Silicon Vikings

Marc Andreessen on Software Disrupting Education

Blogginlägg   •   Aug 01, 2012 19:03 CEST

Marc Andreessen does not claim to be an educator (as far as I know), or to have unique insights into the ins and outs of the education sector, but he is one of a growing number of people—some from academia (like Clayton Christensen at Harvard), the investment community (like Peter Thiel), or technology sector (like Bill Gates)—who expect software technology will disrupt our education and learning models. Given the severe challenges of K12 (with 50% drop out rate in urban schools) and Higher Education (HE) with high costs that have resulted in millions of debt-loaded students, it is not surprising to see growing ranks of people who hope for radical transformation that can produce a new, more efficient and effective educational system.

I recently read a few articles about and by Andreessen, whose impeccable tech credentials make you expect great tech perspectives and insights. Andreessen’s illustrious tech journey goes back at least 20 years since he was the brain behind the Mozaic browser while he was a student at the supercomputer center at the University of Illinois, and has played key role in a number of startup companies since then (including Netscape, Loudcloud/Opsware, and Ning and has served on boards of many Silicon Valley startup companies). If you want some fascinating reading, check out the following articles:

  • “The Man Who Makes the Future: Wired Icon Marc Andreessen”; Wired Magazine; April 2012;
  • “Why Software is Eating the World;” by Marc Andreessen; Wall Street Journal; Aug 2011;
  • “The Three Kinds of platforms you will meet on the Internet.” [This was a long posting on Andreessen’s blog but for some reason is not currently available in his archive.  But a discussion of his blog post is available here: ]

Here are a few quotes, from the first two articles that relate to education:

  • “The Internet has now spread to the size and scope where it has become economically viable to build companies in single domains, where their basic, world-changing innovation is entirely in the code.” {Wired Magazine]
  • “My own theory is that we are in the middle of a dramatic and broad technological and economic shift in which software companies are poised to take over large swathes of the economy.” [WSJ article]
  • “Health care and education, in my view, are next up for fundamental software-based transformation. My venture capital firm is backing aggressive start-ups in both of these gigantic and critical industries. We believe both of these industries, which historically have been highly resistant to entrepreneurial change, are primed for tipping by great new software-centric entrepreneurs.” [WSJ article]

Andreessen expects “super intelligent” software and unique “software engines” to differentiate future winners from losers. In education and learning, what will be the key functionality that software will bring to enable radical transformation of education? Here are a few possibilities of what we might see, based on my own reading of current trends and needs:

  • Radically more powerful learning platforms.
  • Greater flexibility and ease for creating personalized learning environments.
  • Very advanced adaptive learning systems.
  • Learning analytics systems yielding much better understanding of how improved learning can be achieved.

In the last few years, hundreds of startup companies have launched with the goal of building these types of software-driven systems, mostly around web technologies. Large, incumbent players—such as Pearson and Blackboard, for instance—are also busy building new systems, and have also been busy acquiring attractive startup companies (adopting a core element of Cisco’s growth strategy). Let’s hope that the large investments now being made will pay off and result in more cost-effective and improved learning performance in schools, universities and enterprises.