Online Education Is a 'Consumer-Driven Revolution'

Increasing dissatisfaction with public schools was one of four factors that prompted Ron Packard, ’89 to launch K12 Inc., the virtual public school that serves children in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Packard was also motivated by the growing involvement of parents in their children’s education, the emergence of the Internet, and the participation of private firms in education.

“All of a sudden, parents no longer trust the education process,” said Packard. The CEO of K12, he shared his story during the keynote address at Exploring Entrepreneurship: Innovations in the Midwest Education Industry, sponsored by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship, at Gleacher Center on January 29. The sold-out conference drew entrepreneurs, investors, and educators to discuss innovations that are changing education.

Passing the First Test

When Packard founded K12, he first made sure it passed his “entrepreneurship test” for start-ups:

  • What is the value of the product and/or service, and how much will someone pay for it?
  • What is the cost of providing that product or service? “The first answer had better be greater than the second one,” Packard said. “You see a lot of great ideas, but when you at look that cost, it doesn’t justify the value.”
  • Are you the person to launch the start-up?

“If you can answer those three questions correctly, you have the makings of a successful start-up,” he said. “I really believe it’s that simple.”

Technology leading the charge

Technology is guiding education towards numerous changes, Packard said. Among them are:

  • Full-time online schools will become ubiquitous, but will serve only about 5 percent of students.
  • Technology will return to brick-and-mortar schools. “It is the only way to achieve results in scale,” he said.
  • Learning materials will be presented in multiple languages, allowing immediate translation during the process.
  • Increasing money and time will be devoted to effectively engaging students. “There’s no reason courses should not be as engaging as movies or video games,” Packard said. A student’s home and classroom will be totally linked. “You will take the test at school, but be able to work on anything from your Blackberry,” he said. “We do this now.”
  • Instruction will be much more individualized. “How inefficient is it to have 30 kids in a classroom following a synchronous stream of information?” Packard said.
  • A large portion of the college curriculum will be offered online. “There’s no reason it shouldn’t be,” he said. “Many courses are already offered in large rooms or auditoriums with hundreds of or several thousand students.”
  • The “learning efficiency ratio” will be maximized. “That is how much time you spend learning something compared to how much you learn.”

--Phil Rockrohr

Read what panelists said about trends in online education or watch a video of any session from the education conference. When the white paper is developed that includes insights and recommendations from the conference, it will be available from the Polsky Center.