Digital Learning Q&A

A consultant asked me questions about digital learning today.   Here’s a few of the Q&As:
What categories are attracting investment?
Since forming Learn Capital two years ago, the amount and quality of deal flow has increased substantially and so has the number of venture firms willing to consider an education deal, especially if it doesn’t engage the formal public education system.
Platforms with potential network effects seem to be what attracts the most attention; e.g., Union Square investment in Edmodo; Atlas, Benchmark, and Integral investment in Grockit, and FirstMark investment in Knewton.
What do you mean by learning platform? Is that a learning management system?
Learning platforms are what will replace learning management systems: digital content libraries on a widget-rich social layer with comprehensive learner profiles, smart recommendation engines, and aligned services.
There are five groups that think they have a shot at being one of the big learning platforms of the future:

  1. *Updated and new LMSs including BrainHoney, Sky, iQ-ity, Pinnacle, Fronter
  2. *Adaptive content providers like Dreambox
  3. *Service providers including Wireless Generation
  4. *Comprehensive platforms including Time to Know (and soon News Corp)
  5. *Social learning platforms like Edmodo (a LearnCapital company)

What about content?
Despite the enormous potential to boost global learning, the investment in engaging and adaptive content remains relatively light. Content developers, publishers, and online learning providers say that buyers remain more price rather than quality sensitive.  Development of open education resources (OER) can benefit learners but further dampens investment.
Will the content investment climate change?
The shift to digital learning and increasing pressure for results will gradually shift the focus from price to quality.
Despite flat budgets during the next decade, the $25b U.S. instructional materials and related technologies (textbook, testing, tutoring) segment will double in size; most schools will go 1:1/high access, print purchases will shift to digital, and most testing will go online.
The pivot to personal digital learning will provide about $20b in content spending in the US and at least double that internationally, more if you include consumer and informal learning.
What will the big breakthroughs be?
Personal digital learning will improve productivity by queuing customized learning experiences, boosting time on task, and increasing the ability of students to work independently.  Some boring data infrastructure stuff like meta-tagging and content conventions (i.e., the edu-equivalent of the song and the album in iTunes) will be fundamental to building comprehensive student profiles and learning more about student motivation; they will pave the way for smart recommendation engines (i.e., the iTunes Genius for education) will be the killer app.

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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