SXSW Reflections: Skills and Technology

In early March, I had the chance to attend SXSWEdu 2017. I attended with many education stakeholders, from teachers to policy makers, from education investors to for-profit and non-profit staff and leaders.

The event covered a wide range of topics,  but many focused on industry pain points like the price of education, teacher quality, workshop skilling and reskilling.

What follows is a snapshot of my takeaways on education for the workforce and educatoin-related technology.

Workforce Skilling and Re-Skilling

There is an increasing number of alternative educational pathways that help people succeed in developing their careers.

This skill-oriented innovation is focuses first on program of limited duration, second, a “teacher-less” environment — some do not have are 100% project-based with mentors active in the professional works to facilitate learning, and finally,  emergent business models where learning is sometimes free, or it has no up-front cost. In some cases these new models calculate payments based on a percentage of student income following the program.

Example: The Shortage of Developers

Being in the Silicon Valley we are well exposed to the shortage of developers. Several solutions have emerged to help bring advanced technology skills to interested learners.

Coding boot camps, for instance, like Ecole42 [covered on the blog here] initially founded in France and funded by French entrepreneur Xavier Niel, co-exists with other institutions and companies like the Holberton School, General Assembly*, Trilogy, and Thinkful. Programs in areas outside of programming, such as inside sales training, are also beginning to appear.

Most individuals now find themselves facing more choices.  Some companies, like Burning Glass, are exploring the implications of learning programs choices.  They help people decide which skills to develop next, and what sort of salary boost those skills will likely deliver.

Given the non-traditional approaches to learning, it becomes incumbent on Employers to implement better ways to assess the skills and aptitudes of potential hires and current employees. We all need better ways to demonstrate what we know, and what we can do. One interesting innovation employs bitcoin blockchain to verify academic credentials. Degreed offers a lifelong learning transcript that includes both formal and informal education and accomplishments.

Organizations that seeks talent from a variety of credible sources clearly needs to understand its own definition of what good looks like.

Technology Trends

The major technology trends are still revolve around key themes like data and analytics, AI, virtual and augmented reality and Simulation. Here are a few highlights.

Predictive Analytics: The promise of big data in education is finally starting to be realized. In a back-test in the state of West Virginia, BrightBytes demonstrated an ability to predict with 90% accuracy whether a particular third-grader would drop out of high school. BrightBytes’s predictive analytics then recommend intervention strategies to reduce the chance of that student dropping out. Civitas Learning’s Student Insight Engine  helps colleges reduce their dropout rates by identifying at-risk students. The company also created a data-driven advising tool that ensures that a student is prepared to succeed in a particular course before enrolling in it.

A lot of data remains to be mined. As we capture more information about learners during business learning experiences, our industry need to prepare to leverage that data, to discover patterns and to deliver more personalized learning and more insightful analytics.

AI-Powered Helpers and Tutors: As we deliver more high-touch human learning experiences, such as tutoring, coaching and mentoring, we know from our customers that they are among the most effective tools for improving student outcomes and persistence. Scale remains the challenge to delivering the equivalence of personalized, face-to-face learning to every student at an accessible price. 2016 saw number of experiments in the use of artificial intelligence as a way to scale access to support services. A Georgia Institute of Technology Professor, for instance, used IBM Watson to create Jill Watson, an AI powered Teaching Assistant which worked alongside eight human teaching assistants. 2017, will be the year to explore additional education use cases for AI-powered assistants or chatbots.

No AI technology will replace humans; but they will free human educators and administrators to focus on making higher-level contributions to student success, by applying machine learning to other problems, including learning analytics and the curation of learning objects.

Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and Simulations: We think virtual reality and augmented reality will eventually be very important, but the use cases where we can fully leverage the technology remain limited. Military, defense, equipment training  and some sports applications are the most proven training scenarios so far. Simulation technology is currently having a much broader impact than AR or VR. MobLab, for instance, allows students, and finance professionals, to run virtual lab experiments in business, economics, and the social sciences.

Great Content That Gets Enthusiastic Learner Engagement: Many investors are convinced that the value of educational content is headed toward zero because there is so much available for free on the web, including the videos and tools of Khan Academy, CK-12, OpenStax, and Open Up Resources. However great interactive content is becoming even more valuable as the platforms for delivering it become more ubiquitous. This is especially true for differentiate  content tied to active, collaborative, project-based learning.