The 3×5 Learning Revolution

Twenty years after technology began transforming every other sector, there is finally enough movement on a sufficient number of fronts—15 to be precise—that, despite resilience, everything will change.   New and better learning options are inevitable, but progress will be uneven by state/country and leadership dependent.
The 5 Drivers. These Web 2.0 forces are benefiting the learning sector, emerging economies, as well as every other sector:
• More broadband: increasingly ubiquitous high speed Internet access is enabling a world of engaging content including video, multiplayer games, simulations, and video conferencing.
• Cheap access devices: netbooks, tablets, and smart phones have dropped below the $100 per year ownership level enabling one-to-one computing solutions.
• Powerful application development platforms: rapid application development and viral adoption have radically reduced cost and increased speed of bringing solutions to market.
• Adaptive content: personalized news (iGoogle), networks (Facebook), purchasing (Amazon), and virtual environments (World of Warcraft) have created a ‘my way’ mindset that will eventually eliminate the common slog through print.
• Platforms: Apple’s iPhone illustrates the elegant bundling of an application, purchasing, and delivery platform.
The 5 Shifts. Learning is being transformed by five complementary changes:
• Age cohorts to individual learners: the old model of grouping student by age and teaching them all the same stuff in the same way is slowing giving way to individualized instruction and progress.
• Textbooks to digital content: print is slowing giving way to digital content as access improves
• Sequential to adaptive: the one way slog through flat content is giving way to customized learning where students move at their own pace and learn in a mode most productive for them.
• Annual tests to instant feedback: like games, digital learning provides instant performance feedback and motivational reward mechanisms.
• Institutions to networks: purpose-built learning networks are replacing and partnering with schools that evolved over time.
The 5 Contexts. It’s different this time, really:
• Global markets: online learning applications can quickly be adopted worldwide making investment more attractive in cross border opportunities.
• Social networks: the viral adoption of non-institutional connections has changed how we interact and communicate and is changing how we learn.
• Emerging economies: The drive to expand educational access to a billion underserved youth is creating an appetite for learning solutions.
• Financial pressure: a lingering recession and crowding-out effects of health care are finally raising productivity questions—can students learn more faster and cheaper?
• Digital natives: new teachers never lived without the Internet and share their student’s distaste for the powered-down 1950 classroom; both quickly adopt new technology and invent uses on the fly.
The coalescence of these 15 forces produced promising new business models including “freemium,” a Fred Wilson term for viral adoption of free capabilities with incentives for subscribing or purchasing premium services.
Technology drivers, shifts in delivery, emerging context variables, and new business models are attracting the one thing that matters most to innovation and scale—money. While there is still a dearth of government and foundation investment in learning research and development, the private sector is finally stepping in. The education market has been so unattractive for so long that for the least few decades there have been few venture-backed startups and, with the exception of career colleges, little growth capital has been aimed at learning. Global markets and consumer learning have, in particular, spurred investment leading. There is finally gas in the tank education entrepreneurs.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Jennifer Job

I agree that these elements seem to be the "perfect storm" for finally moving ed tech forward. New research that shows online networking is not harmful to adolescents, but rather just as productive as f2f, should help parents and teachers get on board as well. So how will the role of the school building and system be transformed? Will we moved toward more fluid scheduling, with teachers free to mentor more? I hope so.


Tom Vander Ark

Combo of 1) transformed existing schools (eg Grand Rapids going all blended), 2) gradual adoption of online courses and tools, and 3) new models/options (ie virtual schools, blended charters, etc).
And, I didn't even mention ARRA and Common Core--both big levers that will promote new employment bargain, better data platforms, and a few more charters. Should be an interesting decade in the US and internationally.


Excellent article!! Those of us using virtual schools to educate children are seeing great benefits despite the resistance. Training for teachers is going to have to change as technology changes education...and those willing to embrace the changes will be more likely to be employed in the future!


Tom Vander Ark

yes, the learning employment landscape is become more varied/interesting and those interested in inventing the future of learning have a world of opportunity.

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