Attendees at the annual EDVentures conference, held here this week by the Education Industry Association, learned how gaming technologies are transforming learning, what educational technology investors are searching for, and how the Common Core State Standards will shape the work of companies operating in the K-12 market in coming years.
The three-day event drew more than 125 businesses that work with schools, who came to glean whatever insights they could about the changing needs of school systems.
One of the speakers at the event, Michael Horn, the education executive director of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, described the pressures that companies doing business with schools face, and said they have three options for selling their products and services to schools.
One is to help schools solve “old problems in the old system.” Or, businesses can offer solutions to a hybrid, blended-learning model of education that keeps some of the old approaches, while incorporating new, online components. The third option is to sell into a disruptive, innovative education model, by offering solutions like blended-learning credit-recovery courses for dropouts or STEM courses in smaller schools that lack the resources to develop them on their own.
Another speaker explained the common core standards, and how their implementation opens avenues for entrepreneurs to develop new products. “I see a big opportunity in modular delivery of [compliant] materials,” said Chris Minnich, executive director, Council of Chief State School Officers. He also promoted the idea of teachers being given the authority to make purchasing decisions in the selection of these materials. “If I were superintendent of a school district, I’d give my teachers an opportunity to buy things,” he said, acknowledging that “I could see superintendents cringing as I say that.”
Some of the panel discussions at the conference focused on the shifts playing out in school, such as the opportunities that education-focused venture capitalists and other funders see in education.
“A lot of money has gone into education-related venture capital lately, but I argue it’s going all the wrong places. It’s not going to companies that sell to schools, school districts, or colleges,” said Matt Greenfield, managing partner of Rethink Education, a group of investors with experience in educational technology. In fact, selling to institutions is “considered ‘uncool’ in the venture world,” he said. Rather, the funders are focusing on direct-to-consumer sales.
“It seems kind of shocking that there are so few people interested in [investing in] companies that actually have a chance to make money, have impact and change the world,” said Greenfield, who explained that his firm tries to invest in companies that have the potential to bring significant changes to schools.
Another keynote speaker was Kerri Briggs, director of education reform at the George W. Bush Institute. She challenged the industry leaders to delve into data for information on how their companies can help improve student performance.
This version has been updated with additional details.