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.

Can the Gig Economy Bring Relief to Refugees?

Handmade Banner Refugees Welcome - Can the Gig Economy Bring Relief to Refugees?

Can the Gig Economy Bring Relief to Refugees?

The recent presidential debate reminded me of the importance of sharing the responsibilities across nations to help solve the refugee challenge. I talked with colleague and friend Daniel W. Rasmus at Serious Insights about innovative ways to approach the refugee crisis [see his post here].

I started with the work I did a few months ago with the U.S. State Department, where I learned about the plight of refugees inside of countries across Europe and elsewhere who find it hard to find work, or are denied work in their skilled profession based on local regulations around certification and licensing.

We started thinking about the Gig Economy which Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork, called the secret weapon of the US economy in his last interview on The Street.

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK - SEPTEMBER 15, 2015: Female Syrian refugees are picking donated clothes at charity collecting point. They are listening to an announcement made by aid worker.

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK – SEPTEMBER 15, 2015: Female Syrian refugees are picking donated clothes at charity collecting point. They are listening to an announcement made by aid worker.

Considering how technology enables more of that “gig” technology, we started discussing it as the solution to bringing much needed paying work to refugees, reducing the burden of acclimation by local governments and reducing the incidents of violence spurred by perceptions of refugees displacing native workers.

Samasource is helping with what they call “the bottom of the bottom,” by providing projects to people inside refugee camps that pay significantly more than equivalent hours of manual labor.

We kind of both started saying the same things. What if we flipped the model so that businesses around the world provided access to remote jobs for skilled workers around the world, who may be displaced by circumstance—but still highly qualified to deliver their expertise.

And at the core of this, those companies could increase the value of these workers by helping them learn English, which would reduce their costs by ensuring the understand work assignments, and that they deliver quality results.

While experiments like the Samasource and Crowdflower to GiveWork app attempted to bring together refugees with quality monitor in the U.S., no one has scaled a solution. What we need to do is take the flipping idea even further and help make the landed refugees citizens of the world first. I’m not suggesting that they abandon loyalty to the country in which they settled, but that in order to contribute locally they will need work, and it might well be that global work will be more accessible than local work. The faster we can make them citizens of the world, the better it is for them, for their employers, and for the local economies.

There is no magic formula that is going to help the millions of displaced workers tomorrow, but we believe that the world needs innovative ideas. The number of displaced grows daily and we have to find new engagement pathways—and encouraging global companies to take on not just citizenship efforts that pour money into third-party programs—but programs that bring refugees into organizations so they can contribute through global collaboration and communications systems.

I’m committing that in the next six months I’m going to find a way to hire a couple of recently settled refugees. I ask my fellow leaders to join me in finding an answer to the question: Can the Gig Economy Bring Relief to Refugees?

Will Innovative New School 42 Create The Next Gold Alumni Network?

Innovative New School 42 Karine-42-2

Will Innovative New School 42 Create The Next Gold Alumni Network?

For many of us in the Silicon Valley, we know well the shortage of programmers and coders. We also know that the shortage isn’t just about coding, but about innovative thinking among those who know how to code.

I was thinking about this as I drove to an event recently. After a beautiful drive over the Dumbarton Bridge from the Peninsula, I arrived in Fremont, at a large building—and I entered the brand new US-based school known simply as 42.

For those of you not familiar with Ecole, it is a new university model aimed at disrupting education by providing a FREE coding school, that is project-based and peer reviewed.  You read it right: No teachers, no lectures, no tuition.

The university model has operated in Paris for a while.  It is fully funded with a $100M philanthropic effort of a well known businessman, Xavier Niel, who already disrupted the telecom industry with mobile operator Iliad’s Free brand.

I have previously written about how investment in education has increased over the last several years. This is driven not only by the student loan crisis and the increasing focus on the ROI of educational institutions, but also by the new ways to monetize and deliver education enabled by the Internet.

Digitalization has impacted educational products, services and delivery. It has also expanded the set of players coming to the market. For example, LinkedIn acquired Lynda, creating new vertical strategy for technology market learning. In the digital world, learning on its own is not sufficient. These digital services exponentially increase the value for learners. Lynda’s, for instance, links to finding a job as an outcome, with its integration into recruitment services.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to moderate a launch roundtable for the ‘piscine’ at 42. The “piscine,” or “pool” is an intensive entrance process that gives students a month at the school to understand learner motivation and skill.  I was impressed by the scale, the speed and the team driving this project.

There are many factors that make 42 unique and successful. Here are few of my thoughts about their approach:

  • A team with an incredible passion and ability to execute

Each person proudly wears their Ecole 42 staff tee-shirt. The style of communication is open and collaborative. Every staff member is either an alumni, shares a strong sense of purpose with the school, or is an avid defender of the model. They want to show how to provide access to critical skills for people who might not otherwise have access.

Just two months ago they announced they would come to the US and launch in the summer. And here they are, with new buildings, the first set of students, all while finalizing the campus.

  • The magic sauce: An end-to-end model with the student at the center

Not only is there a shared pedagogy, but the whole structure is centered on the individual.

The school does not include the idea of a standard “term,” recognizing that every individual progresses his or her own pace. Some may finish the school and get to level 21 in 2 years, while other learners may take as long as 5 years.

Brittany Bir, the COO of 42, explained that accounts will never close. This leaves the opportunity for students to come back if it becomes relevant to them.

While tuition is free, Kwame Yamgnane, the managing director of 42, asserts that free tuition is not sufficient. The ability to come back means tuition remains free for life.

42 also offers lodging. Onsite dorms provide learners with a place to stay while they learn.

Initial success

I had the opportunity to talk with two students, Antoine Bungert and Henri Dumas. Antoine is currently a Level 10 student in Paris. He has participated in the annual 42/HEC partnership program. Henri, a Level 11, recently completed a partnership and an internship with thanks to his studies at 42.

Innovative New School 42 Karine-41-1Both students recognized an immediate connection of their studies to potential jobs. The moment the students shared their studies at 42 via LinkedIn companies started reaching out with job offers.

42 students help reach underserved populations. Eighteen-percent of the students are women,  five times that of institutional averages.

Not only does 42 attract job offers and teach great coding, but they help their students master 21st Century skills like collaboration, communication and team work, skills often not taught by other schools.

I bet the alumni network of this school will be strong. I look forward to seeing how their graduates flourish as entrepreneurs and innovators that start their own businesses and contribute within larger organizations!

Three more ways to learn continuously

Learn continuously

Learn continuously

Over the last several posts, I have explored continuous learning. Here are the last three topics for now. I look forward to creating a dialog around this topic. Please comment if you have other ideas or questions about continuous learning.

1. Say yes – keep space for spontaneity

Learn continuously

When people are asked to do things, a lot goes on in their mind. Do I have time? Can I afford it? What do I get out of it? Who is getting something out of this beside me? Is this aligned with my plans?

All very selfish thoughts. I find that one of the best ways to be selfish is to just say, yes. When you say yes you put yourself into situations that you wouldn’t be in if you had said no. Now I don’t mean dangerous situations, but business situations. Let’s say somebody asked you to be on a panel, to present at a conference, take on a new project or coach a new employee. If you say no, you will never meet the people on the panel, you will never learn new things as you prepare for the presentation, you will never gain experience through the wins and failings of the project, and you will never have the opportunity to get to know a really interesting new person at more than a passing level.

All of that happens because you say yes; break through the barrier of routine, and open yourself up to learning.

2. Hold your beliefs lightly

Learn continuouslyIf you think you know something, you may be reluctant to look into it any deeper. I have conversations all of the time about topics that I think I know something about, but when I get in a group, I find that some of what I know is only surface knowledge, and some of it is wrong. If I hold on to what I think I know about everything, I can’t learn new things. In some areas I might be considered a subject matter expert, but even in these areas, I am not the only source, or even the best source for all aspects of entrepreneurship, managing start-ups or social learning. I think a subject matter expert is someone who actively learns all of the time, someone who is passionate about their area, but not so trapped by their beliefs that they can see when disruptions happen, new insights occur or new technologies offer improvements. Be humble even about what you know because some new discovery may be very important to your future, and you need to be willing to embrace it, or it may just pass you by.

3. Negotiate learning into your objectives

Learn continuouslyThis is harder than it sounds because when most people write their objectives, they create them based on their manager’s objectives — which are derived from other, higher-level objectives. Even organizations that consider themselves “learning organizations” seldom flow down any meaningful learning objectives to individuals.

People can take classes, but they often feel like the classes take time away from work, and the success of that work drives personal assessments, and personal assessments drive bonuses. Contributing to lessons-learned systems and in-house communities often get left out of time measurements and success metrics. If you can’t integrate learning into your personal achievement equation, you will probably skip most learning opportunities. People don’t get paid for learning more on the job, really, do they?

I find it useful to not assume that this is the case. I have learned to take the time to talk with my manager about what I need to know to advance in my career, and then find ways to put that learning into my objectives. If it is important enough that I know something to better contribute to the organization, then it is important enough that the organization recognize my effort to learn it. Even for a CEO!

Continuous Learning: Be a connector and find the relationship building approach that suits you best

businessman and social network structure relationship building

Be a connector and find the relationship building approach that suits you best

When you are given an opportunity to meet an interesting person, don’t be shy, even if you are shy. I’m kind of shy, but I’ve meet CEOs, diplomats and technology leaders, and some of them are now my mentors and friends. They would be neither if I hadn’t made the effort to meet them and talk with them. Relationship building is an active, not passive activity.

Sure, a lot of your encounters are brief, and you may not get to do much more than say hello, but sometimes, you get to have a leisurely breakfast or a deep conversation ahead of a presentation, or the opportunity for a chat over a glass of wine at the end of a day. But you know what? If you are standing shyly on the side, not approaching a person to at least say hello, none of those things is ever going to happen … unless you are the interesting person and people come over to you. Yes, that is a bit of extra advice: you are an interesting person and if you are confident and open, people will want to know you.

To be honest, I don’t do well when I’m in a big group— I find in big groups all of our defenses are up—and that’s not where I connect best. So I have learned to not only master my shyness when in big crowds, but also to not be bashful in reaching out to people I already know at conferences and get myself invited to dinners, for instance, where I can really talk to people. In a smaller setting, over time, everybody can get comfortable and we become more vulnerable — and that is when we really start having a conversation, when we really start getting to know each other.

Some readers may be comfortable in other situations. If that is true, then you should try to find a way to bring yourself into those situations more often. That is where you will learn best.

Continuous Learning: Patiently connect the dots

Continuous Learning: Patiently connect the dots

Continuous Learning: Patiently connect the dots

If all you do is execute all day—go from one thing to the next to get everything done—you may miss one of the best learning opportunities that humans can experience: reflection.

As I understand it, our brains, through dreams, are made to reflect and organize, hone and emphasize our experiences. That is a passive experience. I think it is important for people to take the time in areas they want to explore, in areas where they want to learn, and think about and trace out the relationships between the different aspects of the concept. Are there gaps? How are these things similar? How are they connected? Is there some causal relationship? Or even—do some of the ideas not fit at all, and if not, why did I think they fit in the first place?

When you watch police shows that put the detective in-front of a wall covered with pictures and notes, an image where long-lengths of string connect faces to fact, what you are seeing is a very visceral, physical way of connecting ideas. That kind of organization can be used for anything you want to explore or solve. But it doesn’t have to be physical; many tools—from electronic cork boards to mind maps—can help you think about ideas more inclusively and holistically.

You do, however, have to make time to do this kind of analysis.

In my current job I keep Fridays open for meeting people who don’t regularly work with me or for me. I use the time when I’m not meeting new people to brainstorm and to think about how things are related.

I come from a Latin culture, where not all meetings and situations are planned. In my current job I keep Fridays open for meeting people who don’t regularly work with me or for me. I use the time when I’m not meeting new people to brainstorm and to think about how things are related. I think of this as an aspect of diversity. Diversity in people by getting outside of those I know really well — and diversity of time by allowing myself to do something very different one day a week. I find that being perceived as a connector is also very positive for managers and learners, as it helps create a circle of trust and credibility that creates even more new dots to connect — even more opportunities to learn.

SXSWedu reflections: My Takeaways from Tracking SXSWedu

SXSWedu reflections

SXSWedu reflections

Unfortunately, I could not attend SXSWedu physically this year, but I am watching from afar via streaming and social media. It’s not the same as being there, but I was still moved by the passion of the presenters, and challenged by their ideas.

Here are the top takeaways from what I’ve seen.

The end of average and reflection on assessments

Todd Rose’s talk on The End of Average really made me think, in particular is final story about the “Norma,” the 1940s attempt to define the ideal woman by averaging out their sample population (see When U.S. air force discovered the flaw of averages for more about Norma). What they ended up with was a woman who was so not average, that a contest to find someone who met Norma’s specifications failed to find even one person.

Rose made this point to emphasize that any attempt to create an average approach to learning will result in a spectrum of achievement, not the ideal.

People learn at different paces. Some apparently slow learners tested early in pursuit of a topic look like they are struggling. Given time, however, they may end up outperforming peers who earlier looked to be top performers.

Time versus Self-Paced Driven Learning

SXSWedu reflectionsI was also struck by Paul Reville’s comments on our conservation of time. That when a public school system talks about changing the start time, or eliminating summer breaks, people rally to protect their time, in much greater numbers than those who show up to discuss curriculum or discipline. Yet the most radical idea that we can put forth in education is to flip the idea that we should fix curriculum to time, rather than letting time be the pacing element — letting people achieve when they are ready, not when some outside standard describes its timeline of readiness.

Time is also the enemy of reflection. We fill our time with so many activities we don’t allow for challenge, discussion and personal reflection. The clock manages when we start-and-stop, rather than letting the topic find its pace and role with the passion it creates — or doesn’t. If something isn’t interesting to anyone in a class, then it would probably be good to stop teaching it and find something that does interest the learners. Maybe revisit the topic later, or reflect on the approach. If done well, educators end up modeling reflection. They also demonstrate critical thinking by self-evaluating and making the tough call when things aren’t working out the way they think they should.

Delivering digital education for several years we have seen the impact of self-driven studies and freedom. Digital will be an enabler to create more flexibility. I am always curious the adoption digital education, as many at SXSWedu commented, it requires a real cultural shift, and that shift is hard to make because it is multi-dimensional.

Teaching as Marketing

SXSWedu reflections

It is interesting to think about applying marketing to teaching. When you think about it, what you are trying to do is convince a learner that what you are teaching is important enough that they should buy it with their time. A learner can make a lot of choices in how to invest their time. The real competition for learning, as ClaytonChristensen has pointed out, are other social places that teach other things, like gangs. In inner-cities they have a better marketing program than the educators. Learning isn’t loosing, because those children are still learning, they are just learning different things. We need to make mainstream learning as compelling as any alternative, and that starts with marketing basics like making the ideas concrete, introducing the unexpected, and connecting with credible stories that create emotions.

Working with my customers, part of the marketing is engaging the learner along his or her journey and it comes in various forms.

We look at having great learner outcome pretty scientifically, not only must the learner be able to learn,  they must spend time learning and receive feedback regularly —internal motivation is also a key component of success. Motivation can’t be maintain, though, without seeing progress.

We have the chance to study captive learners in K-12, but we do not use all technology and models we have the chance to use in the corporate world.

The flexibility of blended learning really enables people to spend more time on learning, on interactions with peers, an educator or a coach — and that provides the social bond as well as a channel for feedback;  add ongoing progress measurement through badging and progress assessment and I think we start seeing systems that can really let people learn at their own pace! I hope for an evolution in thinking that allows all EdTech learning to be brought into our beloved school system.

Revolution – empowering educators and revisiting skills we need for the future

I think it is interesting that many of the speakers talked to radical reinvention, to audacious work that puts learners at the center — big words that spark big thinking, but then also a lot about support and resources for educators. What we need is trust and empowerment. I think many teachers know how to be better educators, but the constraints of the existing system stop them from practicing their skills. I sometimes think of the way we treat educators like artists told to use only a pencil and to complete all of their work in eight hours, and by-the-way, all the pictures you draw need to be daisies.

Teaching is creating, and inspiring, it can deliver hope and create trust — it can teach people to ask big questions and to think critically about the world around them. That is at least what is should do. It was pointed out that tests do not measure things like, creativity, vision, teamwork, integrity, grit, passion, empathy, loyalty, endurance, humility or compassion. And because we don’t test for these, we don’t know how to integrate them into our teaching models.

Innovative Learning in Action

Real reinvention take action, but when we leave a conference, we all return, often as individuals, back to our day-to-day environment and the fire fades.

When it comes to action, one of the things we have to do is create a set of principles that can guide our thinking. These 10 “core elements” of innovative learning were inspired by a chart I saw on Twitter from Clara Galán (@MsClaraGalan) but I thought I would reword them in the way I think about the challenges of innovation in learning.

  1. Learners must have choices in process and how they demonstrate their learning
  2. Students must have some context for why what they are learning is important (did we market it to them well enough?)
  3. Educators co-create learning experiences with learners
  4. Learners get to practice what they learn
  5. Learning is allowed to be iterative, as students solve problems on the way to achieving a goal
  6. Students are not in a factory and many valid learning paths exist
  7. Students build on what they know, and if they don’t know something, we go back and make sure they do
  8. Learners co-create their assessments
  9. Learners learn together in collaborative situations
  10. Learners are given time to learn about how they learn, and they learn how to articulate that to others

SXSWedu reflectionsOne of the things I miss is the conversations after the presentations. But even those are too brief. As much as SXSWedu is trying to facilitate the dialog about change in education, the string of people talking one-after-another means that we never get to a time, together, when we can collectively do something meaningful together. After writing this I want to jump out of my chair and go do something!
And perhaps something will get done. Arthur E. Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation suggested,  “We are going to see a revolution when it comes to what schools look like.” We all need to commit the time to make change happen.

Finally, I will leave you with a tweet quote from Mary Alice Smith (@MASmith) that you can use for your reflection today:

Ask yourself, “Am I teaching them to understand or am I teaching them to find an answer?”


Can Untapped Talent Leapfrog into the New Talentism Economy Thanks to Technology?


Talentism is the new capitalism

In 2013 Dr. Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum made a profound observation: “Capital is being superseded by creativity and the ability to innovate – and therefore by human talents – as the most important factors of production. Just as capital replaced manual trades during the process of industrialization, capital is now giving way to human talent. Talentism is the new capitalism.”

Regardless of whether a person is employed full-time, or working in the growing ‘Gig’ Economy, those who thrive do so because of their ability to apply knowledge to a particular problem.

In this post I will focus on sharing examples of how Talentism has already changed the economic landscape and how an untapped talent pool in the emerging markets may have the opportunity to leapfrog into this new economic model.

Talentism on the rise

We are already seeing huge shifts among technology firms where meritocracies of talented individuals drive innovation and shape markets with vast ecosystems of partners. Microsoft and Google have both seen talented individuals with varied backgrounds, many from “emerging markets,” take on top leadership positions.

TalentismWe also see design becoming a key component of software and manufacturing. Germany’s Frog was acquired by Flextronics Software, which is now part of Aricent, (controlled by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts), a product engineering and software firm. Google acquired mechanical design firm Gecko Design, Capital One now owns experience firm Adaptive Path, while management consultancy McKinsey has integrated Lunar Design into its model.

At the core of these acquisitions is the recognition that people bring a unique sensibility to processes and products, and that innovative talent is valuable.

Talentism, however, is often as much a part of income inequality as any other feature of capitalism. A small group of very talented people gain access to capital that transforms their ideas into innovations, and their innovations turn back into capital for them and their investors. At the same time, billions of smart, talented individuals can’t find the foothold to lift them out of poverty, and increasingly, those in the middle class are slipping from the crumbling social and economic infrastructure that has supported America and Europe since the end of World War II.

The way out is to broaden access to jobs, and that requires not just passion, but action.

Untapped talent blocked by traditional barriers

According to Harvard Business Review (HBR), talent is the number one concern for CEOs (The 3 Things CEOs Worry About the Most). There is a real opportunity to include more talented people in this economy. It is important to ask then, what is holding people back – and why are so many people left out of the talent economy?

Access difficulties

TalentismAccess to the Global Knowledge Economy, or participation in Talentism, requires that people have access to education so that they can build their knowledge — access to jobs so that they can test existing knowledge — and work opportunities that let them expand what they know through experience. Unfortunately for many places in the world, access to education is lacking, and good jobs have already passed by much of the population which is relegated to low-wage service or industry jobs that offer little hope for advancement.

School system failure or what bring skills mismatch

The International Labor Organization, for instance, reported that Egypt was facing approximately 1.5 million unemployed young people (ILO 2011b) at the same time private sector firms were seeking to fill 600,000 vacancies. In South Africa the situation is even more extreme, with 3 million young people not in education, employment or training on top of 600,000 unemployed university graduates yet, 800,000 vacancies remained to be filled (African Economic Outlook, ‘Education & Skills Mismatch’).

Many factors drive these labor mismatches from structural changes in the economy to new technologies, as well as low college completion rates, for example in the U.S., leading to wage inequality due to those with degrees or credentials being in short supply. The accelerating pace of technology makes keeping up ever more difficult, requiring everyone to reskill at some level in order to acquire the knowledge to at least operate, if not to develop for, the next generation of mobile devices and networking technologies.

The language barrier to access global resources and opportunities

For many around the world, it is difficult to access the right kinds of learning if they aren’t skilled in English. Web Technology Surveys, W3Techs reports that currently about 54 percent of all content on the Internet is written in English. If you don’t know English, you can’t learn from the available resources. Non-English speaking educators may have a hard time transforming existing content into more locally relevant material leading to difficulty finding consumable topics of interest to those who want to engage in self-paced learning in their native language.

Being at the heart of the industry working on solving this challenge – I know we are making progress, but not at the pace we need.

Leapfrogging toward Talentism?

In telecommunications, Africa, much of the Middle East and China did not go through an era of home computing, because by the time the majority of people were able to afford computers, those computers were already smart phones – devices with more capabilities and lower price points than found in the original desktop technology. Technology can help connect talent to need.

Internet access

It may well be that the Next Billion Millennials or Virtuals on the Internet don’t seek traditional jobs, but through efforts like, they reach into the new talent market and find global connections before they ever hold a traditional job. The Next Billion will need to be part of what the Internet Society sees as a “free and open Internet, one that will serve as a platform for human, social and economic development and be a tool for strengthening human rights.” Anything less offers unacceptable constraints. People need access to education and jobs, and the ability to align their talent and their passion with the work that fulfills them.

Job access

TalentismMany organizations like Upwork and, along with technical sites like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, or specialized services like data enhancement service CrowdFlower offer access points where people with skills can earn money in ways unsupported by their local economy. For people with the right skills, these sites can offer “jumping-in” points for access to the global economy.

Education access

Because of these “Gig Economy” labor markets, education, like the hours worked and the structure of projects, will be less formal and more on-demand. The rise of the boot camps, General Assembly and micro certifications support this emerging education model.

The path forward

I am a believer that much of the world’s untapped talent can leapfrog to this new economy. We will all win if this happens.


For the youth across the world, adapting to new ways of working may be relatively easy because they have no personal history with other economic realities, but their parents do. Transitioning to these new models will be more difficult for older workers who may not have some of the communication and collaboration skills required to persevere and thrive in the emerging talent economy – they may also be less open to online, just-in-time learning.

With those disruptions listed above, along with new ways to access education and job opportunities, we will likely experience a reshaping of the idea of work, and people’s relationships to work, that will be the cornerstones to accelerating adoption.

This requires that working people have personal confidence in their abilities, and a willingness to engage with other workers all over the world. Local investments and innovations in learning, and connections to the global economy will be critical in helping people at the edges of economic development find their path forward. In a way, Talentism represents a new level of diversity management in our corporate cultures!

Those CEOs who are suffering the most with talent shortages should be the ones encouraging investments in helping frame this transition, or even better, directly investing in ways that bring it about.

Innovation Required to Help Avert Crisis in Turkey: Creating Opportunities for Refugee Education and Work

Innovation Required to Help Avert Crisis in Refugee Education and Work
Innovation Required to Help Avert Crisis in Turkey

As the daughter of a Muslin father and Jewish mother raised catholic, bridging cultures is part of my inner-self. I personally experienced all kinds of misunderstandings — fell through the cultural gaps – but I also loved and learned how living together, finding a way to create harmony and understanding, that helped move us toward a compelling future together. This is vitally important to the world we live in today. I am not saying we should blur all differences, but we should appreciate the differences, learn from each other, and even celebrate the differences. Globalization has created a very large melting pot. America over the last century certainty, and in many other parts of the world where many cultures found themselves together,  were experiments in the transformative power of different cultures blending, learning and enjoying life together.

But some do not appreciate this diversity, nor do they have tolerance for those different than themselves. We saw this on Friday, November 13 in Paris. Since I was raised in France and lived in its capital for over 10 years, that attack was very personal.  While I did not know anyone who was directly impacted by this tragedy, we are all affected, and we will be for a long time to come.  The Paris attack s are yet another reset point in the continuing effect to establish peace and stability throughout the world.

Two years ago I made the decision to leave Microsoft, a company that I consider more or less the place where I I grew up, the company that created great learning experiences, including those that exposed me to the global technology market. As much as Microsoft contributed and participated in a number of philanthropic endeavors, I wanted to continue my personal journey at a company that created social impact at the core of the business, including its technology and its business model.

I joined Pearson English Business Solutions with a mission I could personally relate to. The impact of this division has been beyond my expectations. We’ve changed millions of lives and continue to help create a viable middle class in countries like Mexico and India.

Now, two years later, what amazes me the most is that this company continues to fight every day to keep innovation moving forward, to maintain its competitive advantage, to create a sustainable for-profit business, because it wants to be even more impactful tomorrow than it is today. Little did I know this was the beginning of finding a path that would align my heart, my soul and my brain.

I have a voice in my head telling me I have a role to play in bridging the cultures that are at the essence of my being. I want to bring my passion for seeking solutions to the global need for understanding and peace in a sustainable way. I see this as a core part of my personal mission.

When we understand our passion, and define our mission, we see opportunities in new ways.

On November 16, 2015, I was invited to the U.S. State Department to connect with other key policy makers, NGO leaders, donors and other private sector executives to seek about innovative ways to bridge the educational gap for Syrian refugees in Turkey.

This is critical because about a million Syrian refugee children lack primary and secondary education. Many refugee children have already lost five years of education, creating irreparable gaps. Many of these children are working because their parents cannot find work, nor obtain permits required to work. Young adults face a future with no educational paths – this creates short to midterm social pain and risks not only for the victims, but for the stability of the region. Many women face accelerated, forced marriages, while men often return to their home countries to fight or get radicalized, or both. If they stay in the countries to which they migrate, they often face underemployment, if not unemployment.

In order to address these issues, we need Innovation. I have outlined four areas of focus that we discussed during this visit:

Innovation Required to Help Avert Crisis in Turkey: Four Areas of Innovation

  1. Improved access to formal education
    • Privately fundtechnology-oriented schools.
    • Track achievement and attendance.
    • Fund educational program advisors.
    • Adopt a common communication/collaboration platform.
  2. Informal education
    • Vocational training and integration of Syrian refugee into the workforce.
    • Specialized classes: Catch up classes, hybrid digital supplements (literacy, numeracy, Turkish) and accelerated learning classes – Psychological, ESL, life skills, learning tools for parents.
    • Bridge-building after-school activities, exchanges between Turkish and Syrian children.
    • Content availability and access: Library without borders – Portable media center.
  3. Language learning
    • Provide access to Turkish and English – both general and professional.
    • Teach Turkish educators
    • Deploy digital tools: Online English learning tools; Bi-lingual online learning tool for children.
    • Bring communities together to dialogue: Language exchange programming to connect Turkish and Syrian children together – Global online community to connect people and resources.
    • Increase access to mentors and coaches from outside of the country by leveraging International resources such as the U.S retirees in Chicago who help Brazilian children master English online via Skype (see the Chicago Tribune article, Chicago-area seniors teach English to Brazilians, for more information).
  4. Vocational learning
    • Develop learning hubs for career-focused content.
    • Hire skilled Syrians or older siblings to be mentors in skills they have mastered.
    • Connect with local private sector to understand needs, and create a placement paths to jobs.
    • Test and certify skills so people can work in areas like education, health care, and engineering, along with skilled vocations like electrical repair and plumbing.
    • Engage with foreign outsourcing, in-house hiring, and freelancing platform companies such as Samasource, Andela and Upwork to provide work opportunities.
    • We are at the risk of losing many of those immigrating from Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East to Turkey, throughout Europe and other locations. We risk losing them to radicalization, and perhaps to death. We risk losing their innovative insights by not finding ways to inspire them, by not giving them opportunities to transform ideas into products and services. We risk losing the knowledge and expertise of educators and doctors, nurses and engineers who don’t align with national standards or hold the right certificates. For all of us, some part of our humanity is at risk if we don’t find a way to help avert these other risks. Now is the time.

Here are two actions to consider this holiday season. First, engage with agencies already on the ground in Turkey by volunteering to contributing. Two groups that already working hard on this problem are Unicef and Save the Children. Second, if you are working in a group, or in a company, seeking to solve any of the issues listed above, reach out to me through the comments so we can connect.

If you want to read more on the refugee issues in Turkey, here are additional resources to consider.

Inaugural White House Technology in English Conference Sets Goals for Collaboration


White House Technology in English Conference

Getting to know people at the White House Technology in English Conference. All images source: Flickr via Exchanges Photos

Attending the Inaugural White House Technology in English Conference

I was recently invited to the Inaugural meeting of the White House Technology in English Conference. It was an honor to be a member of a small group of twenty four attendees, consisting of academics, policy makers, and private and public executives, all gathered to discuss opportunities for more collaboration with each other around a common goal: helping more people communicate in English.

20824332343_deb0480451_oWhen looking at an industry, such as technology, many historical breakthroughs occurred because an ecosystem was built: Apple and its app store, or Microsoft with its deep developer programs. If this group can drive collaboration and joint initiatives we can be much stronger tackling the global challenge of English communication.

Here are a few of my takeaways:

We share common challenges. One of the things that struck me was how many great technology, product and service initiatives exist around English language learning. The problem is they are all separate, un-connected, and most of them don’t scale. Many of these solutions were very local, adhering only to local standards and local cultural expectations—and unfortunately, most were ephemeral.

The first agreement among participants, an early commitment, was to collaborate more, and invest in development projects that can be replicated and scaled.

  • Venture capitalists and private sector members who were present said they could provide their grille de lecture — key for understanding — to NGO and government representatives in order to assess project scalability when they look at funding opportunities.
  • Global private solution providers will share how they create sustainable products and solutions.
    At Pearson English Business Solutions (PEBS), we will share learning and expertise about how to build and maintain a global platform which provides outcomes for learners across the 4 continents and in over 34 countries. We will also continue to partner with government entities.
  • Public or NGO representatives committed to drive more due diligence when they execute on a project in order to leverage existing commercial investments and platforms, avoiding wheel reinvention and the waste of limited resources.

Three ways to leverage technology

After many hours of discussion, the attendees converge on three key ways we can cooperate to better leverage technology. These ideas can also be brought back to our organizations to help us remain aware that our platforms and services are a part of a large ecosystem of solutions.

Create new ways of making learning more relevant

21453934211_b576c6cf08_oAutomate the creation of learning materials using semantic technologies, and leverage free access to multi-sensory online assets.  Voxy is a great example of an app that creates reading and vocabulary exercises from existing content.  Load an online article and the service does the rest. Voxy identifies key words and creates the relevant exercises in a matter of seconds. It would take about two hours for a teacher to do this same work.

Not only does Voxy create content faster, its speed provides for an increase in the variety of exercises that align to the learner’s interest. And rather than using stale content like a textbook might, it uses articles relevant to the learner to create fresh content, increasing the motivation of a learner by leveraging his or her interests.

The speed required to develop a new learning experience is moving toward a tipping point. As I shared in a previous blog, a rhyming exercise by a Project Literacy Makethon team created its app in just four hours, using a YouTube API.

Usage data captured in the digital world can help tailor and prioritize investments. LinkedIn’s economic graph is very relevant here. Millions of resumes and associated skills inventories are searchable by city, country, continent and industry—while millions of job posts capture which roles and skills are In demand. By better understanding this demand context and its relationship to existing skills, the English language learning community can better direct funding so we deliver relevant learning experiences aligned with needs, and capable of filling gaps.

Digitalize learning to capture data within the learning experience in order to drive better outcomes

21434468302_81bd27826e_oHow many times have you heard someone say that 50% of what they learned was not relevant.
Today at Pearson English, we use data we capture to identify patterns, and we use those patterns to inform personalized learning experience. First, we guide learners along the most relevant paths. Second, we use data to help identify those most likely to prematurely exit a learning experience, so that we can help them achieve their learning objectives.

Also when you can capture multi-sensory digital assets from voice, text, and video, you can better assess progress, and ultimately if the learner reached the goal they set for themselves. It also enables personalization and improved measurement of the learning experience.

Offer more opportunities to practice English

One of the key barriers to reach our mission to have more people communicating in English is the limited opportunities for learners to apply the language. Technology breaks down geographical and communication barriers by connecting people more easily, by providing a platform to communicate and collaborate. Learning experiences need to be designed to so people can practice and apply their English skills.

At PEBS, our coaches and trainers work through Skype or other communication tools to deliver virtual classes, or one-on-one coaching sessions. This technology helps eliminate the barriers of finding quality teachers by locally sourcing across borders. We not only train the learners, but also help educate local teachers.


However, in today’s world, the application of English does not stop at learning environments. Practice can be found in activities which provide social and economic empowerment.

A few examples came up during the meeting, most notably gaming, working in the global supply chain and transaction-based e-commerce: all global experiences or processes often developed and delivered in English. The continuing adoption of Facebook or other social collaboration platforms across borders can also offer practice, and perhaps peer social motivation.

Perhaps most important, facilitating trade in English is a key driver which will motivate many adults to practice their English.