The Big Idea (XXL)

The Edupreneur: Taking an MBA and Using It to Change Classrooms Across the Nation

The learning happening in America’s classrooms today is often wildly different from anything in generations past. While some aspects of the curriculum may have changed—math equations remain constant, for instance, and many of the classic works of literature and history are still focal points—the ways in which these materials are taught is often almost unrecognizable to someone from a prior generation.

Much of this has to do with technology as classrooms become increasingly digitized. Innovators and education-driven entrepreneurs are often at the heart of this movement, and are in many ways reshaping the future of education.

The term “edupreneur” is very new in the startup world, but has taken on incredible strength in recent years. More and more teachers, administrators, and parents are looking for ways to use technology to remedy what they see as perceived deficits in modern schooling. Innovating takes a certain degree of technological know-how, but with as many tech-savvy people as there are these days, one rarely has to look far to put an idea into motion.

When it comes to scope, there really are few boundaries. Nearly all startups center on Internet connectivity, but beyond this, the options are all but limitless. Some focus on interactivity, particularly when it comes to allowing teachers to check in on student progress remotely and in real time. Others facilitate discussions between students using chat features of e-books; tutoring and “extra help” functions in web-based science and math; and language instruction that allows students to converse with native speakers over video conferencing software.

These advancements are often designed to be used to supplement traditional learning, and to add depth to “flipped” classrooms already committed to digital integration. The speed with which so many of these initiatives have caught on has led some to, though.

“Because everyone is now connected on the web and technology has matured to a place where it can be used to create learning programs that adapt to students’ needs, online platforms can provide a compelling educational alternative,” Gene Wade, co-founder and CEO of the online program UniversityNow, told Gigaom in 2012. “I think we’re hitting a tipping point where online education is accepted.”

The thought of “online education” leaves many skeptical, and often with good cause. A decade ago, that phrasing was connected exclusively with for-profit corporations offering university degrees online. Though many of these did prove legitimate, they were soon joined in the field by hordes of so-called “diploma mills,” companies parading as schools that essentially peddled degrees with very little quality control.

While these sorts of institutions are very much alive and well still, their work is usually quite different from that of more homegrown edupreneurs. Most of the time, edupreneurs are working on a much smaller scale. They are looking to change how education is offered to make it more efficient—not in order to profit.

Entirely internet-based education remains a real possibility, but within a new framework: rather than having separate online-exclusive schools and in-person schools, the boundaries are blurring. This is thanks, in large part, to the pioneering work of edupreneurs. Many traditional schools are using new software and mobile apps. “Online enrollments have continued to grow at rates far in excess of the total higher education student population,” the Sloan Consortium, a research entity, said in a 2007 report of online learning at the university level.

“Almost 3.5 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2006 term; a nearly 10 percent increase over the number reported the previous year.” Almost 20 percent of all U.S. university students were taking at least one online class in 2006, the report said; as the field has continued to grow and more and more innovators have created unique programs, it is fair to assume that that growth has continued.

As much development as the field is seeing, though, breaking in is never as easy as it looks. This is often particularly true for those with a passion, but perhaps not too much in the way of expertise. One of the biggest tips insiders offer is to be proactive with both marketing and funding. “As educators, we tend to be product-centric because we have spent so many hours thinking of how this will improve this or that in schools.

But it is equally as important, if not more, to focus on your position in the market,” the edbacker blog recommends. “You need to spend time thinking about how you will effectively spread the word about your product. Your business won’t be successful if no one knows about it.”

As technology continues to develop, there are likely to be more and more opportunities for ed tech growth, innovation, and inspiration. Though online learning still has a ways to go before it is completely ubiquitous, most agree that is it the way of the future—which makes thinking about jumping in quite timely.

### Special Thanks from to Emma Collins ### aims to provide readers with information on startup ventures from a range of perspectives, and the article that follows in no exception. In it, Emma Collins — regular reader and business writer extraordinaire — explains how newcomers to the ed tech field are making a splash in classrooms across the country. More about Emma’s work, most of which focuses on the online business school sector, is available .