Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and the Evolving Education Marketplace

I’ve just spent the past four days at one of the biggest annual conferences in any field, the American Educational Research Association annual meeting, with over 13,000 researchers gathered in Philadelphia. The high point, for me, was an invited Presidential session called “innovation, entrepreneurship, and the evolving education marketplace.” A high-profile group of connected education leaders engaged in a wide-ranging discussion up on stage, and I’ve quoted below their comments that leaped out at me.

First, the participants were:

  • Christopher Swanson, Education Week
  • Shilpi Niyogi, Pearson
  • Bobbi Kershaw, University of Pennsylvania (formerly of Big Chalk, now working to commercialize faculty education research and develop an entrepreneurship ecosystem)
  • Kevin Bushweller, Education Week
  • Matt Pittinsky, Parchment (and formerly, was the founder of Blackboard)

Their discussion was spot-on with today’s cutting edge; listen in:

Niyogi: “The lines are blurring between entrepreneurs, educators, and service providers with respect to research and development.”

Kershaw: “Faculty research needs to impact practice… we very rarely see it have a significant impact… lots of programs that are being used in schools now do not have proven efficacy from research”

Bushweller: “Policy makers are looking for quick nimble research. A research project that takes three years, the market and environment will have changed by then.”

Pittinsky: “For profit ed tech has tended to stay out of the instructional core of the classroom. This is beginning to change. Faculty are used to the traditional model (of NSF funding). They are afraid of business coming into their research sphere. They are evaluated on publishing, not on demonstrated impact on schools and students.”

Bushweller: “Most organizations in the education space have an advocacy agenda. We really want truly independent research (of the sort that university researchers can provide).”

Kershan: “There are very few examples of companies commercializing university research. Reading 180, from Vanderbilt, is one of the few. My role at Penn is to help faculty do this.”

Niyogi: “We need to work toward social, collaborative learning. Opportunities in this space are untapped, because we are stuck on individual learning.”

Pittinsky: “We face a paradox. Because innovations are measured by learning outcomes, providers need to be even more top down and controlling, school leaders need to be top down, to ensure uniform positive outcomes. The problem is that this means you can’t just release enabling technologies, like I did with Blackboard, because some people will use them in good ways and some in bad ways. And yet, enabling technologies are what enable bottom-up innovation to flourish.”

This last statement is the crux of the matter, and this is always the paradox of innovation: How to balance top down structure with the need for bottom-up innovation to emerge?

Niyogi extended this line of thought, arguing for more bottom up innovation: “Teachers will become free agents, and that will cause dramatic cultural and organization change in schools.”

And finally, here are the BIG IDEAS that the panelists think will drive educational innovation:

  • Big data visualization
  • Open education resources
  • Aggregating content, evaluating it, and sharing it
  • Formative assessment
  • Interactive multimedia online learning
  • Simulations and games

These panelists are on the front lines, and it was a pleasure to watch them discuss the future of learning and schooling.

7 thoughts on “Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and the Evolving Education Marketplace

  1. Three keys included at least somewhat in this great blog post:

    1. The research on education topics MUST have the same attention to independence and quality as more traditional funded faculty research.

    2. There must be strong commitments to strenuous review and dialogue of research outcomes AND to implementation in facilitating effective, deeper learning.

    3. The influence of commercially-connected organizations – directly as Pearson or indirectly as Microsoft via Gates Foundation – must be both limited and very much transparent.

  2. Excellent post, thank you.

    I especially liked your section on: “the BIG IDEAS that the panelists think ” —
    While I am not in education, the six bullet points of that section are not just good for the education field, they are good for and will be necessary for nearly all other fields or endeavors. Those areas will help employees learn newer and/or better job skills and in being more productive in the work they currently do. In jobs such as Intelligence (business & national security), Strategy, cybersecurity, etc…

    That is, if large and small businesses (and state/federal agencies) fully engage in it, which as anyone can see after reading your post – it is a no-brainer.

  3. Your enthusiasm for turning education and educational research into a profit making venture is chillingly scary.
    “Faculty are used to the traditional model (of NSF funding). They are afraid of business coming into their research sphere.”, Pittinsky
    Faculty SHOULD be afraid of business money, because business money has strings attached. Business will tell researchers what to study and will influence that studies’ outcome. “Quick, nimble research”, Bushweller, Is the antithesis of many good research projects. Research well done often takes many years. Rushing it will only create false conclusions. I have been in public education 25 years and I see how business money is destroying it. Now you want to go after universities as well. By the time you are through there won’t be decent educational opportunities anywhere in this country.

    1. I understand your concerns and where you are coming from. There is a long and unpleasant history of business people coming into schools and claiming they know how to manage and how to do it better. That’s not what I’m talking about, and I don’t think this panel was, either. I am a scholar and a researcher in the field of the learning sciences. I believe we need another 15-20 years of learning sciences research before we will really have the schools we need for the 21st century. But what I AM excited about is applying innovative and entrepreneurial thinking, to solve important social and educational problems. This approach is often referred to as “social entrepreneurship” and it must be mission driven, not driven only by profit.

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