When Sal Khan agreed to help tutor his niece in middle school math, he had no idea he was embarking on a journey that would lead to the creation of Khan Academy, a nonprofit that offers “a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.”
Using free digital tools such as YouTube and Yahoo! Messenger, Khan successfully helped his niece get into the advanced math track at school. Her siblings, their friends and eventually millions of others started watching Khan’s videos, and his digital educational empire was born.
Khan Academy is now famous in the educational technology space, but it’s just one of many innovative companies that are using ed-tech to provide learning opportunities to students in every corner of the globe.
Last year was a record year for the industry. A report from Ambient Insight found that global ed-tech companies raised $2.34 billion in funding in 2014, up from $1.64 billion in 2013. Here are the top ways those investments are changing the world:
1. Improving access.
Global access to basic education is a major problem. Almost 58 million children of elementary school age and approximately 63 million middle school-aged preteens worldwide were not enrolled in school in 2012, a report published in January 2015 by UNICEF noted.
Educators around the world are using technology to increase access to education. Pencil, a nonprofit organization in New York City, is leveraging technology and community involvement to impact urban schools, paving the way for struggling school systems in cities worldwide.
The organization forms partnerships between local businesses, schools, and volunteers to improve academic outcomes, prepare students for college, and invest students and families in their education. The model has impacted more than 220,000 children, the organization’s 2012 report indicates.
2. Overcoming cost.
One of the largest barriers to education is cost. In 2012, the total outstanding debt for public school systems in the U.S. totaled more than $406 million, a report published in May 2014 from the United States Census Bureau showed.
As the cost of education rises, many public school teachers are left to pick up the tab. A survey of 946 U.S. teachers conducted in June 2014 by Sheer ID and Agile Education Marketing found that respondents spent an average of $513 of their own money on classroom supplies, resources, classroom books, and professional development during the 2013-14 school year.
Ed-tech is helping to relieve some of the financial burden. A pioneering crowdfunding site, DonorsChoose.org, enables educators to post their needs and seek donations. Requests range from simple supplies such as pencils and paper to more expensive items such as hydrogen fuel cells for students learning about alternative energy.
Since it was founded in 2000, the site has raised more than $300 million and benefitted about 14 million students, claims the company website.
3. Restructuring the classroom.
Ed-tech is changing the way teachers teach and students learn. In place of the traditional brick-and-mortar classroom, we have witnessed the rise of “flipped classrooms” leveraging blended online and offline instruction, where students watch video lectures at home and do their “homework” in class.
A survey of 500 educational professionals conducted by Kaltura in January 2014 found 48 percent of respondents use video to flip their classrooms and 57 percent said flipped classrooms will become the standard in higher education. More and more, blended online and offline instruction is becoming the norm.
2U, my former company, partners with universities to bring blended learning to life. Using cloud-based services, the company provides online degree programs that mesh live online classes, interactive course materials, and hands-on learning experiences to create an engaging virtual classroom.
4. Skills training.
Ed-tech solutions also provide education to adults who want to improve their job skills, learn new skills or receive higher education at a lower cost.
For instance, Udacity offers affordable higher education options. The company provides massive open online courses that focus on teaching tech skills needed by the top employers in the Silicon Valley. A range of technology skills are in short supply today, and Udacity is working to bridge the skills gap.
Pluralsight also provides accessible training for tech professionals. The site offers a professional library of 3,000 course written by more than 600 authors for developers around the world looking to expand their skills.
By developing education alternatives, these companies are ensuring that every student, regardless of age or location, can compete in a 21st century economy.