The future of education

With curricula in schools changing every year, people are wondering what the future of education will look like…

The future of education. 

It will be digital. It will be competency based. It will be using Open Educational Resources. Teachers will be assisting students in projects rather than holding their hand through study in class. Students will be interacting more online, they will be tested more in a digital environment, they will be able to move more quickly through content, and platforms will be smart enough to know whether they understand what they read.

But there are so many hurdles to get to that future…

The future of publishers. 

They will become software companies. The winner of market share will be the first one to successfully use big data. Step 1 is to track learning outcomes to states, schools, courses, instructors, students, and student progress. Step 2 is to provide the best UX for students and teachers. This will allow teachers to upload their content easily, allowing them to tag content to courses, schools, and outcomes. Students need to be able to then learn a particular outcome via both instructor and open resources, and be assessed on that outcome.

A publishers role then becomes that of vetted content provider. They will become a business that provides high quality narrative, multimedia, and assessments to particular learning outcomes, using instructional design to build content narratives in digestable and entertaining pieces for students.

It becomes better when you turn those outcomes into a game, videos, virtual reality,  or mobile.

Businesses are doing these things on the fringe right now. Facebook with VR, Amazon with listing and tagging learning outcomes, Apple with iTunes University. Then Kahn, Coursera, Udemy, Lynda with video tutorials. We are getting closer. We are nipping at the heels of an edtech behemoth.

The future of institutions. 

The institutions will continue as they have. They will weather the change. People will value education as much or more as before. They will just use different ways of connecting with students. Research will continue. Science will still need labs. Humanities will still need to discuss. Acting still requires speaking in front of people. Teachers will adapt to whatever content is available. What will change the most is where institutions get their content, and then, how they use it in the classroom, how much students learn and retain before class, and where they use their knowledge.

Institutions will have a larger online presence, and reach out to more people. But the need to think on your feet and interact with people will require classrooms for many years to come.

The future of students. 

Students will continue to pursue degrees and pedigrees. An MBA from Harvard will continue to be required for consulting at Bain. However looking at Google’s hiring practices shows that students will need to know the required skill-sets regardless of where or how they learned it. So what does that mean for the student in all of us? We need to know how to learn faster, and retain information longer. And it would be nice to have the tools and the systems to help us do that.

We don’t want to be told what to think, but we love to explore what fascinates us. Biologically, we get a release of serotonin every time we do something that’s pleasurable. This includes figuring out a difficult problem. We get a release of endorphins when we conquer something fearful.

So what does this mean for learning? The more we can build biological response into learning the better our engagement will be. We will remember longer and learn faster and deeper. The longer we can pursue fascination, the better we can develop focus, and in turn a desire for learning more.

From Fired to Firestarter

Three years ago this week I was fired from one of the best (and worst) jobs I’ve ever had, as an inner city high school computer teacher. In the past ten months I have spent time in ten countries on four continents. This wouldn’t be such a big deal for some of you, but I just got my first passport 11 months ago and had not left the United States since 1991 (back then I traveled by battleship so a passport was not required).

By Kissimmee FL — Own work, Public Domain,

A few months ago, while visiting Amsterdam (for the fourth time!), a new/great friend Joek van Montfort introduced me to another colleague with these words:

This is Derek Breen from America. He is a firestarter.

How did I go from fired to firestarter in three years? The short answer is I (re)discovered instructional design, built/nurtured/exploited my personal learning network (PLN), wrote/designed/published a book for children (and adults) which embodies 3 of my core passions (design/programming/education) and said “Yes!” to (practically) every invitation to teach what I love that trickled (then flooded) in.

In edition to French and German, Dutch, Chinese, Portuguese, Hungarian and Russian are also coming soon.

How did I go from fired to firestarter in three years? The long answer is. . .

I first heard the term instructional design about four years ago. I was working full time at a charter high school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, dividing my time between teaching computer classes for older students (sixteen to eighteen years old) and serving as a technology specialist for the entire school (which had students from twelve to eighteen years old). After my first year I asked the head of school if he would consider paying for me to attend one graduate level course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT was just a short walk away from our school and is one of the most respected technology institutes in the world, so I thought it would be a no-brainer. But the head of school said he did not have enough money in his budget to pay for a class. Fortunately, he had hosted several interns from Harvard University the previous year and had been given a waiver which could be used to cover the cost of any course. Far be it from me to argue for MIT over Harvard, especially as Harvard was also located within walking distance — wouldn’t it be great if more students could grow up studying between Harvard and MIT!

While I had my sites set on taking an educational technology course at MIT, there were no such courses available at Harvard which would fit my busy work schedule. The one class which would be easiest for me to integrate into my weekly calendar was called ED103: Introduction to Instructional Design which met just once a week on Saturday mornings. I am tempted to say those Saturday mornings would change my life. . . they did. . . but while the job title of Instructional Designer was new to me, I had actually begun the practice of instructional design almost thirty years before, when I was thirteen years old.

That was not my first job, though. I began delivering newspapers each morning before school when I was eleven years old. My primary motivation was to save enough money to buy my own computer. I am forty six now, I am talking about an eleven year old wanting to buy a computer way back in 1982, two years before the first Apple Macintosh and ten years before you could click hyperlinks to browse the internet. I would not only be the first person in my house with a personal computer, I would be the first one in my entire family, including grandparents, aunts and uncles. I was in sixth grade when I began the paper route at a school where not one computer was available for students to use, so when I began saving I was an eleven year old who had never even TOUCHED a computer before!?!

How I first became aware of computers and what you could do with them remains a bit of a mystery. What I most wanted to do with them was to create my own videogames. My favorites at that time were Space Invaders and Missile Command which I would play over and over again at the bar where my mother was a cocktail waitress. I had no idea how the games were developed, had never seen so much as one line of code, but I intuitively understood I would enjoy constructing them. . . And I still do.

By Evan-Amos — Own work, Public Domain,

It took over a year to save enough money to buy the Commodore 64; it would have surely taken far longer but I got lucky midway through the year when my appendix burst. I spent a week recovering in the hospital after the surgery and it would be several more weeks before I could continue delivering papers. My mother and younger sister filled in for me so I would not lose my route. Gradually the word spread, not only that I had been so ill but also about my goal to save enough for a computer, which I don’t think anybody in my working-class neighborhood owned then. By the time I began delivering papers again my weekly tips had increased substantially. I guess this was my first experience with crowd-funding.

Public Domain,

I spent most of the summer before seventh grade inside, reading hundreds of pages in thick manuals and carefully typing long lines of code as I struggled to learn how to program my new computer in a language called BASIC (which stands for Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code). You might think I would have wanted that summer to go on forever, but by the end of August I was growing frustrated with the manuals and was looking forward to starting seventh grade at my new school. For this would be the start of junior high school where there was an entire classroom filled with computers and I was among the students registered to take the school’s first computer science elective. My teacher, Mr. Forge, was one of the best I would ever have, filling many of the gaps left by my home studies, and by the end of the school year I was a bonafide computer whiz kid.

But what does this have to do with instructional design? When did I become an instructional designer? That was at the beginning of my next school year, when I was thirteen years old. Mr. Forge took me aside on the first day of eighth grade and told me he thought I would be bored because it would be several months before he would be covering programming concepts which I hadn’t mastered yet. Then he asked if instead of coming to class I would be interested in going down the hall to the resource room, to work with students with mental disabilities. Back in the mid-eighties such students were educated apart from the so-called normal kids. I was the right guy for the job, despite my young age, because they had the only Commodore 64 in the entire school — we used a more limited computer called the TRS-80 in the computer science classroom. So I began presenting short lessons for the children in the resource lab, drawing on my favorite tips and tricks gathered from computer manuals and from Mr. Forge’s computer science class.

By Blake Patterson, CC BY 2.0,

Now my ultimate goal of instructional design is to honor the educational legacy of my mentor’s (Cynthia Solomon) mentors (Seymour Papert and Marvin Minsky).

The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge. -Seymour Papert

The secret of what anything means to us depends on how we’ve connected it to all the other things we know. That’s why it’s almost always wrong to seek the “real meaning” of anything. A thing with just one meaning has scarcely any meaning at all. -Marvin Minsky

So I aspire to craft learning environments for students of all ages and leave room for me to discover what they bring into it in the hopes what they bring out of it might be (at least slightly) enriched.

27 Reasons why Ed Tech is the best investment

27 Reasons why Ed Tech is the best investment

Why Ed Tech? Why now? 

  1. There has not yet been the “Youtube” of Ed Tech yet.
  2. Investment in Education Technology has skyrocketed with businesses and Entrepreneurs
  3. Mobile is everywhere and education on Mobile allows you to reach people quickly… and simultaneously
  4. Technology has taken a previously fragmented system and allowed us to link learning to students and teachers faster and more seamlessly
  5. We can collaborate now with social media
  6. Adaptive Learning Technologies make learning faster and more relevant for the student (Cognii, Knewton)
  7. Companies that succeed over a long period of time have a very strong focus. It’s easy to mask quality over the short term, but long term quality is essential for longevity. There is a dearth of quality digital course design
  8. Companies want better education internally, helping to find and retain talent
  9. Students want better education, more aligned with relevant jobs
  10. I.T. jobs require constant education to be able to be fast to market and satisfy customer and employer needs
  11. Non-skill based degrees will fade in importance over the long term
  12. International Student flows for advanced education are increasing significantly, ed tech allows for meeting the needs of these students
  13. International parents are willing to pay a substantial amount of money on education and supplementary education. They are willing to pay 15% and above of their annual take home pay on the education of their children.
  14. Tutoring is just something that overseas students ‘do’. It is standard.
  15. The upper end of the U.S. Bell Curve is willing to pay a very large amount toward SAT and test preparation.
  16. Education is the single most important thing in moving people and companies ahead
  17. The number of educational technology companies is broadening
  18. The value chain of the educational space is moving more toward a digital environment
  19. More companies are making profits in this space and are faster to market than in the past
  20. Outside companies are now involved with providing and creating content instead of having the content fully created my educators
  21. Over 1/3 of internet searches in China are education based
  22. MOOCs are accelerating their development and reach (Kahn, Coursera, Udemy)
  23. New online learning platforms are proliferating
  24. By and large, most every major VC has some vet in the Ed Tech space
  25. Financial sponsors for Educations Technology continue to grow
  26. Many Ed Tech companies have “gone public” in the last few years
  27. Approximately 45 Ed Tech companies are worth over 1 billion dollars

What are some opportunities / needs here? 

  1. More and better adaptive learning technologies
  2. Aligning education of students with current and relevant jobs
  3. Be able to demonstrate skills and not just knowledge
  4. Content isn’t immediately translated to other languages, quality is often compromised. Content developers are needed to massage this content for quality.
  5. The retirement community has money and wants to learn
  6. It is still unknown what the “right way” is to create optimal learning
  7. OER is rising in importance (it’s also more prevalent outside the U.S.)
  8. Content vs. Technology cooperation and integration

What are investors looking for? 

  1. growth at higher than market rate
  2. cash flow
  3. a return other investment (obviously)


  1. strength in distrbution
  2. content portfolio
  3. teachers believe in your business
  4. reputation
  5. maintaining your reputation
  6. sticky business model (money making)
  7. Competitive differentiation with your closest peer set
  8. how are you running your sales force
  9. What is your competitive advantage content and sales wise
  10. are you ready for the future? will you be ready for how the market evolves?

What is one thing I can do to move my business forward? 

  1. Be laser focused on serving your customers