What Does The Google Investment in Renaissance Learning Mean?

Maybe like me, you asked yourself last week, what does the $40 million Google investment in Renaissance Learning mean? There are two implications of the big deal: personalized learning paths are rapidly becoming a reality and the big guys will play a key role in innovation.
Renaissance Learning, valued at $1 billion in the transaction, is best known for Accelerated Reader and STAR assessments. Launched by Judi and Terry Paul in a central Wisconsin basement in 1984, the company is focused on student learning progressions. Three months ago at a Google symposium I heard Chief Academic Officer Gene Kerns describe their aim to provide “insight to teachers on what students are ready to learn.”
On the path to personalized learning, “There are two camps of companies,” according to CEO Jack Lynch, “companies that rely on data analytics to create adaptive sequences, and companies like Renaissance providing insights to teacher who have a more holistic view of student progress.”
Lynch, a veteran of Pearson and Big Chalk, joined Renaissance 15 months ago. He was attracted to the teacher-centric company focus. Like Kerns, Lynch says, “Teachers need to understand what a student knows.”
The company today owns one of the largest anonymized data sets on learning progress. Using this kind of data, teachers can then create personalized learning plans for each student or class.
Big innovators. Startups get all the love, but developing and scaling capabilities often takes capacity; and it often take a big partner to match up with the needs of a big customer.
Renaissance is investing in R&D in student growth percentile (SGP), a growth measure developed by Damian Betebenner of the Center for Assessment (NCIEA) and used by 23 states.
It doesn’t appear that Renaissance has a comprehensive platform strategy, at least not in the way I’ve described next-gen platforms. Lynch said, “the sequencing of skills is really the platform.” He noted the company is content agnostic and is linking to widely used open content sources.
Kerns is excited about the potential of combining multiple measures of progress for every student every day–many of them embedded in learning experiences. “We’re working on some new projects to do just this – platforms to collect additional data from more embedded/formative experiences and visual reporting (dashboard) to bring that all together in a usable form for educators.”
Google for Education continues to expand its offering of tools and programs for education. Renaissance initiated discussions with Google began last summer. Watch for a back to school announcement of new jointly developed capabilities.

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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1 Comment

Mike Olson

I was one of the students in the first class Mrs. Paul piloted Accelerated Reader with at St. Mary's elementary school in Wisconsin Rapids, WI. As kids we loved it; it made reading a game in the era of Pong, Atari, & ColecoVision. Now as an adult it is awesome and inspiring to see a tech company that was created in a sleepy, paper mill town in Central Wisconsin succeed on the big stage. Go Badgers!

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