On October 30th at the 2010 National Net Impact Conference, which University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business hosted, I spoke on a panel about new business opportunities in the education space. Ken Zeff, the chief operating officer at Green Dot Public Schools and Melissa Pickering, co-founder of iCreate to Educate, were fellow panelists.

Several participants told me afterwards how surprised they were by the general tone of optimism in the discussion. I do not think our optimism was misplaced. I believe the education sector is bursting with promise right now, in a way that has not been possible for at least a century. Consider the following:

  • High-speed Internet connectivity is bringing advanced courses, electives, and remote foreign languages to parts of America (and the world) that previously had no way of accessing them. The U.S. Department of Education considers approximately one-third–or almost 5,000–of all school districts in the United States to be rural. How promising that these rural areas have the hope of connecting to any courses and knowledge experts they want.
  • Technologies like Melissa’s iCreate to Educate can make learning intrinsically motivating and deeply engaging, based on each student’s preferences, in a way that was not possible before. The possibilities for virtual simulations, games and project-based experiences via the Internet open boundless potential for fun learning.
  • Even a monopoly like the public education system is vulnerable to disruptive forces. The U.S. postal system did not expect email to disrupt its business as radically as it has. Similarly, I am optimistic that new technologies will take hold among nonconsumers, and eventually even the mainstream will be hard pressed to ignore their success.  I will not be surprised if online learning becomes so good and so inexpensive that community leaders will rent lovely spaces, hire caring adults, organize some athletics, and snap the online curriculum into these brick and mortar environments, allowing for the flooding of the landscape with revolutionarily affordable private schools.

Yes, the gloomy statistics about school failure abound and a perma-state of crisis seems unending. But amidst it all, disruptive technologies are starting to burst forth across the system with a momentum that might be unstoppable.


  • Heather Staker
    Heather Staker

    Heather Staker is an adjunct fellow at the Christensen Institute, specializing in K–12 student-centered teaching and blended learning. She is the co-author of "Blended" and "The Blended Workbook." She is the founder and president of Ready to Blend, and has authored six BloomBoard micro-credentials for the “Foundations of Blended Learning” educator micro-endorsement.