Jon Bischke, serial founder of startups in the education space and currently entrepreneur in residence at Battery Ventures gave me the opportunity to interview him via email.
As he is one of the thought leaders in the hackedu space, you should follow Jon Bischke on Twitter and learn about his thoughts on the future of higher education, the Reputation Graph and more at JonBischke.com.
KW: Jon, thank you again for agreeing to answer a few questions. During this interview we will focus on the future and not look back at the past.
Having said that and to eventually get this nagging question off my list in order to move on I have to ask you: What was your motivation as an entrepreneur behind selling eduFire to Camelback?
JB: As The Byrds once sang, everything has a season. I really enjoyed the experience of starting eduFire but we reached a point where it didn’t make sense to continue on the current path. We found a good home for the site with Camelback and I’m very excited about their plans for it. I also still feel, as I did when we started eduFire, that a large company will exist one day that serves as a consumer-facing marketplace for live video classes. I think that market has moved more slowly than we initially anticipated but I’m just as convinced as I ever was that it will happen one day.
KW: You are now an Entrepreneur in Residence at Battery Ventures. What are the tasks you are working on there?
JB: Part of my role there is to help the team evaluate potential deals (especially in education where my domain expertise is strongest). I also look to bring deals into the firm. So if you’re raising money for something interesting please contact me! My main focus though is figuring out what’s next in my career and that most likely will involve starting a new company or taking an executive role with an early-stage company.
KW: It looks as if one of the topics of first priority for you is Structural Unemployment. I remember that we discussed it a somewhat general way in one of our EDUKWEST interviews but now more in depth what is it and how do you think society may be able to solve it?
JB: I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that structural unemployment isn’t just important, it’s everything. If we continue to train and educate people in the US for a world that doesn’t exist (an industrial economy) we’re going to have a growing gap between skills demanded and skills supplied that will result increasing unemployment and underemployment. And if that happens all sorts of bad things will follow. It’s good to see the Obama Administration taking this seriously (for example, I’ve been involved with the Startup America movement and am impressed with what’s happened so far). That being said, we have a long ways to go here and the education sector will play a key role.
KW: Another topic you seem to be very enthusiastic about lately is what you call the “Reputation Graph”.
JB: I’m extremely bullish on this concept of the reputation graph. If you look at where value is created in education, my feeling is that the majority of it is around signaling (at least at the post-secondary level). The cost of credentialing has never been higher and is rising at 8% a year. However, the cost of “learning” is falling dramatically with all of the amazing resources the Web offers. So you have this growing gap between what people pay for degrees and what it actually costs to learn. I don’t see that as being sustainable.
I think where reputation graph comes in is in its ability to be an alternative signaling mechanism. If Higher Education is a $500 billion industry (in the US alone) and if the majority of the value creation in Higher Ed is in the signaling then what would the value be of a true reputation graph? That’s why this is such a compelling opportunity to me.
KW: As you have been part of the education 2.0 / hackedu space for so long, please tell us what are the trends that excite you the most at the moment.
JB: Adaptive learning will be huge although I think mainstream adoption is still a ways off. I’m very excited about the potential for tablets, especially in K-12. And I think that a good chunk of disruption will come from outside of what people traditionally consider to be “education”. For example, I think companies like Quora and Stack Exchange will play a huge role in the disruption of the education sector. Yet, I don’t think many people think of those companies when they think of education companies.
But what’s most exciting to me is the increasing density of the network of education innovators. When you have dense networks opportunities get routed faster and stuff happens more quickly. I think education innovators are connected in a way that they weren’t 5 or 10 years ago and have the ability to help each out, do joint ventures, etc. Increasing the density of the network has been the main goal of the Hacking Education organization I helped to start. It’s a great time to be an optimist and I’m really look forward to what the next few years will hold.
KW: Thank you for your time, Jon.
Picture: Battery Ventures