5 Ideas Likely to Make a Big Impact

International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, hosted an interesting and very international gathering in San Francisco (see my recap of #IFCeducation).  Like SXSWedu (where I met 110 interesting people), I spent most of the time in the lobby talking to investors and edupreneurs about what’s next. Matt Greenfield from education venture fund Rethink Education (and my co-author on a recent paper on Boosting Impact) joined me for most of these discussions.
The first three ideas are all about powering lifelong learning relationships. One version is linked to professional schools in job clusters with formal credentialing and continuing education requirements (law, medicine, accounting, engineering).  Functionality would be a mixture of 2U, Bloomboard, and AlumniMagnet featuring:

  • alumni profiles and individual learning plans;
  • recommendation engine that pushes learning opportunities to alumni;
  • synchronous (e.g., webinars) and asynch (e.g., videos) learning opportunities;
  • peer learning opportunities (e.g., professional learning communities); and
  • market signaling system (portfolio and micro-credentialing or badging).

The learning experiences offered across these networks would be informed by dynamic competency maps of job clusters, developments in new technology, and research results.
Let’s say a new line of stents proves useful for carotid endarterectomies, a med school would blast its list of 1,500 cardiologist alumni with a research summary, video demonstration, a webinar opportunity, and an online discussion.  It’s quite possible that one of the top manufacturers of coronary stents would be interested in sponsoring the eblast and webinar.
The second opportunity is powering lifelong learning in more dynamic job clusters.  As Dennis Yang of Udemy explains, three factors will determine who will own the lifelong learning relationship: regulation, specialization, and dynamism.
In business and technology, Yang said, “There is tremendous amount of new material that is becoming necessary for professionals.” Take marketing professionals, if you have been out of school for 10 years, you have witnessed the birth and rise of Facebook, Twitter, iOS, Android, etc. – all platforms that require new expertise.
In business, Udemy for associations has a head start. In tech and design General Assembly is an early leader.
The third big idea is, as Reid Hoffman said, Disrupting the Diploma with degree replacement market signaling system. Individuals could share their demonstrated capabilities and work experiences on a supped up version of Linkedin. It could include micro assessments, verification strategies, transcript/badge management, and a great portfolio.
A market signaling system like this would open up many learning pathways—some updated formal degree granting, some work-based apprentice programs, and some blended experiences.  Karen Cator and I made the case that a system like this could support competency-based teacher preparation.  On Monday, the World Bank team was discussing the same sort of micro-credentialing strategy for preschool teachers in Africa.
The fourth idea to boost learning at scale is a smart desktop. Matt and I are still morning the loss of iGoogle—but that was just a dumb bookmarking system. Why isn’t there a smart browser plug-in that monitors searches and dynamically surfaces news that I really want to see?  Add the influence of a personal learning plan and a smart desktop would make my 5am power hour two or three times as productive.
The fifth idea, a popular topic at IFC, is job and life skills training. As reported last year, a survey of chief executives said work ethic is the clear priority—not something you can teach over a summer.  The next four priorities describe the new work setting—teamwork, decision-making, critical thinking, and computer literacy. Fullbridge and Koru are early entrants, but since few formal degree programs pay any attention to real employability skills, the market is wide open.
Other hallways chats surfaced:

  • white labeled online higher education learning services (like Pearson’s Embanet discussed here) for developing economies;
  • affordable private school networks;
  • game-based learning and job training; and
  • mobile literacy development apps.

The great thing about the IFC audience is the unusual commitment to impact and entrepreneurship.
Udemy is a Learn Capital portfolio company where Tom Vander Ark is a partner. 

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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