Key Takeaways from SXSWedu

Sxswedu 250

HMH leaders were on the ground at SXSWedu 2015 in Austin this past week, generating social media buzz and connecting with attendees from all corners of the education space. Chief Marketing Officer John Dragoon, SVP for Early Learning Susan Magsamen and CJ Kettler, EVP for Consumer Brands and Strategy participated in panel conversations and gathered insights on the future of learning.

We asked them to reflect on the conversations and discoveries which sparked their curiosity and thinking at the conference:

John Dragoon, Chief Marketing Officer

SXSWedu can be an intimidating event. There are thousands of attendees and hundreds of sessions, and frankly the combination can be overwhelming. Hidden amongst the chaos were a few simple themes that I found both reassuring and profound. Attendees come from all parts of the educational value chain – consultants, vendors, educators, policy makers, media etc. And while every individual has a potentially different view of the “education apple,” there is one common purpose that unites us. Namely, at the end of the day, the question (and mission) that matters most is simply “what does what we do mean for the education of each and every student.” This is a wonderful clarifying question that gets to the heart of what we are all about

The second profound moment for me came from a Superintendent in California who simply stated that the thing he desires most to buy is TIME –more time for students to learn and more time for teachers to teach. More time for teachers to perfect their profession. More time for administrators to thoughtfully consider how to achieve better learning outcomes. Time, it turns out, is the precious commodity that will catalyze the learning transformation we all are striving for. While we can’t sell time, we can provide learning solutions and services that achieve the desired end state. That objective has clarified my focus on how to deliver sustained value.

Keep the students at the center of all we do and provide compelling solutions that give educators more time to achieve excellence – that was my takeaway from SXSWedu 2015.

CJ Kettler, EVP Consumer Brands and Strategy

The topic that really crystallized for me at SXSWedu this year was workplace development, and the powerful ways that digital tools can play a role to support it.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 65% of today’s school age kids are slated for jobs that do not exist yet. It’s clear that college and career readiness programs, in the traditional sense, are only the tip of the iceberg.

For educators, it’s a formidable task to prepare students and employees for jobs that haven’t even been invented yet. For example, 50 years ago we never could have predicted the impact a professional skill like coding would have on the economy. What are the skills that will be required of today’s students? How do both hard pre-professional skills and soft skills play into the problem-solving roles of the future? We know many of these jobs will be in STEM and IT, but how best to inspire kids to pursue these areas of opportunity, knowing there will be demand?

Post-high school, the opportunity to scale online learning programs for people—young and old—who need to acquire new skills for the jobs of today as well as tomorrow, is enormous. The list of digital credential programs is growing quickly, including Adobe, Lynda, Autodesk and the Urban Arts Partnership. Online workforce development programs can provide a path to matching workplace skills with immediate job openings.

Discussions at SXSWedu really inspired and energized me. As education content providers, we have many opportunities to empower and support the goals and needs of all learners, whether helping adult learners prepare for the GED with comprehensive prep tools or creating a strong foundation for elementary-age students with online tools that bridge the connection between school and home.

Susan Magsamen, SVP, Early Learning

What I liked about the conversations and discussions at SXSWedu was that they were informed by real life knowledge and experiences. The tone of the event felt less aspirational and more tactical and practical. The environment solidified my belief that we are at a crossroads in digital content delivery for learning. We are no longer talking about technology as a silver bullet for transformation, but are now focused on the best ways to create, deliver and scale digital learning solutions that will support student and educator success.

Professional development and teacher training, with a focus on technology, was a major theme. It is clear across the education space that teachers are an essential part of the solution to improve learning outcomes. Learning is an inherently human experience. Even with technology and interactive content, teachers are not going away. The more we support and foster educators to mentor and guide learning, the more successful kids will be.

There were still a lot of buzz words floating around, but it seems as though “learning science” is on the precipice of a breakthrough. Cognitive science research is going to drive innovation and learning and will help us provide the best solutions for learners. While we’re still figuring out how to use brain science to implement systemic change and improve learning outcomes, I was thrilled to see this perspective taking root among the varied viewpoints shared at SXSWedu.

Related Reading

Belonging School Kentwood

Eighth graders enjoy a light moment in Alison Van Dyke's ELA class at Valleywood Middle School in Kentwood, Michigan.

Brenda Iasevoli
Shaped Executive Editor

Strategies for math intervention hero

Richard Blankman

Shaped Executive Editor

Strategies for Teaching Elementary Writing hero

Katie Risolo Radovich
First-Grade Teacher, Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York