Edupreneurs Using Their Business Education to Further Online Education

November 30th, 2012


Guest blogger Emma Collins is editor of the Top MBA Programs of 2012 from, here she talks about some of the most innovative ways in which education technology entrepreneurs are bettering the world. Value News Network has talked a lot about how the Internet is changing education, and this article is a continuation of many of those conversations.

The rise of web-based educational programs and resources has not been exclusive to the United States, or even the First World. Online learning has impacted education on a global level – particularly in developing countries where non-online educational alternatives are slim. Today, many innovative startup companies – led by tech-savvy edupreneurs – are aiming to introduce digital services and tools that benefit students worldwide.

Redefining Education in the Developing World,” a recent article published by Stanford Social Innovation Review, drew attention to the myriad of educational deficiencies that exist in Third World countries. Schools in these nations are often far below average, and regularly attending class can be difficult for many students. In addition, most schools charge tuition fees that many families cannot afford; even at tuition-free establishments, parents must pay for other expenses like uniforms, meals, and exam costs. Because many of these schools often lack trained teachers, concerned parents must also pay tutors to properly educate their children. The few children who finish primary school rarely receive further education; as a result, many must support themselves through subsistence farming or low-wage labor as adults. The residual effects of this outcome include the inability to generate financial stability and a lesser chance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle – and in this sense, the same educational deficiencies are inherited by future generations. “Schooling provides neither the financial literacy students will need to manage the meager resources under their control,” the article states, “nor the guidance needed to create opportunities for securing a livelihood or building wealth.

Shaini Gulati of the University of Oxford recently wrote thatonline education has taken root throughout the developing world, as teachers and school administrators have utilized e-learning programs in an attempt to mitigate educational deficiencies particular to their country or region. In Brazil, a government-funded distance-learning program called Proformação has been used to train 27,000 uncertified teachers throughout the country.In Mexico, a program named Telesecundaria provides televised lessons intended for children in rural communities where high-quality schools are not present. And students who attend the Virtual University of Pakistan are able to earn degrees through web- and satellite television-based courses.

Despite the implementation of programs like this worldwide, the same problems have persisted throughout most developing nations: a fundamental lack of Internet access coupled with culture-specific issues (i.e. gender and class inequalities). “Distance learning quality frameworks need to take into account the actual needs of their target populations, not just the learning content,” Gulati noted.

Today, innovative edupreneurs are striving to create products and services that assist developing countries in providing low-cost, online education for a substantial number of students. One such edupreneur is Jose Ferreira, who founded Knewton three years ago.His company aims to “disrupt” the traditional mindset that all learners should be held to the same standards by creating a course platform that customizes content for each user, based on individual needs and backgrounds.According to Forbes contributor Bruce Upbin, the response to Knewton so far has been overwhelmingly positive; after 5,000 students at the University of Arizona enrolled in a Knewton-based remedial math program, course withdrawals declined from 13 percent to 7 percent, while passing grade rates rose from 66 percent to 75 percent. The company has also been popular with investors. Since its foundation, Knewton has received more than $50 million in venture capital from the Founders Fund, Accel Partners, and First Mark.

Another edupreneurial startup that is making waves on a global level is edX, a joint project between Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University.edX offers free online classes for students worldwide, complete with multimedia resources, tests and feedback from course administrators. The company stands to greatly benefit students in developing nations who are unable to afford college tuition or the opportunity to study abroad. While edX students do not yet earn official credit for completing coursework, the company is developing a credential system that will evaluate the student’s progress and demonstrate their acquired knowledge. Many have touted edX as an effective means of providing high-quality education to a large number of people, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which awarded the company a $1 million grant in July 2012.

Worldwide access is expected to grow considerably in the coming years, particularly in developing nations. As more individuals are able to use the Internet on a regular basis, companies like Knewton and edX have the potential to provide men and women in the Third World with a proper education they might otherwise not receive.

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