Sylvan's CEO, Jeff Cohen, was selected as one of four visionary leaders, who represent breakthrough education models, to talk to Forbes.com about technology, economics and the future of American education. Check out the full article below:
On April 23, 1635 the Boston Latin School opened as the first public school in America. It brought the promise that education would ignite this emerging concept of a great nation. In fact, 56 alumni of the school were actually signers of the American Constitution. Since then education has differentiated America and fueled growth.
Now, almost 400 years later, we see we are in 17th place in reading in the world and 32nd place in math. And it’s not for lack of spending. We spend $810 billion annually on education. Personally, I belief today is our system rates a B-. So, to gain insights how to move us to an A+, I pulled together 4 visionary leaders who represent breakthrough education models to talk about technology, economics and the future.
- Jay Bhatt, President and CEO, Blackboard Inc.
- Jeffrey Cohen, President and CEO, Sylvan Learning, Inc.
- Nate Davis, Chairman and CEO, K¹²
- Neil Gaydon, President and CEO of SMART Technologies
We kicked off the meeting discussing how education is critical because it deeply impacts the very fabric of American commerce and society. Marty Brennan an expert in strategy who has helped 60 Federal civil agencies, emerging technology firms and Fortune 500 companies operationalize strategies summed up the relationship between education, technology and corporate America, “Today’s organizations struggle with how best to integrate Millennials into their workforce, but the far larger disruption will be integrating their children, who have grown up on tablets and smartphones. Think about the tools educators will need to engage and challenge students. Today’s technologies can provide educators with a force multiplier to shape the capabilities and expectations of the next generation workforce.”
1. How is technology changing education?
Neil Gaydon, Smart Technologies: “If we look at the way children learn before they’re in school, they learn the most profound things, often on their own… hot and cold, colors, languages…and yet, when they go to school, they’re sometimes stuck in their chairs listening to a so-called “sage on the stage.” That worked years ago. But now, we can do so much more. We have access to tremendous knowledge through the Internet. We must enable our children to take advantage of their everyday learning.”
Nate Davis, K¹²: “Technology isn’t a teacher, but an enabler. We all have children or grandchildren who can access apps and use devices better than their parents. They have a hunger and drive to learn through technology and they want to explore things. With access to information, with access to knowledge, we can foster students desire to learn that comes from exploring. Whether a student is social or economically disadvantaged or they are from a wealthy home, technology supports their desire to learn and that’s the key to making them more successful.”
Jay Bhatt, Blackboard: “Schools are now made up of 80% nontraditional learners. That means long distance learners, virtual learners, and adult learners. So first and foremost, we have to redefine who the learner is and who we’re solving for in the education system. Technology will help us reach them in the ways they want to be reached.”
Jeff Cohen, Sylvan Learning: “Technology is having a profound impact on education in many ways, some good and some not so good. While there is still a digital divide that needs to be addressed, for the most part, technology has leveled the playing field of access to information. Technology also allows us to personalize lessons and accelerate learning for individual students. One potential downside, however, is the rush to use technology as a substitute for teachers in the interest of reducing the cost of instruction. When technology moves from tool to teacher we lose the critical human element of teaching. No software is more personal or interactive than a teacher.”
2. What should the education model look like in 5 years?
Jay Bhatt, Blackboard: “One of the most important trends we’ll see over the next five years is leveraging data. There is a lot of valuable data on students learning, learning behaviors, activity on the campus, etc. Corporations outside of education are spending tremendous amounts of money to leverage data around consumers to create a better experience and direction for them. I think over the next five years, we’re going to see institutions and technology providers really leverage the data they have to create a better environment and result for students.”
Jeff Cohen, Sylvan Learning: “Education must move from a one-size-fits-all approach to a much more flexible, individualized system with deeper public/private partnerships that generate more choices and opportunities for all families. We are seeing this shift today with 1 out of 6 kids no longer in a traditional public school. I also see a more modularized approach to lessons with a blend between traditional and online teaching, allowing students to explore their personal passions at a more individualized pace.”
Neil Gaydon, SMART Technologies: “With the access to information that we have nowadays, teachers can be more effective as a “guide on the side,” rather than a sage on the stage. When we put the right technologies in place, we enable highly productive learning, rather than something stylistic. This gives people the freedom to learn in a way best suited their individual needs. And with a more natural approach to learning, we do and will continue to see miraculous results.”
Nate Davis, K¹²: “Why do students like computer games and social media? – because they’re engaging and collaborative. We have to learn to use the same technologies to capture the hearts, minds, and imaginations of our kids – putting them in an environment where they want to learn. The future of education is this type of engaged, experiential and ever adaptive learning environment. We must arm our teachers with these new capabilities so that they can motivate and teach our children in ways that excite and fascinate them.”
3. What is the economic business case for education transformation?
Nate Davis, K¹²: “Online learning reduces the cost of education in a variety of way– for instance there is no cost for facilities. At the same time it provides students with more course options and a greater set of learning approaches. We can also use online education to help reduce the cost of unemployment in this country. Students who are economically disadvantaged drop out of school at a very high rate. If we can solve that issue by providing technology and learning tools to these students, resources they normally don’t have, think about all those students having jobs and the strength of our economy.”
Neil Gaydon, SMART Technologies: “The real question here is what’s the price if America doesn’t invest in its children? Other countries are investing. China now produces more technology patents than Silicon Valley and India is sending rockets into space – and that’s because they’re investing heavily in education. These aren’t simple challenges, but the resolve to drive a pedagogical shift to a new and better style of learning for the modern world is vital.”
Jeff Cohen, Sylvan Learning: “Approximately 80% of jobs in our knowledge economy require college level skills, yet only one third of our students today will graduate from college. The students of today are the workforce of tomorrow, yet our education system is not preparing them to succeed in today’s economy. We cannot wait for the system to reform itself. Parents recognize this challenge and realize they cannot leave the education of their kids solely to the government. They are becoming informed education consumers. It’s this “consumerization” of education that will drive more competition and education alternatives, lifting our kids to greater achievement.”
Jay Bhatt, Blackboard: “There are 10 million unemployed people in the country and 4 million skilled labor jobs that are available, so I think we’re not matching skilled labor to availability, and there are two reasons for that: One, the education system is failing the student because it’s not reaching all of them or they are not able to get through the system. Or two, the student is not able to articulate their competencies. We are trying to solve for both of these challenges.”
4. What is at the core of your business model?
Jeff Cohen, Sylvan Learning: “At the core of our business model is Sylvan’s mission to inspire every student to succeed. We recognize that students are individuals with unique aspirations and distinct needs. Our programs are designed to assess and identify students’ needs, develop a learning plan that addresses each student’s individual challenges and then teach to that plan through a highly interactive instructional system that enables teachers to teach exactly the right skills at the right time, allowing students to close skill gaps as quickly as possible.
We are also a partner to our nation’s school systems, supplementing the learning opportunities for all students. Toward that end, in 2015 we are launching robotics and coding classes for elementary aged students with a goal of enhancing our students’ exposure to STEM disciplines and igniting their intellectual curiosity and enthusiasm to explore these subjects further.”
Jay Bhatt, Blackboard:”The central premise of our model is the learner. We are building our technologies for the learner whether that’s through a more capable mobile-oriented device or through analytics that help teachers and administrators solve learner competencies more effectively and dive into the massive amount of data that exist around students and learning.”
Nate Davis, K¹²: “We provide curriculum, technology, and school teachers to public schools across the nation. Our goal is to maximize every child’s potential by transforming the educational experience, making it accessible, engaging and individualized. It doesn’t matter where you come from, your race, your economic background or whether you live in a rural or urban community – everybody learns differently. From advanced learners to people behind grade level, each person needs individualized attention. That’s also why we operate both online and blended schools, which combine digital learning with brick and mortar setting. Our schools provide more choices, and allow parents be involved and take control over their child’s education.”
Neil Gaydon, SMART Technologies: “SMART Technologies invented the SMART Board and has been at the heart of transforming education with technology for over 20 years. We recently launched SMART amp, a progressive education software solution that encompasses the latest teaching techniques and works on any device, anywhere, anytime. We believe in the democratization of the classroom and enabling the freedom to learn.”