Tag Archives: Open Educational Resources

Creating a learning company: lessons from the Bay Area

At the d.school Stanford

Earlier this month, our leadership team at Sanoma Learning visited the Bay Area. Our purpose was to learn more about their approach to disruptive innovation in education. The timing was especially good following the recent announcements around Lynda.com (sold to LinkedIn for $1.5 bn), Altschool ($ 100 m investment from Founders Fund, Zuckerberg) and all things Uber.

Hoover Tower Stanford

We started at the Graduate School of Education and d.school at Stanford. Then we spent a few days in smaller teams visiting about 20 edtech ventures and a handful of investors in the area. Finally we wrapped it up with a discussion about what we had learned and what it means for us.

A few things particularly stand out from the visit.

Culture: an “open adaptive learning platform”

Rapid adaptive learning seems to be at the core of the success of the Bay Area ecosystem. The architecture of the platform is good: curious scientists, practical engineers, passionate entrepreneurs and risk-friendly investors. The “intelligence” of the platform is the driven by the culture (open, passion for purpose, fast-paced) which results in a rapid exchange of insights. We found it easy to meet outstandingly good, high-level people, even on short notice. They were enthusiastic to share views and to look for opportunities, to move at a pace. The whole ecosystem gets smarter and better when this much talent gets together in that culture.

Opportunity: return on education

Based on our experience in Finland and other great education systems, we hold the view that the teacher is the killer app in education – and technology can help to super-charge the teacher. We believe a skilled and well-equipped teacher is the single biggest factor influencing learning outcomes, pupil engagement and the cost–effectiveness of education (all “returns” or as we call it “learning impact”). Investors seem to particularly like the return on investment theme (from the customer perspective).

Online education marketplace Udemy announced raising $65 m expansion funds, shortly after our visit :).

Online education marketplace Udemy announced raising $65 m expansion funds, shortly after our visit

Their thinking is that RoEs should be good for business: for example when completion of a course can lead to career progress, the company providing that course should be able to capture a slice of the benefits (particularly in vocational education). Although clearly influenced by the ventures we chose to visit, we experienced much more enthusiasm for professional learning than edutainment or B2C markets (monetization problem – poor RoE?), and for higher and further education above K-12 (more direct link to career progress in further education and go-to-market approach is very hard for disruptors in K-12). One way or another, proving and improving “returns” will be important to future success.

Evolution (or revolution?): changing ecosystems


Edmodo, collaborative learning platform, has 50m users

Some of the most interesting discussions of the week centred on how ecosystems for educational resources are changing. How can we develop a symbiotic relationship with Open Educational Resources and User Generated Content that could delight teachers and pupils? How can we further boost the “platformisation” of our business? How should we most effectively inter-operate with other players? How can we put data to work for better learning impact whilst carefully respecting privacy? Evolving with our ecosystems must be core to our strategy.

Proud of the team

It was a thrilling trip, full of inspiration and energy, with our team in excellent form: one of the best weeks of my life! Sensing the energy, curiosity and intelligence of the team as we de-briefed what we had learned each the day was simply a gift. Great job team!

Looking forward >> How to become a true learning company?

I believe that Sanoma Learning can rightly be seen as one of the world’s best education companies. Ultimately, I think the most important question to come from the visit was: how can we become a true “learning company”? A company that can consistently learn from and with the best and translate those learnings into great “impact” for pupils and teachers. This is the exciting journey we’re on!
PS I was kidnapped by Betsy Corcoran, CEO of Edsurge during our visit. Check out the podcast here

MOOC meets Big Data in Education

Big Data in Education

Big Data in Education

Two of the hottest developments in education at the moment are the MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) and Big Data.

Peak of Inflated Expectations in the Hype Cycle

Peak of Inflated Expectations in the Hype Cycle

Some have argued that both are currently at the “Peak of Inflated Expectations” in the Hype Cycle. Expectations are indeed high, maybe rightly so. Imagine my pleasure this weekend when I discovered the course about “Big Data in Education” at the MOOC Coursera by Ryan Baker from Columbia University. I registered immediately. What a great way to kill two birds with one stone!  I can experience one of the leading MOOCs first hand and learn more about big data in education at the same time.


MOOCs emerged from the Open Educational Resources movement in the second half of the noughties. Leading players include edX, Coursera and Udacity, which are all well-funded and have excellent connections to world-class institutions. Two things in particular excite me about them: opening up access and improving quality in education.

Access to world-class education has historically been restricted to the happy few. However, anyone (with access to the internet) can take a course on a MOOC, unrestricted by price, the requirement to commit to several years of full time study, geography, or capped class-sizes. As Time put it. ”MOOCs open the door to the Ivy League for the Masses.”  Imagine the possibilities that his will give to improve the life chances of individuals across the globe.  And also the benefits to society as a whole of broad access to exceptionally good education.

The quality of education can also be boosted by the success of the MOOCs. Competition should play its part in raising teaching standards and spurring innovation.  Everyone should get access to the most talented professors with the highest quality content and best teaching methods, leading to a focus on excellent teaching and the weeding out of mediocrity. And the ability to mine the data created through participation in the MOOCs should bring new insights in teaching and learning that can drive further improvements in quality and efficiency.

Big Data

In my opinion, insights derived from big data will eventually transform education through personalisation.  By this I mean the tailoring of pedagogy, curriculum and learning support to the needs and aspirations of the individual.  I believe this will help learners to achieve better outcomes, in more efficient ways. And about subjects that both play to their strengths and support the development of their core life skills. Big data will be a core ingredient in that transformation.

Sanoma Learning (I am employed by Sanoma Group) is predominantly active in K-12 markets in Europe at this time. The amount of data available in K-12 education today is limited, and the insights offered rather poor. One reason for this is the still low availability of technology in schools (typically of the order of one device per 5-10 pupils) and the lack of any platform with real scale in collecting, analysing and providing insights from data. This will probably improve significantly in the coming years as schools take further strides in adopting technology.

Three sorts of data particularly interest me in this coming transformation journey: inferred student data, inferred content data and system-wide data. Put another way: how do students, content and education systems perform, why is that so, and what can we do to improve that performance?  I believe the next generation of Learning will be engineered from the insights derived from the interplay between these three datasets.  The promise is significant, although given the sometimes slow pace of change in education, I think it will be a long journey.

Passion for learning

I consider myself lucky to have been born with a passion for learning. I think technology will enable teachers (who are central to achieving success in learning) to transform education for the better. I’m excited about participating in this program on Big Data in Education at Coursera. Typically about 90% those who start a course on a MOOC drop out along the way. I hope I won’t be one of them. I’m curious to try it. Anyone care to join me?