This week’s ASU/GSV conference was another big success. As in prior years, there were inspirational presentations, lots of investors, and even more start-ups hungry for attention and money. The theme that emerged from the conference was personalization...how technology is helping teachers & trainers to create and serve up specific learning to individuals. Here are some of the things that have changed…and some that are still the same.
Three trends worth noting:
1. A move towards corporate learning. In the past, the conference was dominated by K-12 and (to a lesser extent) Higher Ed innovations. This year, there was much more attention on corporate learning. With the absence of the now struggling private universities, there was a gap not quite filled by other innovative HE organizations. A lot of the K-12 and HE start-ups are having a very tough time getting to market, and there are pivots into corporate learning, where (for now) there is more money being spent. The MOOCs are the obvious ones, with Udemy moving into business, and @Udacity moving towards microdegree programs. But even newer startups like Mursion are finding more traction in healthcare and business.
2. Bigger, bigger, bigger. Last year's ASU/GSV conference maxed out at 2500 participants. This year there were at least 40% more...with 3500+ people in a larger hotel in San Diego with people sprinting from location to location. Our fitbits were happily clocking up the miles. Everyone said that things felt less intimate, and it was harder to run into people you know. There were 350 (!) companies presenting...too many to track in 3 days, even if you tried. Will this growth last? That was the obvious question everyone was asking.
3. More diversity. Deb Quazzo proudly announced that 35% of the organizations represented were founded or led by women, and 26% by entrepreneurs of color. That's a great statistic, and it's clear that she and Michael Moe really work to feature those entrepreneurs. But still the audience seemed to be dramatically white and male, and there were many pleas for entrepreneurs to pay more attention to equal access when they develop products and services.
And what's still the same?
1. A gap between the entrepreneurs and those they serve. It is incredible to see so many Harvard and Stanford MBA's, so many smart and dedicated people in one place, all focused on improving learning. But just going to school doesn't make you an expert on education, and just being in a workplace doesn't mean that you understand the battles that are faced every day in HR departments. There's still a big gap of understanding, too many start-ups trying to DO TO rather than to DO WITH. And there are still too many technology ideas that aren't as grounded as they should be in understanding how people learn, or how things really change.
2. Leadership still makes all the difference. Here are just a few examples: The leadership that Deb Quazzo and Michael Moe take in making an innovative conference happen, and their passion for inclusion in education. Bill Gates for his remarkable deep knowledge about education and the funding and research he and The Gates Foundation do that makes a huge difference. And there's huge influence and inspiration from great leaders who are driving innovation that goes well beyond their own organizations... people like Michael Crowe at Arizona State University, and Superintendent Alberto Carvalho who moved Miami-Dade to become one of the highest-performing urban school systems in just a few years. If more great leaders like these stay focused on what really works, the right kind of change will happen in learning.
Debra Hunter gets much too excited about leadership and learning and the junction between the two. For 14 years, she was CEO of Jossey-Bass, publisher of top thought leaders in those areas. She's also a mom, photographer, and consultant.