Remember the old dial-up modems that transmit data at about 56 kbps? Most people reading this now have a broadband connection, allowing for transmission of at least 256 kbps or faster. A media-rich transmission, such as an MPEG-2 video stream, needs about 6 Mbps (6,000 kbps) for good quality. The fascinating thing is that data pipes are improving so significantly and quickly that rates of up to 50 to 100 Mbps are now possible. That’s important, because Google reports well over one trillion (1,000,000,000,000) unique URLs in its index, and that number is multiplying daily.

All industries tightly linked to information—including financial services, entertainment, retailing, and countless others—are in the middle of a permanent, fundamental reformulation. Even the defense industry is proposing a new army of cyber warriors to adjust to today’s realities.

But Bill Gates hit the nail on the head when he said in this interview:

“What’s surprising is given how the Internet has changed how we buy airline tickets and books and how we look up things . . . formal education hasn’t changed hardly at all. The technology sector deserves its blame—it could be doing more here. But now is the time.”

Gates has put his money where his mouth is. On October 11th the Gates Foundation released the first requests for proposals (RFPs) as the start of its “Next Generation Learning Challenges” program. The aim is to improve college readiness and college completion in the United States, although future challenges will focus on the high-school level as well. The Gates Foundation plans to award $20 million in the first round to organizations and innovators to expand their use of technology tools.  The RFP seeks proposals that address four challenges: blended learning, open core courseware, learning analytics and interactive applications.

More information about the RFPs is available here. Michael B. Horn first blogged in July about the NextGen challenges here.

Of course the Internet won’t change everything. Funeral homes, coal mining, masseuses, and tow-trucks come to mind. But the education industry? The one industry whose very product is information transmission? Policymakers and teachers unions need to allow for outside-the-system innovation by refocusing on outcome-based policy and eliminating the input proscriptions. This, coupled with the good intentions of philanthropists like Gates, will help America’s education system get on the highway.


  • 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.