Most weeks, I spend my time talking to parents and kids, working with technologists and teachers, and looking to new research for ways to continuously improve AltSchool. But lately, thanks to our hard work and good fortune, I’ve been speaking more to the press.
It has been eye opening to re-enter the world in which a reimagined education isn’t the norm. I’m reminded that, to the rest of the world, education represents a long term choice among fixed options; the implicit question posed to people applying to traditional kindergartens is, “What unpersonalized school experience do you want for the next decade of your child’s life?”
At its heart, AltSchool is the opposite of this.
At AltSchool, because we offer a totally personalized education for every student, we can remove traditional education constraints - such as grouping children based on age or starting all children in a classroom on the same first day of school. We aren’t offering a single way of teaching or a limited package of extra-curricular activities. We aren’t even offering a single view of the school calendar or when the school day starts. Instead, we offer flexibility so that we may create the ideal experience for any family.
Each of our students spends the bulk of his or her classroom time working through a personalized playlist of projects and activities, curated by our teachers. Each weekly playlist consists of fifteen to twenty cards that, together, represent the individual experiences that educate each child in the way he or she learns best in a diverse classroom setting.
The plasticity and natural self-pacing allowed by the playlist approach lets us accommodate training schedules for elite athletes/artists or travel schedules for families who wish to be away outside of fixed vacation days. We can similarly adapt to situations where the classroom teaching resources change; when one of the pair of classroom teachers is sick or when an unexpected learning opportunity (like an expert visiting the classroom) arises.
Unbundling is not new -- especially for those of us coming from technology. In a classic example that shaped my career, I watched Microsoft ship software every two years while Google constantly updated its online products “under the hood.” Generally, Google’s small innovations went unnoticed, but over time products adapted by leaps and bounds -- far out-pacing Microsoft innovations. In similar fashion -- through flexibility, performance data, and user-feedback (like the student reflections baked into each playlist card’s completion) -- AltSchool evolves and innovates on timescales that make traditional schools appear glacial in comparison.
Unbundling is not going away. We have no doubt that in the future, for example, instead of owning one car long term, we will choose which vehicle we need for any given situation. We’ll invest in the opportunity to have the right vehicle for commuting, heading out on a road trip, carpooling, enjoying a sunny drive, or hauling big items. We’ll compromise less and use what we need more in all the ways that most influence our standard of living (transportation, health, education, etc.).
Education should be a flexible service rather than a fixed good in the way that software is today and that automobiles, in an era of car-sharing, are starting to be. The overall trend in the US economy is for more and more companies to offer services that change over time and that respond to the changing needs of individual consumers. AltSchool represents that very different approach to learning that embraces change and personalization day to day and week to week, not only year to year. Education as a service should be the norm in an Internet age and it’s our ambition at AltSchool to accelerate this transition at massive scale -- and sooner than you’d think.