Classroom 2020: VCs and the Education Revolution

Entrepreneurs jumping on VCs
Entrepreneurs jumping on VCs

Mitch Kapor (Kapor Capital), Philip Bronner and Robert Hutter, moderated by Betsy Corcoran started by framing the problem with current education. Each of the speakers showed shocking graphs of educational attainment, inequity and the job market.

Philip Bronner immediately lost my intellectual respect when he started talking about how Novak Biddle invested in Blackboard around 15 years ago turning Blackboard into the de facto operating system of education. I do hope that this isn’t true. If it is, then I would consider that an affirmation of the problems, rather than part of the solution. Bronner then went on to define education as consisting of three pieces: content, somebody who teaches you the content and a way to certify that you know the content. Education as content: pretty shocking.

Hutter talked about data (Kapor would call them “anecdotes”) about programs that make good use of digital tools getting objective better results. It is Hutters goal to help scale up this programs and the last three years two things have happened that will have a big impact in this: campus wifi is everywhere now and batteries have made a humongous leap forward.

This whole panel is a complete mystery to me (to not call it surreal). Discussing education as if it is a market just sound plain wrong. I believe that the one thing that should have been discussed is the question of the actual purpose of education and who is responsible for providing it. I would suspect that each of the panelists would give a very different answer to that question and that I would have a fourth answer. They seemed to be discussing the wrong leverage points (Kapor started addressing it when he talked about how affluent the US has become and that technolology is necessary but not sufficient to solve the problems). I would have loved to hear what the panelists would say and think about this New York Times piece on education in Finland.

6 thoughts on “Classroom 2020: VCs and the Education Revolution

  1. Hi. Sorry that you didn’t find what you wanted in the panel. Because the panel was primarily investors, it seemed to make more sense to have a conversation that focused more on the “marketplace” and what role the private sector has in that. If the panel involved educators, I would have framed the questions differently. But to me, it made sense to try to draw these guys out on what they have the deepest knowledge/experience in. Sorry that disappointed you.

    1. Thank you for your comment Betsy! There is no need to apologize: I wasn’t disappointed in the session or in how it was run (I was actually very glad I was there), I was disappointed in the lack of understanding of education that the panelists showed. This tweet is very harsh, but does some up my thoughts too in a way:!/k1v1n/statuses/179383239377555457

      Coming from Europe, I might also have to get used to seeing education as a for-profit enterprise (I don’t want to get used to that!). I still have good hopes that Kapor will find his way in this space: he has made the right choices in the past often enough.

  2. i would like to see more data on finland: how does this measured success in educating people translate into people doing creative, innovative projects and using that knowledge to improve their lives, change scientific paradigms, create new technologies etc.? now aware of any disruptive idea, innovation etc, coming from that part of the world… to be a bit ironic: cold is a good environment for learning because it is not fun to play outside but i’m not so certain what is the right climate for also doing stuff and applying what we learn to something creative, important etc. i agree that learning is not about content and that we have a problem defining what is the goal of education other than ‘discipline’ in all its connotations… i don’t think development psychology and more psychology will give us the answer….

    1. All of these are excellent questions (though candidly better for a different panel, I think). I don’t believe that for-profits are necessarily evil in education. After all, historically (though perhaps changing) every textbook company has been a for-profit. It’s certainly the case that “for profits” need to be reined in. And expectations need to be clear (That’s why I kept pushing Rob Hutter on what kind of returns he is expecting). But the for-profit sector does produce a lot of ideas and innovation. It seems like running a race with only one leg to leave it out. cheers.

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