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2013: The Digital Year that Will Shape the Future of Education

03/07/2013 05:01 pm ET | Updated May 07, 2013

One can slice and dice the data in many ways, but there's no mistaking that 2012 was one of the best years for education technology in recent memory. For one thing, Venture Capitalists pumped $1.1 billion into 276 companies, 70 percent of which went to seed/angel and Series A level funding, reflecting a lot of new activity. We also saw the rebirth of MOOC led by established players like MIT in form of edX and such newcomers as Coursera. Moreover, the nation's education system during Q4 weathered through uncertainly surrounding education reform against the backdrop of the Presidential election.

Many predictions have been made about 2013, and the first few months have not disappointed. On January 16, Lynda.com, a video course provider, announced that it has raised $106 million in its first funding round ever. On February 7 the American Council of Education recommended five Coursera courses for college credit. And most recently Pearson and Kaplan announced plans for "edtech" accelerators.

These developments have established 2013 as a critical transition year, which will see important trends emerging as stepping-stones to broader reforms in education over the next decade.

MOOCs Going Mainstream

For the longest time, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have been viewed as a direct attack on the traditional model of higher education. And the kind of players that dabbled into MOOCs validated that positioning. From the University of Manitoba's "Connectivism and Connective Knowledge" course in 2008 to the array of open courses from MIT through MIT OpenCourseware, these were designed as experiments to expand access and discover new pedagogical techniques.
2012 changed this positioning with Coursera and Udacity opening up the experiment to the world at a much broader scale with a more focused attempt to prove its sustainability and value.

This year, more than 50 universities are providing MOOCs via their own websites or through Coursera/edX. And learning management systems including Blackboard and Instructure have built MOOC platforms to help schools and universities open up their curriculum to masses.
By the end of 2012, only 2.6 percent of higher education institutions offered a MOOC. Today, an additional 9.4 percent are in the planning stages, Notably, 28 percent of academic leaders believe MOOCs to be a sustainable method for offering courses, a substantial increase from two years ago when these numbers would have been close to zero.

That said, it's highly unlikely that 2013 will see an emergence of a definitive working model for MOOCs. The delivery mechanism must evolve, the learning outcomes have to be measured and most importantly the alignment to higher ed standards has to be tested. Monetization won't even begin to surface in a meaningful way.

But this year will see the acceptance of MOOCs into the mainstream. And this acceptance will open up doors for the scale of testing and sophistication of discussion required to bring about meaningful change. This acceptance will encourage segments that were traditionally under-served (community colleges, non-traditional students, students with disability) to explore new avenues. This acceptance will make 2013 the transition year.

Video Will Revive Mobile Learning

Mobile Learning continued to grow in 2012. From a content publishing perspective, Apple launched its iBooks-authoring platform in January soon followed by companies such as Scrollmotion and Inkling, which introduced mobile driven authoring tools. From a devices perspective, a number of schools initiated massive deployments of iPads, with an even larger number instituting BYOD (Bring your own device) programs. Apple recently announced that it has sold more than 4.5 million iPads to schools in the U.S. But the question remains -- is the publishing world catching up to the technology? By and large, the answer is no with the exception of one shining star: video.

In 2013, more than 70 million Americans will actively watch (non-educational and educational) videos on their mobile devices. According to Cisco Systems Inc., mobile video traffic is expected to increase 16-fold between 2012 and 2017. This presents a big opportunity for educators to use a medium that students are accustomed to. And the publishers who are able to do this are winning. Lynda.com's funding round and its recent acquisition of video2brain, a European video training company, is a validation of video becoming a powerful instructional modality.

Mobile video courses will extend the classroom anytime, anywhere, to any device. Students will view video courses as often as needed to learn the concepts -- at home, in a library, late at night, in the morning, and anywhere in the world. And 2013 will see video becoming a powerful content format that will drive the mobile learning engagement metrics.

Established Publishers Will Start Working With Tech Companies

The similarities between education publishing and traditional publishing are obvious. So is the impact of digitalization on these businesses. Today, education publishing is where media/entertainment publishing was 10 years ago. This calls for innovative business models, distribution channels and more importantly a complete overhaul of the product design mindset. It's surprising that education publishers have not learned from what happened to news/media/entertainment publishing and have been slow to adapt. 2012 was a refreshing change; 2013 will see a monumental shift in this rate of adoption.

First, Pearson acquired EmbanetCompass to expand into the fast-growing market for online learning. Then, McGraw Hill took a 20 percent stake in Area9 to solidly its adaptive learning technology. And recently, Kaplan announced an "edtech" startup in partnership with Techstars to help young entrepreneurs build innovative edtech products and services.

These indicate an important shift in publishers' focus on emerging trends like online/mobile learning and their desire to partner (and potentially invest) with young, technology companies. This will see a sea change in these partnerships as a number of young technology companies that raised funding and built products in 2012 will begin showing rigorous data around the efficacy of their product. Add the complexities of the digital textbook initiative and common core adoption to the mix and the need to partner would amplify.

As an education entrepreneur, these are exciting times. The hope is that collectively entrepreneurs, educators and policy makers will create an eco-system to make it equally exciting and valuable for students.