist any. “It’s hard to get investments, you need to know how to persuade, make a solid business case. Anderson gave me tools to be successful.”
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