Learning, Students & Careers

An Interview with Michael Horn on the future of EdTech

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We are so excited to welcome Michael Horn, author of Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools, and a force for positive and innovative change in the world of education, as an advisor for Pedago. We met with Michael a few weeks ago to talk about disruption in the EdTech space. Here’s what he had to say.

In your book, Blended, you explain how in-classroom learning can be melded with technology to create effective learning experiences; why do you think there was no one doing this until recently?

MH: Until just recently, education had been essentially the same since the printing press. There were the traditional teaching methods for the general populace, mixed with tutoring systems reserved for the elite and for those who had enough social capital.

Finally, disruptive technology—online learning—started to appear. When MOOCs arrived, people conceptualized the online learning movement as video tutorials—filmed, staged lessons. The disruptive innovation theory gave us a way to talk about this new movement more broadly, though, and see where it was going, which allowed us to realize that there, online learning represented a bigger moral opportunity and a chance to think about education in a truly novel way that could benefit all students. The theory gives us a framework to understand that we have the potential to use online learning to transform education in a massive way, beyond these filmed lessons, and create a personalized learning solution for every student at a cost we can afford.

What do you see in the near-term future for EdTech?

Video is just a small part of my vision for what the EdTech world has the potential to become. We need to move toward creating different modalities for different kinds of learning. Learning through games, virtual reality—these are great ideas, but they don’t work for every subject. We need solutions that can be customized based on the subject matter to facilitate active learning.

You talk a lot about disruption—how do you qualify disruption, and how do you see it playing out in the EdTech space?

One of the ways that we measure disruption is through asking the question: does your technology have a low-cost value proposition you can bring to market now, while still improving it over time to tackle more complex problems? There aren’t a ton of these on the market yet in the EdTech space.

Some might suggest that MOOCs are disruptive, but I would disagree. There’s a limit to the amount of dynamic education you can provide through MOOCs and video content because interaction between learners and educators is so limited.

Disruption starts by tackling simple problems, then moves up-market to tackle more difficult problems. That’s why there are so many companies tackling math right now—because it’s rules-based. It’s harder to address higher-end education. I’m excited to see what starts coming out of the EdTech space to tackle these harder concepts.

Last question—what’s one of your best learning experiences?

In all seriousness, my first time trying Smartly blew me away. But, if I have to choose something else, I’d have to say my class with Clayton Christensen at Harvard Business School because he combined theory lessons with real-life applications using case studies, so the learning was very concrete.

Want to hear more from Michael? Stay tuned to Smarty’s blog or find Michael Horn on Twitter (@michaelbhorn)! Visit Smartly at https://smart.ly.

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