Diane Hessan Headshot

Guest post by Diane Hessan, CEO of Startup Institute.

Better/Faster/Cheaper: I can give you any 2 out of the 3.

I learned that rule in the 1980’s when I was working for a corporate education company and I hear it often today as our world changes daily. In edtech, it often seems like the jury is out: edtech helps us deliver content faster and cheaper than ever before. We envision students glued to a computer screen, consuming content in the comfort of their own living rooms. Perhaps an assessment is thrown in there, along with some key metrics about how they did. Their degrees – and their learning – might not be better than the traditional alternative, but you can’t beat the price and time. We are becoming software engineers in 4 weeks, college grads in a year, and are on our way to having first graders doing algebra before they are 4 feet tall.

Our infatuation with “fast and cheap” overlooks the incredible possibilities of “better” that edtech can provide.

For instance, we all know what good education feels like and our best learning typically is in the form of an experience. Sure, the content is important, but when have you attended a conference and said that the sessions were more valuable than the networking? Or, when you look back to your university days, can you name your top professors and what they taught or do you somehow feel that as much learning happened outside the classroom? As we face a digital world, we need to explore how technology can help the total experience rather than just the distribution of lessons.

At my company, Startup Institute, our core product is an 8-week immersive experience, online and offline, for people who need the skills, mindset, and network to have a career in a high-growth company. Some of our largest product investments are related to improving our student and alumni experience as well as building a learning community outside of classes. We invest in these products mostly because our alumni report that the “learning between the lines” was invaluable as they moved to their new careers.

Technology has the potential to help education be much better and it doesn’t even have to be complicated. A class on different communication styles is dramatically enhanced by having students watch Susan Cain’s TED Talk on introversion as pre-work. Games and simulations truly enrich learning by enabling students to practice in the real world. Real-time surveys and feedback tools allow instructors to shift their pace and customize lessons to students. Ensuring that students retain what they have learned is a huge opportunity in itself and we have barely scratched the surface of how technology can help us become lifelong learners.

There are many other dimensions of this, but my dream is that LearnLaunch and its stakeholders look for opportunities to invest in edtech that enriches us, that takes us deeper and broader than was ever possible before. Sometimes this may take longer, but it will engage us in ways we once thought unimaginable.


Meet Diane Hessan and other education innovators at this year’s 2015 LearnLaunch Across Boundaries Conference on January 23-24 in Boston! Over 600 attendees, including educators, entrepreneurs, industry leaders, students, and investors, will attend 4 keynote sessions and 21 panels and workshops designed to foster conversation around the greatest challenges in delivering on edtech’s promise. A complete list of speakers and other conference details can be found on the conference website.