Saturday, November 2, 2013

Education Technology Panel

The EdTech panel kicked off this morning featuring our speakers:

Rosa Birch, Head of Policy Programmes EMEA at Facebook
John Richards, Founder and President of Consulting Services for Education
Steven Syverud, Business Development at Coursera
Lynda Weinman, Cofounder and Executive Chair at

The panel was moderated by Deborah Quazzo, Founder and Managing Partner at GSV Advisors.

Over a billion dollars have been invested in the education technology market in each of the past 3 years. We're seeing massive network effects with high water market 40 million users.

Deborah (moderator): Why now? Why do we suddenly have all this innovation in the education space?

Lynda: The Internet is disrupting everything, but education is one of the slowest industries to be transformed. Just a sign of the Internet age.

Steven: It's now more expensive to get a traditional college degree, while it's easier to have new channels to get alternatives.

John: We're seeing spending increases in technology by educational institutions who are making these decisions to invest in innovation. The biggest growth area is in testing and assessment.

Rosa: There's also an advancement of learning through doing. Facebook partners with Apps for Good, which is democratizing how young people now engage with technology.

Deborah (moderator): We still have massive issues like achievement gaps, skills gaps, inequity, cost, etc. Technology is controversial in the classroom... so is technology disruptive or destructive?

Steven: The quality and specific environment of a university can never be replicated online. But not everyone is able to go to an institution like an Ivy League. We want to bring elements of acclaimed universities to people who can't attend them. We're not disrupting universities in a negative way. In fact, the MOOCs are more collaborative with universities than they're given credit for.

Lynda: Teachers found it was complementary and liberating to offer Lynda to students. We need to better evaluate what's better done in person and what's better done online. A lecture is better delivered online than in person, but you can't do a Q&A, project based learning, or discussion groups online. This is the changing role of the educator. There are threats to the status quo, but there are improvements in efficiency and efficacy.

Rosa: Important to separate the behavior from the tools that we're using. This summer, we worked with two different schools to get them to use Facebook in the classroom. Students were using facebook Timeline to fill out histories and asking each other questions instead of asking the teacher. The teachers thinks it enhances the work they're actually doing. It's easy to blame the tools initially, but it's also the behavior. For education, there's not a lot of scale because it takes time. That's a big challenge.

John: Technology allows us to get in and do the kind of changes we want to make in education anyway (like a "Trojan mouse").

Deborah (moderator): in K-12 system, technology is empowering, not threatening. We can personalize delivery, as students operate on very different levels. Now we're worried about how to get to the 99% instead of the 1% early adopters. How did you arrive at your business model and what does the future look like?

Lynda: We didn't consider any other model because we were so early-stage that the freemium model wasn't even in the vernacular. Have not changed subscription price since 2001. First rule is to offer something of extraordinary value for very low price (the scale of the Internet allows this since we now have 3 million users). Paid model allows us to pay our contributors and employees. Some contributors live off the royalties. We have pride in creating a business model that is a win for every person, from students to contributors to employees. We recently took money for the first time (bootstrapped for 18 years) in the largest funding round in history of education companies.

Steven: The mission of our organization is that we make a high quality education available to everyone, so the courses will always be free. Here are the challenges: 1) Putting high quality content online right now - only a small segment of users end up using it. 80% of users already have a college degree. Believe it's not enough to make the users available, but also putting in it a place and framework where people can engage with it. 2) There are going to be parts of the site that you pay for. You can currently pay $60 to get a verified certificate, making us compete with a free product that we're offering ourselves. There are tons of opportunities though; other organizations may want to license the content to teach to their students or employees. but we have to articulate how we want to license the content without fundamentally changing it.

Rosa: Facebook is free to use and we pay for it through advertising. This means we need to do really cool stuff to make money, so our interest is about finding stories of people who use the platform in interesting ways.

John: It's important to think about the double bottom line of education companies: doing good and making money. Free is a branding/marketing position that you take on but still need to be sustainable and generate cash. There is a responsibility that comes with free and need to be careful there.

Deborah (moderator): what do you think about monetizing through advertising?

Lynda: We're against it. It's hard to provide quality content when there's a sponsor. Even with our scale of 3 million users, we're not able to get the kind of revenue that we have to rely on advertising.

John: We were able to make enough money on licensing. When you have something that is completely free and ad free, you have to deal with how you were going to fund it. There's a distinction between who you're advertising to - is it students, teachers, or administrators? What kind of service does it provide and who is it addressing?

Deborah (moderator): What's the role of outside capital? Education is a unique ecosystem. What do you think about for-profit versus non-profit?

Lynda: It's our moral and civic obligation to offer free education to K-12, but not everyone believes this. Many want to take education private. Education reform can be seen as a conservative or progressive movement. There's also been a private side to public education (for profit textbook companies, multi-trillion market). But we need to figure out how to lower costs and how to get it work better. Private enterprise has to have a role in that because that's not the government's expertise or purview.

Steven: This is a big existential question. EdX is our main competitor, and they use the fact that they're a nonprofit to draw universities. This is a great marketing opportunity. There's an implication that for-profit companies are focused on extracting the last dollar or intersect with the way a university is run. The best way to address is look at how it actually intersect with what companies are doing, looking at how we are being good partners and delivery things to our students.

Audience question: how do contributors benefit as a sales channel? Do people start using your system because of your contributor is promoting it?

Lynda: We have a partnership program with authors (what we call our contributors), in that if they put a link on their website, then they get a kickback if someone subscribes through their link. Enterprise membership is sold through a sales team and sales channel. We need to spend very little on marketing compared to other companies.

Where are we in the research on which individuals learn well through these networks and who don't?

John: there's a lot of work now on big data and taking a look on how students proceed through a course, but that's very hard statistical analysis. We talk about adaptability and personalization, but we're not quite there yet. That is the promise to be able to look at what you're doing, understand what a good teacher knows intuitively, and adapt to it. If people tell you they're doing it right now, don't believe them!

Lynda: One of the problems with mining data and quantifiable data is that it works well if you have a right answer. But skills like collaboration and presentation are hard to measure.

Audience question: How has working with teachers unions impacted you?

Deborah: We don't really deal with teachers unions in the US. There's been a real aggressive move to make sure unions are aligned with the district when they apply for Race to the Top grants around technology. Unions appreciate that the technology is there to give them leverage.

Audience question (Dave Balter of Smarterer): Where do you see the role of helping people get jobs?

Lynda: We haven't taken a formal stand on that. We offer a certification that you watched the video, but we don't have tests but like what they can do for placement. I'm a big believer in flexibility of what we offer. Is completion really the goal? Some have the goal of trying something new, so completing a course is not the right measure of success.

Steven: In an ideal situation, you would take a Coursera class and have a job opportunity. A lot of people take 4 years of college but want to learn something else. What you learn is more detached from the place that you learned it from.

Audience question: What about partnering with the private sector to offer skill sets that employers need?

Steven: That oversimplifies the problem. People pay money to take these courses to get a job after and sometimes don't end up with a job. MOOCs have the opportunity to have a tighter feedback loop to make sure the content is relevant to new career fields, not careers 80 years ago.

Lynda: Yahoo is using Coursera, Lynda, and other competitors for employee benefits. They also use us for onboarding by assigning courses from different vendors for new employees as part of their onboarding process. We've also seen them use it for recruiting; for example if they're looking for Android developers, they'll recommend taking these courses before you apply.

Rosa: Technology helps move things faster. We partner with Apps For Good to train teachers to teach kids how to code in the classroom. The UK government made it possible to teach outside courses in curriculum time, but agree that we need to understand learning gaps in terms of employment.

Thank you to all the panelists! For those of you who are students at Harvard, you can get a free subscription to via!

No comments:

Post a Comment