I’m speaking at EduVentures in San Francisco this morning.  Here’s my notes.


Today I am circumspect about the education industry.  The opportunity for scale and impact has never been greater, but we face particular and unique challenges. In any sector, growing a new business or teaching a big business to innovate are challenges.  But US education isn’t a market, in any traditional sense, it’s a complicated (predominantly) public delivery system.

Growing a new business requires getting the right team focused on the right products, services, and customers.  That’s particularly a challenge in education especially in the middle of the worst fiscal crisis in recent history.  I live and watch this challenge every day in the venture space.

We are living through, and in many respects leading, the historic shift to personal digital learning.  The fact that anyone on the planet with access to broadband can learning almost anything is an important threshold in human history.  But this phase change from print to digital and from age cohorts to individual learners will be uneven and unusual from city to city and state to state.

The handful of big companies that we used to think of as textbook publishers are attempting to navigate this transition—and doing so thoughtfully.  A decade from now a school board near you will still be adopting print.  But it’s also true that the school down the street will likely have kids using tablets this fall.  Before 2020 they will be teaching an HBS case about how complicated Disrupting Class proved to be.

Here’s five market drivers and five forces shaping the opportunity set.


Learning Market Drivers

  1. Emerging markets
  2. Tablets and apps
  3. Open content
  4. Web services
  5. New investors


US Market Shapers

  1. Core-aligned RttT-funded assessment: the new frame
  2. Philanthropy: coordinated & constructed initiatives
  3. Online learning growing by 50% annually
  4. States will get more important with a weak ESEA
  5. Performance analytics and learner profiles


Private enterprise will play a critical role in producing and scaling learning innovations that will help boost US achievement levels and reach the next billion young people worldwide.

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Tom Vander Ark is author of Difference Making at the Heart of Learning, The Power of Place, Better Together, Smart Parents, Smart Cities and Getting Smart. He is co-founder of Getting Smart and serves on the boards of Education Board Partners, 4.0 Schools, Digital Learning Institute, Latinx Education Collaborative, Mastery Transcript Consortium and eduInnovation. Follow Tom on Twitter, @tvanderark.


  1. Sorry, I’m a little thick. Can you clarify what distinguishes the drivers from the shakers? I thought maybe the former create new growth while the latter constrain it, but I’m not sure. The presence of “Open Content” in drivers and “online learning growing by 50%” muddle the picture for me.

    • I was referring to drivers as forces increasing demand and innovation. By shapers, I meant forces that will frame or influence the contours of the market and the focus of participants. You’re probably right, online learning should probably be in the first list.

    • Was just trying to separate stuff that is expanded the market from the factors shaping its contours. Online Learning probably goes in both categories.


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