The Knewton Blog

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“Unlocking Education”: Ed Tech’s Growing Role

Posted in Ed Tech on September 7, 2012 by

In the world of education, technology is finally taking center stage.

For decades, education watched as tech transformed other industries — retail, entertainment, information, advertising. Now, it’s our turn.

All of the evidence of disruption is there. An online education company just attracted $80 million dollars in funding. Stanford announced a Vice Provost for Online Learning. The world is going crazy for MOOCs. Media companies are diving into education, led by executives who “see a way to capitalize on the changes that technology is bringing into classrooms.”

Perhaps most significantly, attitudes around education have changed. “People expect to be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever they want to,” notes the 2012 Horizon Report for Higher Education, which identifies emerging educational technologies and trends.

Here at Knewton, we’ve experienced the evolution of the edtech industry firsthand. When Jose Ferreira founded the company back in 2008, no one was talking about adaptive learning — because no one knew what adaptive learning was. Now, the term “adaptive learning” is in danger of becoming an over-used buzzword.

Similarly, in 2011, we were the first education company ever to be selected by the World Economic Forum as a Technology Pioneer — but we certainly weren’t the last. Both the 2012 and 2013 classes of Technology Pioneers have contained education companies (Tabula Digita and MindCandy, respectively).

This year, the World Economic Forum further recognized the important role that tech will play in transforming the education landscape, by appointing two edtech leaders to its Global Agenda Council on Education and Skills, which raises “global awareness about the need to improve education systems, highlighting new opportunities in learning and identifying the relevance of the skills gap.”

Jose, our Founder and CEO, and Chip Paucek, the Co-Founder and CEO of 2tor, will join sixteen other education leaders from the public and private sectors, including Jared Cohon, President of Carnegie Mellon University; Tae Yoo, Trustee for Cisco Foundation; Masako Egawa, Executive Vice President of the University of Tokyo; and Abdulla Bin Ali Al Thani, President of Hamid bin Khalifa University.

Earlier this year, Jose outlined his vision for the future of education in the above video, produced by the WEF. As Jose says in the video, now is the time for change. “Education is very slow to innovate but when it does two things happen: there’s a Cambrian explosion of increased access and improved quality simultaneously. I believe that we’re on the verge of the next great jump.

“It could well be that the person who cures breast cancer is growing up in some Cambodian fishing village and will never be discovered. Solving education is not just solving education. If you care about AIDS, if you care about poverty in the inner city, if you care about the environment — whatever you care about, you care about education. It is the ultimate gateway problem.”

Knewton’s goal as a company is to personalize education. But our ultimate vision is to work with stakeholders across the education industry to solve the access problem for the human race once and for all. Only 22% of the world finishes high school; only 55% finishes sixth grade. Working to prevent this tragedy, and others like it, is what drives us every day, and what makes forums like the Global Agenda Council so important.

There are a huge number of exciting innovations happening in education right now. New York City alone is brimming with edtech startups and plans for reform. With no shortage of ideas, the key to success, it seems clear, will be collaboration — between teachers, students, institutions, companies, governments, and others — in order to create student-centered, scalable solutions that improve educational opportunities for every single learner. All of us here at Knewton are excited to do our part.