For relentlessly reinventing higher education, online and off. The private, not-for-profit and nonselective university is a favorite of innovation guru Clay Christensen thanks to the hotbed of ideas for reimagining higher learning. President Paul LeBlanc is constantly looking to pilot models that provide the benefits of an SNHU education in different combinations to different people. SNHU Advantage, for example, is a streamlined satellite program conducted at an offsite office park where 45 "less confident" students complete their first two years of general ed requirements in four hours a day. Its College Unbound program, which started this fall, is a learning community of first-generation students who design individualized learning plans around jobs and internships, spending as much time in the world as in class. SNHU’s success has attracted potential partners around the region and around the world. Rhode Island wants to offer a free public higher education option; local high schools and community colleges are exploring dual enrollment with SNHU; and a member of SNHU’s Innovation Lab team was dispatched to New Zealand last fall to make SNHU the second U.S. "anchor" for the Open Educational Resources University, an international effort to create paths to degrees for people studying open resources in online networks.
For learning as you learn online. Five years in the making, the company debuted its software that helps students go at their own pace and personalizes content to how they’re most comfortable learning (making it more gameline, for example). Knewton launched with a college readiness program in math at Arizona State University last summer, helping incoming first-year students improve their proficiency so they could handle college-level courses in the fall. It lined up UNLV, Washington State, Mount St. Mary’s, and Penn State to do the same. It raised another $33 million, reputedly making it the best-capitalized education startup in history, and to cap off its year, it signed a deal with Pearson Education, the world’s largest educational publisher, to power Pearson’s math, science, and humanities tutoring software used by nine million higher-education students.
For making it easy to let any doer teach. The community marketplace for offline classes launched last April, and the Airbnb-like platform promises to turn any city into a distributed campus. Fun and useful courses--San Franscisco has Settlers of Catan and digital curation, New Orleans offers modern dinner party etiquette and business model generation--are available for typically less than $50, of which Skillshare takes a 15% cut. More than 15,000 hours of classes have been taught thus far.
For becoming a social hub for homework help, course selection, note taking, and finding scholarships. Chegg began as "Netflix for textbooks," but it has expanded its mission to being more of a student-centric network of useful services. Chegg has added online course scheduling; a college-admissions service that includes scholarship matching for high-school students; a web tutoring platform; and a lecture notes service to build out what it calls the "student graph." The company has also built an HTML 5 e-textbook reader to anticipate the reduced use of physical volumes, and it claims more than one-million pageviews in its first two weeks.
For launching a free online learning platform to complement its textbook business. The largest publisher in the world has become "the largest learning company." Nearly 50% of U.S. schools use at least one of its student curriculums, instructional management, or financial software packages. It’s also the largest provider of educational assessment services and solutions. Internationally, it’s ahead of the trend towards independent accreditation via EdExcel, the UK's largest body offering academic and vocational qualifications and testing to schools, colleges, employers and other places of learning. And in India, it runs Tutorvista, a network of English Language coaching centers for Indian students that also provides remote tutoring to 10,000 students around the world--the call-center version of help with your homework.
For making the world’s cheapest tablet computer ($35) for Indian students. This small British tech company makes Aaakash, an Android device with a 7-inch touchscreen, 3-hour battery life, and 32 GB of storage that will be available starting at $35 for students. The Indian government also plans to purchase and give away 100,000 to schoolchildren and hopes to have millions in use within a few years. Aakash comes pre-loaded with a few apps, but it's not an app platform since it can't access the Android Marketplace. The tablet has been extensively tested in 118 degree Fahrenheit conditions to replicate summers in northern India.
For designing an online coaching platform to help vets graduate. An online community and platform that coaches veterans through the process of preparing for college and the workforce, Fidelis provides technological solutions (gamification, badges) to the tough problem of student retention for a demographic that struggles in the transition back to school and work. Fidelis will serve as virtual counselors for vets, from GED tests through their first jobs. They’re in discussions with Harvard University, Stanford University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, among others.
For bringing live online video teaching to non-profit schools. The full-service live video teaching platform, first announced in 2008, is expanding from its original offering, an online master’s degree for teachers, to social work, nursing (Georgetown) and MBAs. Its impact is profound: USC's Rossier School of Education, for example, historically ranked in the 30's in the U.S. News rankings. Since its partnership with 2tor began, its rank has risen to number 14 and its enrollment has risen from 100 students to more than 2,000.
For finding the fun in building vocabulary. This games startup has created such educational titles as xWords, which includes a variety of crossword puzzles, and Word Joust, a vocabulary-building game that students can play solo or in competition. This first Word Joust is built around 3,000 SAT-type words. Ten thousand students in Singapore (soon rising to 40,000) are playing an experimental, browser-only version called Word Kungfu based on elementary school word lists.
For creating a $2 million competition to merge games and real-world learning. Its annual Digital Media and Learning Competition focused in 2011 on badges--transparent, game-like, modular rewards for real-world learning--one of the most exciting concepts going in the world of education technology. The first winners will be announced in March 2012.