Nearly five years ago, Newscorp’s Rupert Murdoch bought over Wireless Generation (90% for USD 360 mn, such a hit) with the belief that
“When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs that extend the reach of great teaching, …Wireless Generation is at the forefront of individualized, technology-based learning that is poised to revolutionize public education for a new generation of students,”
They launched Amplify in 2012. As ZDNet reports:
Amplify had a digital library, various tools and a tablet-based platform. Amplify also had analytics, curricula aligned with state standards and distribution tools Amplify and AT&T collaborated on pilots for tablets.
Newscorp is selling out Amplify because of the losses the nearly USD 1 billion investment has incurred. The report concludes that Amplify failed to win sales and acceptance because:
- The Intel tablet based solution did not integrate well with Google and Apple and this was an issue because students preferred to bring their own devices to school
- Integration with the information systems of districts was a pain
- Could not compete with the developer pull from Google and Apple, even though they built a marketplace
- Amplify was a difficult choice for decision makers because it did not have scale and expected too much in terms of implementation
Unlikely that this innovation in EdTech, even under new owners, are going to be able to compete with mass user platforms provided by Google and Apple (and perhaps Microsoft, if things go well with them next year in the mobile space).
Contrast with companies like Classdojo, Remind and Edmodo.
ClassDojo and Remind are two of the biggest names in edtech today, with tens of millions of users each, and $10.1 million and $59.5 million raised, respectively.
Also to be mentioned is Google Classroom –
Since its unveiling (Ed: In 2014), 70 million assignments have been created on Classroom and Google Apps for Education has amassed more than 40 million teacher and students users.
Interesting, all 3 are focused on the teacher. All three are looking at embedding themselves in the teacher’s workflow. All 3 have communication and storage at the core. All 3 have assignments, assessments and analytics as the focal area from the teacher’s workflow (should look at WebAssign and Fishtree as well).
They are also a far cry from what Amplify was trying to address in one crucial way, with respect to the grandness of their vision. Perhaps Amplify would have done better to Simplify their approach – perhaps go the way of Smart Sparrow or the latest Knewton beta. I am not sure how platforms like Docebo or the platform side of Edmodo are doing, but it is really important to see what users want instead of seeing what platforms or technology can do. In fact, users have been telling us a lot about their preferences by the results we see from initiatives and companies such as these – there is always a chance that it could be done better, however one could also choose to not repeat certain obvious mistakes.
In a teacher led model, offline digital interventions have been proven somewhat socially acceptable, at scale. In this approach, the teacher is really the only hope for any meaningful and scalable approach to elearning. This is an inevitable fallout of an educational model that has tightly controlled structures and rules, with the teacher being the lead implementer of those rules. Even with the xMOOCs, this model looks as it will continue to flourish.
Another inevitable fallout of the educational model is the propensity to succumb to it. By focus on existing workflows (including procedurally flipped ones), one succumbs to various imperatives – how to decrease load, how to make teachers’ lives easy, how to provide helpful analytics quickly, how to provision a bank of standardized materials or baked content, and so on. So we are then engaged with infusing technology into the status quo, rather than engaging with an environment that has changed remarkably in the past few years.
That environment is not just increased access to open educational resources, better Internet, more Apps and mobility, greater awareness and use of communication tools like Whatsapp, it is also the surge of social networks for learning, cMOOCs, gamification, learning analytics (don’t miss Caliper from IMS Global which seeks to plug the gaps of TinCan) – in general, the possibility that learning is really the process of making connections and knowledge is the network (Connectivist learning).
But more so, it is an opportunity to reinvent the wheel. The more I think about that phrase, the more attractive it sounds. If you think of the wheel as the cycle of learning, it certainly could benefit from re-invention. Of course, if you reproduce instead of reinvent, that is a failed mission from the start. If we try to reproduce a system of learning by using new technological affordances, it is likely a failed mission from the start.
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