Skip to content
Guest Thinkers

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.

Smarter faster: the Big Think newsletter
Subscribe for counterintuitive, surprising, and impactful stories delivered to your inbox every Thursday

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


Up Next