We are living through an uninspiring policy environment and disastrously bad economy but it feels like the beginning of something extraordinary.   Fareed’s interview with Walter Isaacson on Sunday made me think about periods in history where a confluence of forces create extraordinary events and lift unlikely heroes. I think we’re early in such a period.

The shift to personal digital learning is one of the top trends reshaping life on the planet.  Inspired by informal learning and engaging apps, and powered by cheap devices and expanding broadband, new online and blended strategies for learning are sweeping the globe.  The rise in global demand for learning powered, in part, by a gradual doubling of investment in education by India and China.

The new normal economy forcing us all to reconsider how we run schools.  The opportunity to extend learning and operate on thinner budgets is causing school and system heads to consider blended options.  Tools are still clunky and don’t work together as well as they should.  Examples are few but promising.  But the promise is clear and the economy doesn’t give us much time dally.

An extraordinary startup culture driven by mission-driven talent and new investment (philanthropic and return seeking) is sweeping the country.  It started in metro DC a decade ago with online learning companies, but the Bay Area is clearly the headquarters of the global learning revolution today.  New York, Boston, Austin, and Seattle are all important second tier startup cities.  But we’re also seeing great companies springing up in unlikely places like St. Louis and programs like Mind Trust boosting education entrepreneurship in Indianapolis.  I think we’re at the beginning of something extraordinary.

I’m in New York this week for a book chat at Wireless Generation. I’ll visit the NYC iZone and Kunskapsskolan, the personalized Swedish school network that opened a charter school this year.  I’ll also visit friends at General Assembly,  a terrific incubator with a great learning program (skip B school, start a company, and learn what you need JIT).

There’s a learning revolution underway–it won’t be quick, but it will change everything.


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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.


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