Platforms in Education [...]

Investor Tom Vander Ark recently wrote on op-ed on LinkedIn, arguing that "platforms" were poised to transform education. It's actually an old argument, one reprised from 4 years ago when there was a lot of hype (and investment) in the very topic, most notably perhaps a sizable investment in Edmodo (a company that Vander Ark's VC firm has funded).

Here's how Vander Ark defines "platforms" in his recent post:

A platform is a business based on enabling value-creating interactions between external producers and consumers. The platform provides an open, participative infrastructure for these interactions and sets governance conditions for them. The platform's overarching purpose: to consummate matches among users and facilitate the exchange of goods, services or social currency, thereby enabling value creation for all participants.

It's one of those definitions that's vague and buzzword-filled enough that anything can be a platform.

Here's how Marc Andreessen defined "platforms" in 2007:

A “platform” is a system that can be programmed and therefore customized by outside developers — users — and in that way, adapted to countless needs and niches that the platform's original developers could not have possibly contemplated, much less had time to accommodate.

Are education platforms successful? What counts as an education platform? The LMS? It doesn't really have an "open infrastructure," does it? The MOOC providers like Coursera (Vander Ark is also an investor) can't boast an "open infrastructure" either, particularly if you're talking about an extensible, programmable, customizable system. These are all decidedly closed.

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Audrey Watters

Writer. Troublemaker.