Take Aways from the 2011 K12 Horizon Report - the Start-Up Perspective

Take Aways from the 2011 K12 Horizon Report - the Start-Up Perspective

Fellow Big Think blogger Scott McLeod invited me to write a dual post with him on our thoughts about the 2011 K12 Horizon Report today. Although my background is more in the education 2.0 start-up world as you might know, I found the report very insightful and it was very interesting to read about the adoption of new technologies in the K12 space. 

The report focuses on six key technologies and estimates the time of adoption. In my post I will try compare those findings with what we have seen in the start-up space over the past three years.

Cloud Computing

The report estimates the adoption of of Cloud Computing to one year or less. And of course there are a couple of reasons for this, one of them being the relatively low cost of hosting content in the cloud.

We have seen the same happening in the start-up scene and I would even go so far that cloud hosting services like Amazon S3 were and still are major drivers of innovation. This service made it very affordable for small start-ups on a shoe string budget to build scalable platforms. There is a saying that “success can kill you” which essentially means that if you had not the financial means to pay for extra traffic caused by a huge amount of visitors to your web platform, this might likely put you out of business as you were not able to pay the bills.

As the report points out, today traffic costs pennies per gigabyte.

Another important driver for innovation and growth are of course products like Google Apps, which are widely used in K12 as well. And there are now cloud based software solutions like writing, spreadsheet and presentation tools etc.

All this sums up to a massive opportunity for schools to save money that have been hit by the recent budget cuts. They can outsource their data centers, don’t have to buy expensive software etc. I recently did a video interview with one of the start-ups featured in the report called LearnBoost that builds an open source LMS with Google Apps integration.


Here, the report estimates the adoption to again one year or less. The main catalyst for this is almost naturally the iPad. The report also names other devices but for the time being I don’t see any other tablet to be a real competitor for the Apple device. The numbers we saw yesterday at the WWDC speak for themselves with 25 million sold iPads from launch til today.

Edutainment applications for iOS devices are becoming very popular in the start-up scene but what is probably even more important, they also receive funding from investors. This is due to the proven business model of Apple’s iTunes App Store. Up to now, Apple have paid out more than $2.5 billion to app developers and the whole Apple ecosystem has been trained for years now that applications have a price tag which is a huge difference to the Internet where the perception still is that everything essentially is either free or freemium.

Because of this Apple can attract talent that wants to develop for the iOS platform and therefore we saw a rising group of really fascinating educational applications, some of which received significant funding North of $1 million. Again, investors can be pretty sure that those app developers will actually earn money and therefore it’s a safe bet.

If you take a look at the 500Startups incubator / accelerator of super angel Dave McClure you will already find a number of education start-ups amongst the first 100 of his investments. There are for instance MindSnacks, MotionMath, YongoPal and 955 Dreams that are creating products solely for iOS devices (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad).

Another driving factor is the easy adoption of those devices, especially the iPad. Kids love it and with its launch we saw a lot of videos with kids in it, playing around with the device easily without the need of in depth instruction from their parents. Or, as Fast Company’s Kit Eaton wrote lately, the iPad is a $500 Kids game. Think about it, Apple even sells them at Toys’R’Us.

So, parents know already what a great device the iPad is for learning and with new apps, like Brainracer for example, launching every week on the app store, there is a change in the mindset. Like the report points out, the benefits outweigh the potential risks.

Game-based Learning

The next point covered is game-based learning or serious games. Time to adoption is estimated between two to three years. If we rewind human history it is obvious that playing games has always been an important part of how we learn. Children back then learned how to hunt by playing hunting games. This was a core skill in order to survive.

Transferring this concept in today’s world, we need to prepare children through games, e.g. something that they naturally like to do, for the world we live in and they will have to live in.

I also think that the perception of games changes due to the shift in generations. Everyone who is now around the age of 30 grew up with some sort of video games. Either you had a console at home or one of your friends did. It’s part of our personal story and that has of course an impact on how we see our kids play.

Sure, there is a huge difference between ego shooters, multi player online games and strategic games as every genre has its certain appeal and aspects that can be used in more education focused games.

Open Content

Time to adopt two to three years. Open content or open source has been one of the major drivers for innovation on the Internet. Basically, all core features that browsers are built on are based on open sourced code and programs. If you want to see what happens to an ecosystem that changes from a closed to an open sourced model, the tech space is an ideal case.

Back in the days when Microsoft was the dominant player there was no choice. The company kept its secrets, e.g. the code behind walls and only a handful of pre-screened developers had access to parts of it in order to build additional software.

Then came the anti-trust investigations, Linux rose as one of the first open sourced projects and today we have a vital scene of developers and start-ups that build great products based on open sourced code.

The same potential is there in order to disrupt the textbook industry. Today, you have a handful of dominant players on the market that decide what is being published and at which price. Alternatives like Flat World Knowledge want to change that and again budget cuts work in favor of this change. Open content costs a friction of the price of a normal textbook and then there are textbook rental services like Chegg or BookRenter that are disrupting the market from the other side.

Learning Analytics

This is a point very dear to my heart. The adoption for this is estimated at four to five years. I already wrote a lot about the concept of a Knowledge Graph that would track anything we learn over our entire lives.

In the tech space the so called “big data” is creating more and more buzz. There are tons of it available as people share information with companies like they never did before. People share everything from their phone number to their friends and the places they are at the moment etc. If we combine all those different data sets, there are huge possibilities for new services.

We are getting closer to Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of a world around us that is changing due to our social graph and personal preferences.

In the K12 sector we can already see a lot of great usage in data collecting and analytics. The Khan Academy software does a stunning work of delivering granular data on the student’s performance but there are of course others such as TenMarks, too.

Personal Learning Environments

This point touches another rising topic in the tech scene, curation. Again, adoption is set to be four to five years. According to the report, personal learning environments will provide students with tools and services to enable them to curate content and information shaped to the way they learn. To give an example, making a difference between visual and auditory learners will result in offering them different sources of content.

The overall choice of content is growing every minute and a huge part of it is noise. In order to provide a working PLE with the useful tools and filters requires us to be very selective. The question is whether students will be able to set their own filters or if this has to be done by teachers only or collaboratively.

I am currently learning about this topic through setting up my own site for curation of information, using the Eqentia software. Though is relatively fresh and an ongoing process, I can already tell you that there is much more to effective curation than tagging and setting some filters. The good thing is that I am guided by the founder and CEO William Mougayar and so I learn a lot. It’s a fascinating topic and I believe one of the key technologies in the years to come as content will keep on growing.


The report gave me hope that formal education is starting to catch up quickly with “the real world” now. We have to keep in mind that all the above is at its core a cultural and sociological shift which needs certain preconditions.

With the generation of digital natives having their own children ready for school and replacing more and more of the older generations in decision making positions, change will happen more naturally and hopefully also more quickly than it did over the past years.

Image: Flickr user bengrey

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Evolution proves to be just about as ingenious as Nikola Tesla

Credit: Gerald Schömbs / Unsplash
Surprising Science
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Are we really addicted to technology?

Fear that new technologies are addictive isn't a modern phenomenon.

Credit: Rodion Kutsaev via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink, which has partnered with the Build for Tomorrow podcast to go inside new episodes each month. Subscribe here to learn more about the crazy, curious things from history that shaped us, and how we can shape the future.

In many ways, technology has made our lives better. Through smartphones, apps, and social media platforms we can now work more efficiently and connect in ways that would have been unimaginable just decades ago.

But as we've grown to rely on technology for a lot of our professional and personal needs, most of us are asking tough questions about the role technology plays in our own lives. Are we becoming too dependent on technology to the point that it's actually harming us?

In the latest episode of Build for Tomorrow, host and Entrepreneur Editor-in-Chief Jason Feifer takes on the thorny question: is technology addictive?

Popularizing medical language

What makes something addictive rather than just engaging? It's a meaningful distinction because if technology is addictive, the next question could be: are the creators of popular digital technologies, like smartphones and social media apps, intentionally creating things that are addictive? If so, should they be held responsible?

To answer those questions, we've first got to agree on a definition of "addiction." As it turns out, that's not quite as easy as it sounds.

If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people.


"Over the past few decades, a lot of effort has gone into destigmatizing conversations about mental health, which of course is a very good thing," Feifer explains. It also means that medical language has entered into our vernacular —we're now more comfortable using clinical words outside of a specific diagnosis.

"We've all got that one friend who says, 'Oh, I'm a little bit OCD' or that friend who says, 'Oh, this is my big PTSD moment,'" Liam Satchell, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Winchester and guest on the podcast, says. He's concerned about how the word "addiction" gets tossed around by people with no background in mental health. An increased concern surrounding "tech addiction" isn't actually being driven by concern among psychiatric professionals, he says.

"These sorts of concerns about things like internet use or social media use haven't come from the psychiatric community as much," Satchell says. "They've come from people who are interested in technology first."

The casual use of medical language can lead to confusion about what is actually a mental health concern. We need a reliable standard for recognizing, discussing, and ultimately treating psychological conditions.

"If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people," Satchell says. That's why, according to Satchell, the psychiatric definition of addiction being based around experiencing distress or significant family, social, or occupational disruption needs to be included in any definition of addiction we may use.

Too much reading causes... heat rashes?

But as Feifer points out in his podcast, both popularizing medical language and the fear that new technologies are addictive aren't totally modern phenomena.

Take, for instance, the concept of "reading mania."

In the 18th Century, an author named J. G. Heinzmann claimed that people who read too many novels could experience something called "reading mania." This condition, Heinzmann explained, could cause many symptoms, including: "weakening of the eyes, heat rashes, gout, arthritis, hemorrhoids, asthma, apoplexy, pulmonary disease, indigestion, blocking of the bowels, nervous disorder, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria, and melancholy."

"That is all very specific! But really, even the term 'reading mania' is medical," Feifer says.

"Manic episodes are not a joke, folks. But this didn't stop people a century later from applying the same term to wristwatches."

Indeed, an 1889 piece in the Newcastle Weekly Courant declared: "The watch mania, as it is called, is certainly excessive; indeed it becomes rabid."

Similar concerns have echoed throughout history about the radio, telephone, TV, and video games.

"It may sound comical in our modern context, but back then, when those new technologies were the latest distraction, they were probably really engaging. People spent too much time doing them," Feifer says. "And what can we say about that now, having seen it play out over and over and over again? We can say it's common. It's a common behavior. Doesn't mean it's the healthiest one. It's just not a medical problem."

Few today would argue that novels are in-and-of-themselves addictive — regardless of how voraciously you may have consumed your last favorite novel. So, what happened? Were these things ever addictive — and if not, what was happening in these moments of concern?

People are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm.


There's a risk of pathologizing normal behavior, says Joel Billieux, professor of clinical psychology and psychological assessment at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, and guest on the podcast. He's on a mission to understand how we can suss out what is truly addictive behavior versus what is normal behavior that we're calling addictive.

For Billieux and other professionals, this isn't just a rhetorical game. He uses the example of gaming addiction, which has come under increased scrutiny over the past half-decade. The language used around the subject of gaming addiction will determine how behaviors of potential patients are analyzed — and ultimately what treatment is recommended.

"For a lot of people you can realize that the gaming is actually a coping (mechanism for) social anxiety or trauma or depression," says Billieux.

"Those cases, of course, you will not necessarily target gaming per se. You will target what caused depression. And then as a result, If you succeed, gaming will diminish."

In some instances, a person might legitimately be addicted to gaming or technology, and require the corresponding treatment — but that treatment might be the wrong answer for another person.

"None of this is to discount that for some people, technology is a factor in a mental health problem," says Feifer.

"I am also not discounting that individual people can use technology such as smartphones or social media to a degree where it has a genuine negative impact on their lives. But the point here to understand is that people are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm."

Behavioral addiction is a notoriously complex thing for professionals to diagnose — even more so since the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the book professionals use to classify mental disorders, introduced a new idea about addiction in 2013.

"The DSM-5 grouped substance addiction with gambling addiction — this is the first time that substance addiction was directly categorized with any kind of behavioral addiction," Feifer says.

"And then, the DSM-5 went a tiny bit further — and proposed that other potentially addictive behaviors require further study."

This might not sound like that big of a deal to laypeople, but its effect was massive in medicine.

"Researchers started launching studies — not to see if a behavior like social media use can be addictive, but rather, to start with the assumption that social media use is addictive, and then to see how many people have the addiction," says Feifer.

Learned helplessness

The assumption that a lot of us are addicted to technology may itself be harming us by undermining our autonomy and belief that we have agency to create change in our own lives. That's what Nir Eyal, author of the books Hooked and Indistractable, calls 'learned helplessness.'

"The price of living in a world with so many good things in it is that sometimes we have to learn these new skills, these new behaviors to moderate our use," Eyal says. "One surefire way to not do anything is to believe you are powerless. That's what learned helplessness is all about."

So if it's not an addiction that most of us are experiencing when we check our phones 90 times a day or are wondering about what our followers are saying on Twitter — then what is it?

"A choice, a willful choice, and perhaps some people would not agree or would criticize your choices. But I think we cannot consider that as something that is pathological in the clinical sense," says Billieux.

Of course, for some people technology can be addictive.

"If something is genuinely interfering with your social or occupational life, and you have no ability to control it, then please seek help," says Feifer.

But for the vast majority of people, thinking about our use of technology as a choice — albeit not always a healthy one — can be the first step to overcoming unwanted habits.

For more, be sure to check out the Build for Tomorrow episode here.

Why the U.S. and Belgium are culture buddies

The Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural map replaces geographic accuracy with closeness in terms of values.

According to the latest version of the Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural Map, Belgium and the United States are now each other's closest neighbors in terms of cultural values.

Credit: World Values Survey, public domain.
Strange Maps
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