By Sramana Mitra and guest author Shaloo Shalini
SM: There are several companies working in the area of skill gap analysis. Many of these solutions are starting to penetrate the education sector. But the people who are dealing with K-12 educational technology, primarily in the case of online learning management systems, are having difficulty penetrating the schools in part because of the unions. The teachers’ unions are sometimes a problem as far as technology adoption is concerned. What are your thoughts here?
RB: I think that might be similar to the movie ‘Waiting for Superman.’ But what we are seeing is that’s going to change.
SM: Yes. It is changing. There are some companies that are doing quite well. I have done some real stories on online education, profiling companies that are coming with some of these solutions. We are starting to see some penetration but I would say, if you look at the total market, the level of penetration of this kind of technology is abysmally low. The penetration level needs to change. Part of what is blocking penetration are the teacher’s unions and their lack of willingness to embrace new technology. In addition to those, you have all these other factors like non-performance being acceptable – that is the kind of stuff that ‘Waiting for Superman’ movie talks about, too; those issues have to be addressed.
RB: I agree, people are moving in that direction. I also think you will start to see new moves there as well, based on what I hear and see from the field in terms of the frustration. But I agree with you, and I think they are ready to sit down. I mention that because these technological solutions are there to help the teachers and the unions.
I think it is going to cause a tremendous amount of disruption, and it already has started disrupting in a positive way. I think it is going in the right direction. But you know, I totally agree: as a parent I don’t think it is right when one of my 90-pound daughters is carrying 30 pounds of books. I look at the cost of those books; it is about the cost of a Kindle or probably a Google iPad tablet that has probably all those books from those publishers in that unit. It doesn’t make any sense to me. Change is just a matter of time.
SM: I think at the turn of this decade, we are going to see those two industries turning. The textbook industry is going to go more electronic, and the e-book reader movement is going to move that business into an electronic format. So, your kids are going to be carrying iPads, Kindles, or other similar devices, and they will access textbooks in that format. The second aspect to this related to a topic about which I had an interesting conversation recently with Cheryl Vedeo. If you look up this interview on my website with Cheryl, who runs a company called Apex Learning, you will see that it is a substantial company. Are you familiar with them?
RB: Apex, no, I am not familiar with them.
SM: They have a small K-12 learning management technology in content and the skill gap analysis. They are starting to find traction in schools, and they found traction in areas where children are failing. They are helping address issues related to failing students, and they are also helping advanced students, the Advanced Placement (AP) students, for whom there are not enough provisions in the core curriculum.
Those are the two kinds of extremes where they found maximum traction, but they have yet to find equivalently strong traction in the mainstream audience. One of the things Cheryl said that I found interesting was that we need to move from a ‘sage on stage’ to a ‘guide on side’ teaching model, where the teacher helps all the students with the primary mode of delivering education through the computer and through the technology.
So you have all the content or all the skill gap analysis technology, exercises, and all the things that today teachers lead you through – there is technology to help through software which too can. If you have 60 students in the class, the software can access exactly where each of those students is and personalize the pace of the education based on the student’s scenario. In an old model of a teacher lecturing a class of 60, this is not just viable.
RB: Absolutely! I am totally in agreement, 200% behind that. I actually looked them up on my iPad. I recognized the logo and Apex together, so I have definitely seen them. That will be a good partner with us, by the way. Those are the type of companies that I agree with you and think that in the next 10 years you will see a movement and traction in that area, especially in K-12 space.