Andreessen Horowitz, a well-known venture firm on Sand Hill Road in the heart of the Silicon Valley has a motto: “Software Is Eating the World.”
The train of thought behind the motto is that as long as an organization can implement software in a way that reduces costs, it can provide solutions that were once only available only to the wealthy, to the whole world.
While providing quality, low-cost services to the globe may be a daunting task, many Silicon Valley companies have been able to do just that. For most of the Valley’s education-based tech startups, however, achieving this business model hasn’t been very successful.
Take Massive Online Open Courses, or MOOCs, for example. MOOCs are classes put on a platform that aims to increase access and personalize classes to learners. The best professor in the world can teach thousands of people anywhere in the world and software can customize the learning process for each student so that they are able to do their best.
Many people gathered around the model of MOOCs and heralded it as the education of the future. The New York Times declared 2012 the year of the MOOC, and many schools began running pilot programs attempting to integrate these courses into their curricula.
In practice, however, MOOCs do little more than put lectures, homework, and tests online. Personally, I’ve found MOOCs too frustrating and rigid for my liking. In fact, the current model of MOOCs reminds me of the traditional brick and mortar institutions that have, in their own way, interfered with my learning.
As a millennial who grew up learning on the Internet, I’ve found its power lies with allowing me access to things I never would have been taught in school as well as the ability to make unlimited connections to other people. On the web, I learn things in an order based on my own interests, and can spend hours clicking links that catch my attention or learning from countless Wikipedia pages.
There is so much potential in what a tech startup can do to the face of education, however most of the current models that explicitly attempt to “educate” are completely missing the mark.
However, even though many of the models that explicitly attempt to revolutionize education are not doing terribly well, there are a handful of companies that are approaching learning from a new perspective and deserve a closer look.
Quora, for instance, is a fresh new take on asking and answering questions, and has an extremely community driven approach. Quora implements a credit system that makes the platform function like a game. Quora doesn’t present itself as a learning platform, but its ability to help people ask and answer questions has an incredible side effect of deep understanding, learning, and community building.
Another example of online learning is CreativeLIVE. CreativeLIVE is an innovative livestreaming education platform geared mainly toward creatives. They bring in industry leaders to teach classes that are often multiple days long, diving deep into the topics.
Another one of my favorite examples is Duolingo. Duolingo is a language learning platform that also employs your language learning efforts to translate old books. Much like Quora, Duolingo succeeds by providing a game-style product that serves as a very fun, lighthearted approach to learning a new language.
What all of these programs have in common is that they are very personalized, self-directed and interactive. All of these programs leverage a combination of the social power of the Internet along with rich and dynamic content to create experiences that are deeply engaging to the learner.
Revolutionizing learning takes much more thought than simply transferring our content from paper to silicon, as evidenced by how easy it was to move on from the year of the MOOC. It takes maximizing technology, developing innovations that truly support learning, and operating under a model that seeks to build and shape the future.
And as the amount children growing up in a digital society increases, so will the pressure on Silicon Valley to achieve this revolution.