LearnLaunch is a one-of-a-kind ecosystem in the field of educational technology in Boston. On February 1 and February 2, the LearnLaunch 2013 Conference did an amazing job of recognizing the need of educators, investors, entrepreneurs and inventors, and created a safe environment for them to discuss preparing (as much as is possible) for the future of American education.
The conference coincided with Digital Learning Month, the nationwide campaign to promote the integration of digital tools in classrooms. And there were some heavy hitters at the conference that were not afraid to be frank about the state of affairs.
In a session on investment in the education market, Matt Witheiler, Principal of Flybridge Capital Partners, pointed out that more college graduates today are unemployed than high school grads. The reasons, he said, are two-fold: college education is not skill based, and students are more selective in their job searching. In response, Matt Greenfield, the Managing Director of Rethink Education, discussed his perspective on the future direction of the industry, and suggested that we should be ready for life-long education and freelance jobs.
A hot new trend in education - 'adaptive learning' was also under discussion at the conference. And who better to be the face of this revolution than the ed sector's own child star, high school student, fellow Huff Po blogger and author Nikhil Goyal. In an argument taken straight from his book 'All Hands on Deck: Why America Needs a Learning Revolution', Nikhil argued that the current educational system prohibits students from taking ownership of their learning, and needs an urgent shake-up.
On this same tack, Gerald LaFond, the Vice President of Alleyoop, contrasted school's rigid learning environment where failures are not accepted with the gaming environment through which gamers can safely learn from mistakes.
One of the most impressive companies in the adaptive learning space is Knewton. Brian Fitzgerald, the Vice President of Knewton, discussed their innovative adaptive learning platform, which creates a personalized educational experience that can enhance long-term memory storage (vs. the traditional cramming method) through a robust learning profile of each student.
Here are my top five picks:
Ben Berte pitched to a room full of investors, and introduced the Socrative platform, which allows teachers to conduct an instant evaluation in the classroom. Teachers can use this device-agnostic platform to instantly give short quizzes at the end of explaining a concept, helping them decide whether to continue the class or review the concept. The platform helps teachers acquire accurate student data on the spot with drastic reduction of time in grading. I've written about Socrative before in my Huff Post blog on 'The Classroom of the Future' because it's more than just a great concept - it was recommended by teachers who love using it in the classroom.
Zach Wissner-Gross, the CEO of School Yourself, was kept busy during the networking sessions describing his app to an eager audience. School Yourself is an app that is dedicated to making textbooks fun and interactive, whilst keeping the quality educational content intact. Three textbooks - Trigonometry, Calculus, and Pre-Calculus - are already in the market being sold at an affordable price or for free, with more subject areas coming soon.
Helen Jackson, the CFO of Rhythm Rhyme Results stood out from the crowd as a definite one-of-a-kind content provider. Since 2007, the company has been writing rap and hip-hop songs for diverse school subjects ranging from social science to math. The company makes it easy for teachers to be awesome - providing a range of teaching resources including free worksheets. The content can be delivered in a variety of ways such as downloading, subscribing to a livestream, and ordering CDs.
Eric Braun, the CEO of 30 Hands Learning, is head of an ambitious team that has developed a web and mobile learning platform for educators and learners. I was most impressed with the mobile app, which has a unique feature that enables a storytelling experience by allowing the users to record audio and video over digital images. It flows seamlessly and can be uploaded onto a web platform where teachers organize and display a collection of learning materials.
One of the highlights of the conference was meeting Helen Rosenfield, the Executive Director of One Hen. Based in Boston, this unique organization originated from the book called One Hen, which tells a story of a child in West Africa who grows out of poverty through the power of microfinance. Today, One Hen has provided over 12,000 educators around the world with educational resources on microfinance, entrepreneurship, and sustainable agriculture, and has reached over 32,000 students. As the COO of an ed tech company - Library For All - focused on the developing world, it was refreshing to meet another organization in this space!
Even though the conference is over, LearnLaunch continues to be the basecamp for the ed tech community in Boston. If you want to join the buzz, check out the regularly updated discussions on their LinkedIn group.