Just back from the Education Innovation conference at Arizona State, and there were a few recurring themes about where US education — at both the K12 and post-secondary levels — is heading, three of which I’ve highlighted here:

1) Technology to drive personalization and adaptive learning.

Historically, individualized instruction has been provided by effective teachers, who have the skills to tailor how they teach a topic to different students based on the students’ needs, learning styles, etc.

A slew of new companies — from big district or university-wide data systems to individual iPad apps — are attempting to significantly augment (or provide for the first time, in the case of students taught by ineffective teachers) personalized learning by capturing and analyzing real-time student actions (e.g. their clicks of a mouse in an exercise), and then providing them specifically tailored online instruction.  TBD on which ones will ultimately succeed (see #2 below).

2) Too many edu technologies are being developed without understanding the real needs in K-12.

Educators expressed concern that too many technologists and product developers were working without enough understanding of (a) their products’ consumers, e.g. teachers, students, etc.; or (b) the latest research of what drives student achievement.  Given the dynamics of selling into the K-12 universe, understanding the multitude of constituents’ needs and motivations — from district administrators to principals to teachers to parents to students — is key and not a trivial undertaking.  Even those going direct-to-consumer via web-based or app models need to understand this.

3) The future of universities.

As I’ve posted about previously, there are an increasing number of online sources where students can gain practical vocational skills (vs. credentialing) at a fraction of the cost of what a university charges.

As a result, this creates an attractive alternative for (a) students who are better served by these targeted and inexpensive options and (b) employers who care less about the name of the institution on a prospective employee’s resume and more about their actual skills.

When I’ve hired engineers and designers, whether they were straight out of college or not, it was relatively straightforward to assess their abilities by looking at their code samples and/or portfolio — where their degree was from (or even if they had one), was irrelevant.  This is generally true across functions (not just engineering) as people move farther away from graduation dates and their undergrad or grad degrees are trumped by their professional experiences.  But increasingly I think it will be true for those in the early stages of their careers, especially in functional areas like software engineering where employers will be directly dictating desired educational outcomes and are indifferent as to where the student has developed the skills to achieve those outcomes.