Ten Problems Edupreneurs Must Solve

There have been several successful attempts at creating solutions in the fragmented pieces of the education marketplace. We’ve seen progress in both informal and formal learning, but challenges remain. Here are ten problems edupreneurs need to solve in K-12:
1. Displacement marketing: curriculum and related services accounts for about 5% of the $600b sector. Carving out a niche in this space usually requires school districts to stop doing something else. While the total spend will be flat for a while, the teaching and learning tools space should double as percentage so it will be profitable if you get your displacement story right.
2. Prove freemium learning works. Free tools are great, but they eventually get monetized by displacing other services. School district purchasing policies don’t lend themselves to JIT micro-transactions.
3. The long tech-for-labor trade. Like other sectors, education will slowing displace a small percentage of labor with productivity saving technology—but it will be a struggle.
4. Partnering for comprehensive solutions. There are lots of cool tools, but schools have a tough time gluing parts together. Next gen learning platforms that deliver solutions instead of gadgets will probably take public/private partnerships and lots of vendor relationships. You can add the interoperability challenge to this list.
5. District slog. Viral freemium solutions are an interesting back door alternative to the district sales slog, but folks that win in the institutional space will need to build reliable sales engines (or, like virtual charters, entirely new entry points).
6. Disaggregating content. The shift from courses and textbooks to linked learning objects will require board adoption of metatagging and digital rights management standards.
7. Certifying learning. Personalized learning doesn’t always fit will into Carnegie unit 180 hour courses. New ways to certify learning in K-12 and post secondary should unleash creative solutions.
8. Solving access. Lots of cool ideas get squashed because of corner cases regarding access and security.
9. Overcoming bias. Education hates for-profit enterprise—the vitriol is astounding and stronger than in any other public delivery system.
10. Early capital. While it’s encouraging that 150 investors will attend the Berkery Noyes Venture Capital summit in NYC next month, there still aren’t many investors (venture capital or venture philanthropy) that will go early.
Revolution Learning is an early stage investor working on many of these problems. We incubated City Prep to help communities develop or adopt school formats that blend online and onsite learning.
We launched EdReformer.com, an online community for edupreneurs, hoping it will serve as a catalyst for investment and talent in learning innovation. Solving the problems above will result in great educational impact and great financial returns.

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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