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The urgent need for education/learning tech entrepreneurs

I started blogging in 2000. Since that time, I’ve tracked significant trends in education, technology, and society. I’ve focused heavily on openness and on change in teaching/training/learning. Innovation comes from random idea collision, which raises the need for diversity of ideas and concepts. I’ve tried to balance my involvement in formal education and corporate learning and training. This focus has resulted in large open online courses (with Dave Cormier, Stephen Downes, Rita Kop) and the LearnTrends conferences (with Jay Cross and Tony Karrer). Change is rarely easy. If one is advocating for change and innovation, one needs to select levers that hold the promise of impact. From what I’ve seen in corporate learning and K-12 and higher education, innovation within the system is not producing the impact it should. Yes, there are pockets of innovation, but existing organizational structures are generally too inhibiting to permit broad scaling. Change must come from the outside.

During one of our last sessions in the open course Personal Learning Environments and Networks, I stated that my focus was increasingly turning to entrepreneurship as the primary lever for change. The comment wasn’t well received. Education has an uneasy relationship with businesses. I tried, unsuccessfully, to communicate that I viewed entrepreneurs as risk takers who take ownership of an idea or concept and strive to produce systemic impact. Certainly there is a financial component to the process, but I’m more interested in people generating and testing out new ideas. With full recognition that entrepreneurial activity and education do not share the same ideals and values, I find the need for innovation in education to outweigh this conflict. And I don’t see suitable or viable models for new idea generation and broad implementation outside of entrepreneurship.

As a result, we’ve decided (a few kindred souls and I) to kick off a website that tracks innovation in education through startups and entrepreneurship. More on that site next week. For now, I’m looking to connect with people that may want to be involved in writing about and tracking trends and startups in the learning technology field (corporate, K-12, higher education). I imagine it will (could) be somewhat of a blend between slashdot and techcrunch. Ideally, we’d have broad representation from around the world so we don’t get locked into tracking only startups and innovations that are occurring within a particular region or country. If you’re interested in contributing, feel free to join this Google Group.


  1. > I viewed entrepreneurs as risk takers who take ownership of an idea or concept and strive to produce systemic impact.

    Well that’s me then. But who out there is going to actually call me an entrepreneur?

    I agree, change comes from outside the system. But there’s change, and there’s change. Most people view entrepreneurship as representing a certain kind of change. Not the sort of change I promote.

    Friday, November 26, 2010 at 1:46 pm | Permalink
  2. It is an interesting dilemma. Recently heard a podcast with Alan November and Cisco’s Richard Halkett. Halkett discusses the intersection of informal and formal learning experiences.
    So what are the next steps in transforming education?
    (I only listened to the final podcast in the series.

    Please send the link to the new website…

    Friday, November 26, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Permalink
  3. I think this is an inspiring idea that I would be happy to contribute to. When you refer to slashdot and techcrunch are you suggesting to create a blog to post news on learning innovations and start ups? Also, what exactly is the desired impact you are referring to?

    Friday, November 26, 2010 at 2:00 pm | Permalink
  4. George,

    I found your comments/thoughts balanced and also very timely. There is a great need for educators to be part of the process from the bottom up, not as add ons and hired guns. Business is a necessary part of this.

    In my neck of the woods, ELT (English Language Teaching), we suffer from many “businesses” that don’t understand teaching nor education and really have predatory and harmful business models. We need teachers with tech skills to step up and do it right. I’m doing my best in that regard. Social media is now allowing educators to have the resources to do great things, in a business sense.

    I look forward to your site highlighting startups. I’ll certainly contribute in any way I can.

    Friday, November 26, 2010 at 10:24 pm | Permalink
  5. Melanie wrote:

    I found your article to be very true with the current trends in society regarding education and technology. It seems that your astute observation of the change ‘coming from the outside’ may be the only way transform the antiquated educational institutions.

    Sunday, November 28, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Permalink
  6. Calian wrote:


    Your article was well-written and that innovation is the way to go. However, educators, administrators and institutional changes may be needed to enhance and promote innovation in teaching and learning. Looking forward to you website “that tracks innovation in education through startups and entrepreneurship.”


    Sunday, November 28, 2010 at 6:55 pm | Permalink
  7. Hank Horkoff wrote:


    Well said. I have always seen entrepreneurship as the application of abstract, conceptual ideas hitting the reality of consumer acceptance and then turning the whole thing into a for-profit or non-profit enterprise.

    I don’t understand why there is a need to be shy about mixing “entrepreneurial activity and education”. In its purest sense, entrepreneurial activity is about creating value for end-users.

    There is an obvious way forward here: encourage and coach educators to go start their own businesses. There are abundant resources available to help them get started (see Blank’s “When It’s Darkest Men See the Stars”, as one example).

    Sunday, November 28, 2010 at 8:14 pm | Permalink
  8. Entrepreneur feels (to me) etymologically related to ‘enterprising’. cf: disruptive (as in technology).
    Education has the image of being one of the most tradition-bound, change-resistant of professions (despite now investing willy-nilly in “reforms” that are usually based on seat-of-pants theories, devoid of research evidence).
    So… I look forward to exploring where an exchange can take us.
    See you in the google group!

    Friday, December 3, 2010 at 1:35 am | Permalink