Will Education Innovation Move from Fringes to the Core of System?

Over the last decade, I have presented or chaired nearly 100 sessions at professional conferences on the themes of higher education internationalization trends and strategies with an emphasis on enrollment management, student mobility and transnational education.
Recently, I attended a conference outside my regular “conference circuit” to not only expand my perspectives and network on education technology (ed-tech or edtech), but also to learn from entrepreneurs and investors.
The ASU+GSV Summit defines itself as “the Knowledge Economy’s Mecca of conversation and activism devoted to accelerating learning innovation around the world.” The conference is hosted by GSV, a private equity group and Arizona State University (ASU), which is at the forefront of innovation through online education and strategic partnerships like Starbucks and now edX.
The conference exceeded my expectations in terms of scale and quality. The conference has grown from 250 to 2500 attendees in 4 years. They have clearly invested in delivering a rewarding and engaging experience for participants. The sessions ranged from high profile keynotes from Secretary Arne Duncan, Sir Richard Branson and Vinod Khosla to a series of company presentations (pitches) from entrepreneurs.
The panel discussions were not only provocative but also expansive. Given my interest in higher education, I especially enjoyed four panels hosted by 2U. The themes of the panels were:
– The Business of Higher Ed
– Brand Power Among US Higher Ed Institutions
– Do Degrees Still Matter?
– The Future of Online Ed
The overall enthusiastic tone of the conference was embedded in the power of technology to grow revenue and squeeze inefficiencies out of the system. And of course, make money for investors and entrepreneurs in the process. New York Times blog calls it to be “the must-attend event for education technology investors.” And EdSurge sums it up as a “non-stop networking event. People groan about back-to-back meetings and miss most of the panels and talks.” Of course, edtech wave is currently on the upswing and there will be an eventual shake-up with the survival of the fittest (Ed-tech bubble?).
In terms of participants, there were hardly any “insiders” of higher education–university leaders or faculty–at the conference. Of course, ASU as the co-organizer, had the largest representation at all levels. In future conferences, more needs to be done to cross-fertilize ideas between stakeholders of mainstream and innovative education models and services.
Also, while, there were a couple of sessions on international dimensions, there is lot more potential in not only getting international participants but also providing content and networking. There are excellent opportunities in scaling and taking some of these innovative models to global-level and likewise, bringing others to the US.
One of the my biggest take-away was that learning innovation is taking place at a much faster rate at the fringes of the education system than at the core. This innovation is truly getting accelerated by the energy of entrepreneurs are optimism of investors. The key question is will education innovation continue to be a led by outliers or will it gain traction among the mainstream stakeholders in education system? How to foster collaboration among different stakeholders to gain more acceptance of innovative mindset in education?
Dr. Rahul Choudaha