06/03/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The 3x5 Learning Revolution

Twenty years after technology began transforming every other sector, there is finally enough movement on enough fronts --15 to be precise -- that, despite resilience, everything will change. New and better ways to learn are inevitable, but progress will be uneven by state/country and leadership dependent.

The 5 Drivers. These Web 2.0 forces are benefiting the learning sector, emerging economies, as well as every other sector:
• More broadband: increasingly ubiquitous high speed Internet access is enabling a world of engaging content including video, multiplayer games, simulations, and video conferencing.
• Cheap access devices: netbooks, tablets, and smart phones have dropped below the $100 per year ownership level enabling one-to-one computing solutions.
• Powerful application development platforms: rapid application development and viral adoption have radically reduced cost and increased speed of bringing solutions to market.
• Adaptive content: personalized news (iGoogle), networks (Facebook), purchasing (Amazon), and virtual environments (World of Warcraft) have created a 'my way' mindset that will eventually eliminate the common slog through print.
• Platforms: Apple's iPhone illustrates the elegant bundling of an application, purchasing, and delivery platform. In a few years, we'll have the same thing in education--powerful learning platforms and cool apps.

The 5 Shifts. Learning is being transformed by five complementary changes:
• Age cohorts to individual learners: the old model of grouping student by age and teaching them all the same stuff in the same way is slowing giving way to individualized instruction and progress.
• Textbooks to digital content: print is slowing giving way to digital content as access improves.
• Sequential to adaptive: the one way slog through flat content is giving way to customized learning where students move at their own pace and learn in a mode most productive for them.
• Annual tests to instant feedback: like games, digital learning provides instant performance feedback and motivational reward mechanisms.
• Institutions to networks: purpose-built learning networks are replacing or partnering with schools that evolved over time.

The 5 Contexts. It's different this time, really:
• Global markets: online learning applications can quickly be adopted worldwide making investment more attractive in cross border opportunities.
• Social networks: the viral adoption of non-institutional connections has changed how we interact and communicate and is changing how we learn.
• Emerging economies: The drive to expand educational access to a billion underserved youth is creating an appetite for learning solutions.
• Financial pressure: a lingering recession and crowding-out effects of health care are finally raising productivity questions--can students learn more faster and cheaper?
• Digital natives: new teachers never lived without the Internet and share their student's distaste for the powered-down 1950 classroom; both quickly adopt new technology and invent uses on the fly.

The coalescence of these 15 forces produced promising new business models including "freemium," a Fred Wilson term for viral adoption of free capabilities with incentives for subscribing or purchasing premium services.

Technology drivers, shifts in delivery, emerging context variables, and new business models are attracting the one thing that matters most to innovation and scale--money. While there is still a dearth of government and foundation investment in learning research and development, the private sector is finally stepping in. The education market has been so unattractive for so long that for the least few decades there have been few venture-backed startups and, with the exception of career colleges, little growth capital has been aimed at learning. Global markets and consumer learning have, in particular, spurred investment leading. There is finally gas in the tank for education entrepreneurs.