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Knewton, Codecademy founders on the future of education

iPad in schoolStartups disrupting education aren’t profitable yet, but as online education gains momentum, the industry’s top innovators are confident that’s going to change.

At the Founders conference in New York on Friday, author David Kirkpatrick asked the founders of startups Knewton, Codecademy, Skillshare, Kno and DimensionU, “Is anyone on this panel even close to making money?”

When no one piped up, he added, “I didn’t think so.”

However, given Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen’s projections that half of North American higher education will move online in the next ten years, followed by a significant portion of k-12 education a few years later, Knewton CEO Jose Ferreira said the margin creation opportunity is going to be “ridiculous.” As colleges and school districts increasingly adopt digital resources and course materials companies like Knewton, Kno and others have an opportunity to help provide the content.

The group also talked about the changing role of the traditional classroom teacher as students increasingly learn from virtual teachers, non-institutional teachers, games, software and potentially robots.

“[Technology] enfranchises everyone to become an educator,” said Codecademy co-founder Zach Sims. “[That] creates an interesting predicament for [traditional] teachers.” Since opening its platform all kinds of content creators in January, Codecademy has seen significant interest from people interested in teaching, he said. (As we recently reported, online class platform Udemy has even enabled some online teachers to draw six-figure checks from their online courses.)

Sims and DimensionU founder and CEO NT Etuk said they expect teachers to become more like facilitators of learning than distributors of information. In an ideal classroom (even without technology), teachers should be more than vehicles for passing along information, but as more schools adopt blended learning programs and incorporate online classes, teachers will have little choice but to rethink traditional roles.

Still, while innovation is creeping into the traditional classroom, Sims said, “most people innovating are doing it outside of the system ”

Skillshare CEO Michael Karnjanaprakorn said that as his company and others challenge the current models of education with platforms that enable all kinds of people to teach, “you’ll start to see a redefinition of what education means.”

3 Responses to “Knewton, Codecademy founders on the future of education”

  1. Jim Schultz

    I’m not sure it’s startups disrupting education. I think as a society, many people have realized the delivery of education in K-12 has changed very little. Sure, we have new tools in schools; however, at the point of instructions the delivery of information remains relatively unchanged. What made people believe our K-12 education was successful in the past is the equivalent of using a buggy whip today. Students today want more than information; they are demanding engaging activities, challenging group projects, appropriate context setting and connection to the real world. Teachers also need to handle the increasing diversity of student abilities, especially in elective courses, career and Community College courses.
    Startups and other online content providers are stepping in to offer solutions to the challenges classroom teachers are facing as they adapt to the future learning of students. It is a problem worth solving.

  2. All this would be fine if degrees did not matter as much as they do – if schooling were to be disestablished and employers were prevented from asking where a potential employee had gone to school, what degrees he or she had obtained, and so forth. Employers are not permitted by law to ask what church you attend, if any, and they ought not to be permitted to ask what school(s) you’ve attended, either. Such a rule would, of course, throw people into having to demonstrate true skills and know-how, vs. a piece of paper, and that would have consequences for the way ever-scarce jobs are handed out.