This week, Joe Vasquez and I are headed to Austin for the SXSWedu conference from March 7-10. At the conference, we will be launching the opening of the Michelson Runway EdTech Accelerator. The focus of the accelerator, Runway’s first, is higher education and lifelong learning. Specifically, we are interesting in funding and supporting startups that are looking to close the socio-economic equity gap in higher education, increase engagement in the classroom and create tools for outcome-based education.
We chose to focus on higher education and lifelong learning because we think that there are unique challenges for adult learners which we want to address. For starters, most of of adult learning is paid for by the students themselves, and so we need to make sure the outcome of their education leads to a job, or an increase in wages post completion. Additionally, our nation has a student debt crisis coinciding with a phenomenon in which college graduates are not able to get jobs, or are being employed in jobs that do not require a college education. Our current educational system is failing our students, and the lower socio-economic classes are the most sensitive to this crisis and the most adversely effected by it.
The truth is most of our tertiary educational models are hundreds of years old and are based on a world in which educational resources, and those who were able to administer them, were a scarce resource. Students needed to gather at one place for years at a time to gain this precious knowledge. Coming out of that were the college and university models, which were bundled with other endeavors such as research and publication. Indeed, even sports were bundled in with this model as students took advantage of the fact that they were all clustered together to play group sports. But now educational resources are not scare, nor are those educated enough to administer them. Additionally, the clustered activities such as sports and research no longer need to be as tightly associated with learning. Yet, if you look at how money are resources are being spent at higher education institutions, it is clear that much of it is not focused on educating the students. And the educators are not selected for their ability to teach students, but rather based on their ability to publish research.
Because of this, there is a field ripe for disruption on many levels. First, with the current level of technology, we can disseminate top-tier knowledge to willing learners all over the world at a nearly no cost. This is obvious enough to everyone with a smart phone, and yet our educational models still operate as if it is not. Second, we can further use technology to employ innovative and effective learning methods that are focused on the disparate learning styles of individual students. We have learned enough about education to know that not every student learns in the same way, therefore the same material should not be taught in the same way to every student. Again, this obvious, and yet there are few educational institutions that exist today that are customizing their teaching pedagogy to each student. Third, technology can allow us to monitor the effectiveness of each student in mastering the presented curriculum. One of the greatest challenges to students when learning is when a concept which is not learned becomes the basis for the next concepts in the course. If a student does not grasp and master that initial concept, they are pretty much taking themselves out of learning the rest of the course material. Technology can help monitor when students are at risk for this happening and provide resources to make sure students get back on track. Finally, new educational models are allowing us to unbundle education so that students don’t need to go to school for four years to get a meaningful degree. Rather, students should be able to get a degree or certificate that certifies that they have mastered skills that are of value to a future employer. We call this outcome-based learning, where the outcome of mastering the skill is the focus, whether that’s to get a job at a specific employer or simply become certified in a skill.
There is a lot of work to be done in each of these areas. Some of the solutions are focused on modifying the traditional higher educational models, and some are focused on eliminating them altogether. We believe that the most effective change is one that comes through bringing all stakeholders together. That’s why the Michelson Runway EdTech Accelerator counts as its mentors and advisors professors, administrators, policy makers, investors and successful EdTech entrepreneurs. We’re looking forward to working with the most innovative higher ed and alternative ed startups of our time. If you are interested in joining us, please visit us at www.michelsonrunway.com.