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Can Rupert Murdoch Speed the Coming of Online Learning?

First Murdoch snags Joel Klein, and now a company that designs educational software. Will he bring digital learning in K-12 into the mainstream?

GothamSchools reported earlier today that Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. announced it was acquiring a Brooklyn-based startup that specializes in education technology called Wireless Generation. It's the second Brooklyn-born entity with a penchant for using technology to individualize education that Murdoch's acquired this month.

The other was New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who announced his resignation two weeks ago. Klein joined News Corp. as an executive vice president in charge of looking into opportunities in the digital learning space, part of what Murdoch refers to as the $500 billion K-12 education sector. Over the years, Klein has talked about the promise of digital learning—from online learning to so-called "blended learning" situations, where students learn from a mix of both computer-based and live instruction.

As John Heilemann wrote in a recent issue of New York magazine:

Klein is no expert in this area, but in his time as chancellor, he became convinced of the need to move away from what he calls “this sort of twentieth-century model of one teacher trying to master all the content and information and deliver it to 25 children, who are performing at different levels.” In 2009, he launched the School of One, a pilot program using virtual tutors, online lessons, and real-time data to create a highly individualized model of instruction. He also became a big booster of Quest to Learn, a heralded new school in Chelsea that employs digital media and computer-game design to foster collaborative systems thinking.


So where, exactly, does Wireless Generation fit in all this? From the GothamSchools story:

Wireless Generation has made its business partly by cobbling together government contracts with school systems. In New York City, it took over development and management of ARIS, the city’s online warehouse of student data, which began under IBM. It also helped write the algorithm for School of One, a program run by the DOE that teaches students math by having them run through a playlist of exercises on their laptops and face-to-face with teachers.


In 2009, Klein told The New York Times about a book he was reading, called Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics and the Future of Education, which is about how a hybrid model of instruction could lessen the need for as many teachers as we currently require, allowing us to pay those we do need more money. One of the book's coauthors, Terry Moe, a political science professor at Stanford, told the Times about a future he envisioned where teachers weren't the sole focus of a classroom:

In 20 or 30 years, he predicted, most schools would be “a hybrid model where there is a physical school, a place where they go and have clubs and sports activities and drama, but then for their academic course work, they might take most of it online.”


With Murdoch's money and Klein's connections now aligned, I wonder if that future that Moe described just jumped forward five to 10 years. Does this sound like a future you'd be comfortable with?

Photo (cc) via Flickr user World Economic Forum

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