Why Online Learning Is Changing Education

Published on January 29, 2010

Over the next 10 years, products like PowerPoint will die and be replaced by more advanced strategies that use new technologies, said Brian Knudson, founder and CEO of NogginLabs.

“We are past the ROI of e-learning. Everybody knows that online learning has a basic expense savings in travel with large organizations, especially global organizations,”said Knudson.

He was among experts who examined trends in online education at Exploring Entrepreneurship: Innovations in the Midwest Education Industry, sponsored by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship, on January 29 at Gleacher Center. The sold-out conference drew entrepreneurs, investors, and educators to discuss innovations that are changing education. Ron Packard, ’89, CEO of the virtual public school K12, was among featured speakers.

Existing schools and online learning
Other key changes in education in the next 10 years will be the emergence of hybrids of traditional brick-and-mortar schools and online learning, public-private partnerships that meet education’s unique combination of technical and capital needs, and the growth of “microschools,” said Steven Guttentag, chief education officer for Connections Academy.

“Looking 10 years out, which way will online learning go?” Guttentag said. “Are there going to be 50 million schools meeting the needs of each student or one big school? I asked officials in the [U.S.] Department of Education recently if they planned to open a school. They laughed, but they could do it. You don’t need 3,000 to 4,000 kids anymore to start a high school. I think you’re going to see schools organized around themes, sports, museums, locations, or whatever. Even with five or eight kids, you can have a full range of courses.”

Executives at Grockit, which provides online test preparation and collaborative learning, said the challenge is educating people about the paradigm of peer-to-peer learning. “In any classroom, the number-one resource any student has is his or her peers,” said Farb Nivi, founder and CEO. “We removed that model from education when we industrialized it 100 years ago, going from single-room schoolhouses to mass education factories.”

Unfortunately, he said, most people do not use the web to find study groups for the GMAT, for example; instead, the search for possible GMAT questions. “Their world view is that you don’t look for a peer to study with. You work on stuff on your own or with an expert. But when our clients leave Grockit, what they say they liked the most is working with other people. We have to change people’s minds to view peer-to-peer learning as a primary mode of learning, or a fun way to keep kids engaged."

Cell phones in the classroom?
A key barrier the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation battles is the perception that using technology in the classroom is a “silver bullet,” or the answer to all education problems, said education program officer Andrea Foggy-Paxton. “In reality, technology provides a couple of key solutions, including is the notion of personalization, interactivity, and engagement. Technology can address students who have a particular interest in learning styles or a particular pace at which they learn. It does not replace the teacher or instructor, but it is an enabler or a tool.”

The public expects teachers to be able to provide feedback showing how technology improves academic performance, she said. “They must convey how this tool translates to effective use,” Foggy-Paxton said. “It’s almost like a communications strategy: how do you get the public to buy into the fact that kids are using mobile devices to collect data, not texting each other about what they’re going to do Friday night? There are some great examples across the country of how teachers and students are incorporating technology in the classroom in an effective, productive way.”

Linda Darragh, director of entrepreneurship programs at the Polsky Center and clinical associate professor of entrepreneurship, said, “Incorporating innovation in the education industry is not only advancing the growth of this industry, but also providing our youth with more opportunities for success. This conference highlighted some of the successful examples of innovators who are changing the face of education in this state and in the nation.”

--Phil Rockrohr

Read about Packard’s keynote speech 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.