I had the opportunity to speak to Imagine K12‘s 2nd cohort today on how to approach marketing/distribution in edtech, which for me centers around building community, empowering product evangelists and engaging teachers/parents to help share your story. I’m happy to share my slides and would love to hear from anyone who has had particular success engaging with their user community to grow their brand and user base. What have you found are the best strategies for reaching educators and parents in this highly fragmented environment?
As part of Pearson’s recent efforts to make things more open and interactive they hosted an event with a diverse panel of folks attempting to discuss the “Future of Education- Learn Anything, Anytime, Anyplace through Informal Learning.” The moderator, Leonard Medlock, a fellow Stanford Ed Alum (LDT ’11) and current edSurge contributor, defined informal learning as learning that is “learner driven, flexible and not restricted to time or place.” The ambitious topic and my support for edSurge attracted me to the event but I have to say I was pretty disappointed, mainly due to the narrowly defined notion of ‘anyplace.’ For me, the potential for technology to impact education now more than ever before is the ability for it to level the playing field and ideally create environments for all learners to have access to the highest quality content, anytime and anyplace.
However, the general message from the panelists was that ‘anyplace‘ means wherever people already have access to devices and internet connectivity, as well as exposure to a culture of self-driven learning. Beyond that, it is really quite shocking how little people think or talk about getting these products to communities that need it the most. Credit to Sifteo co-founder, David Merrill who shared a story of donating Sifteo cubes to a local San Francisco school, but sadly no broader vision for how to scale those efforts. At the end of the day, I understand that they are a business driven by the need for sustainability, but then can you really say you’re representing a movement to provide learning opportunities for anyone, anytime and anyplace?
Udemy founder, Gagan Biyani, strongly stated that students either need to have access to really high quality schools or parents or they don’t have a chance to be successful within the current system. While this is probably true (and lead to a lively conversation about what constitutes high quality schools and teachers), I thought the focus of this particular event was to get the best and brightest people thinking about solutions to help all learners, anytime and anyplace, through informal settings outside the current dysfunctional school system. It is much easier to create informal learning options for kids who are fortunate enough to attend good schools and/or have good parents. Many of those learners are already empowered to take control of their education and really take advantage of learning anything, anytime, anyplace. But isn’t limiting the conversation to those populations such a narrow way to discuss the future of education and informal learning?
I think the bigger challenge around the future of education is making learning anything, anytime, anyplace a reality for all students. This goes beyond distributing devices, which we saw clearly from the crash and burn of the OLPC program, and really extends to creating environments where people are empowered and motivated to learn. Brad Feld put it well in his blog post just today that “you can’t motivate people, you can only create a context in which people are motivated.” For me, creating these environments where people are motivated is the true challenge that we must tackle in thinking about the future of education and I’d love to find a community and go to events where people are talking and thinking about this broader issue.
Overall, the individual panelists are bright, inspiring and passionate entrepreneurs and the event attracted an interesting group of people. So, my biggest piece of feedback is directly to Pearson and the title of the event. Can you really claim to be fostering a conversation around the ‘Future of Education,’ focused on informal learning that can happen anyplace if that doesn’t include a large portion of the population that needs these services the most? While I know there isn’t a purely technical solution to creating motivating learning environments, I believe that technology can and will play a big role in helping people reaching their learning goals and I hope the tech community will embrace a broader definition of the future of education and what it means to truly make their products available anytime and anyplace.
Demo Days can be pretty exhausting experiences of information overload as you try to capture the energy of the various pitches & teams (YC has 65 this round) while chatting with old and new connections. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the StartX event last night, which began with quick pitches from their 9 startups followed by dinner and plenty of time to speak with the teams and others in the room directly.
For me, the most impressive aspect of the event was the diversity in the room, from the teams to the investors to alumni. More than enough has been said about ethnic and gender diversity in Silicon Valley, and I don’t wish to add to any of the complaints. I’d much rather focus on the solution and I believe that StartX exemplifies some of the progress that we need by selecting, supporting and launching a diverse group of energetic and brilliant entrepreneurs. Almost 50% (4 of the 9 teams) had female co-founders, as well as representation from several degree programs (not just CS) and age groups. With a mission focused on developing founders through experiential education, I believe recruiting a diverse cohort deeply improves the StartX experience for all and hopefully inspires increasingly diverse applicants in the future. In furthering that inspiration, I spoke with several of the female entrepreneurs about presenting to and mentoring programs that help encourage young girls to explore STEM fields and opportunities, such as the Technovation Challenge.
For anyone trying something new it is vitally important and deeply motivating to see people like you creating opportunities and success for themselves. (This is definitely true for first-generation college bound students and I imagine it’s the same for first-time entrepreneurs –it helps if someone is blazing the trail with you.) I’m thrilled with the role StartX is playing and am anxious to see how they will scale this to other universities and communities in the years to come. Just Start It!
As a follow up to my recent post on the Top Edu Tweetters, I’ve created an overview guide of the most popular edu-related chats and how to easily join those conversations. If you’re new to Twitter chats, I recommend some tools that make it easy to manage those conversation streams. You may want to start tomorrow, Wed Feb 8th, with EdSurge’s inaugural #esinstruct Twitter chat on the best tools, tips and techniques for language learning. I’m always looking for ways to connect educators and edtech entrepreneurs so I’d love to hear your feedback on participation and outcomes from these discussions.
Lately, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time thinking about the best way to connect tech-savvy teachers with some of the amazing teams and products I’ve encountered during my exploration of the intersection of education and technology. Many conversations have lead me to Twitter and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard- “Teachers love Twitter!” That’s great. I’m a big fan too, but it has been a challenge figuring out who to follow and which conversations to join to easily get a sense of what’s going on in this space without getting sucked into the Twitterverse for hours on end. To help, I’ve created this list of Top Edu Tweetters that I’ve found most inspiring and informative. I’d love to hear who your favorites are… is there anyone I should add to this group? Is there a particular list that you’ve found interesting?
Also, stay tuned for post outlining the top edu related #chats and how best to participate.