Beyond Sal Khan: Education Innovators Doing Great Work!


As I mentioned in my last post, I was recently on a short holiday with my husband in Grenada. Beautiful place, very relaxing. On our connection in Miami I had the urge to get a fluffy magazine, so I wandered into the airport shop thinking I’d pick up People or something similar. But looking at the magazine rack what did I see, but Sal Khan’s face looking back at me from the cover of Forbes (Nov 19 edition).

I’ve written previously on this blog about the changes I’d like to see in Khan Academy, so I won’t rehash those here.  Instead I’d like to talk about the larger theme of education disruption that emerges from the Forbes article.

According to the article, which cites the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, global spending on education is $3.9 trillion, or 5.6% of planetary GDP.  America spends the most, about $1.3 trillion annually, yet we rank 25th out of the 34 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries in math, 17th in science and 14th in reading.  So we know we have a problem.

And most of us already know the story of Sal Khan, perhaps education’s most famous (and, to some, infamous) education disruptor of late.  But what was more interesting to me was that the Forbes article highlighted some other “classroom revolutionaries” who are described as “harnessing a slew of disruptive technologies” to change education.  I wanted to highlight a few of them here whose missions especially resonate with me:

1. Jessie Woolley-Wilson, CEO, Dreambox Learning.  Dreambox is a company that does online, adaptive, math instruction.  Why is it so cool?  Dreambox has effectiveness data to demonstrate that their instruction improves kids’ outcomes in math.  Dreambox is taking advantage of the $3B annual spend in elearning and had delivered more than 50 million online lessons in the past year.  Why is Wooley-Wilson a disruptor?   Personalized math instruction available anytime, anywhere.

2. Jose Ferreira, Founder, Knewton.  Knewton was one of the first “big data” companies in the education space. Why is it so cool? Knewton offers data analysis algorithms that automate curriculum adaptation on the fly.  Knewton has raised $54M in venture funding and has clients including Pearson and Arizona State University.  Why is Ferreira a disruptor?  Adaptive algorithms that can be integrated into any provider’s curriculum.

3. Stacey Childress, Deputy Director, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.   The Gates Foundation does philanthropy work in global health and in ways for people to lift themselves out of poverty.  Why is it so cool?  Big names like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, doing good now that they’ve done well.  The Gates Foundation gave away more than $278M to K12 education causes last year.  Why is Childress a disruptor?  She focuses on data and believes that better information and data are the routes to improving and accelerating learning in schools.

When I first started this blog and called it Disrupt Learning, I got a ton of questions (and some objections) about the name.  Why would I want to disrupt learning?  Couldn’t that be a bad thing?  But my goal is to be a disruptor like the ones I’ve listed here….making a difference in revolutionizing education and upsetting the status quo.

We all have the potential to be a disruptive force for change.  How are you a disruptor and revolutionary? 

The Forbes article included a total of 16 education innovators….to read more about them in the online version of the article, click here.

About karen mahon

i am a behavior and learning scientist. i hold an ed.d. in educational psychology and am trained as an instructional designer. i have spent more than 15 years working in education and instructional software design.
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