The cliche story that tends to go with entrepreneurship starts way back in college, high school, or even elementary school. Those that choose the road of entrepreneurship tend to be the same ones that struggled to figure out how to get that perfect report card, or even sit still long enough to make it through class. I would know, I was one of them.

I always found school to be terribly confusing, in the sense that much of it seemed illogical. Any entrepreneur will tell you that knowledge for the sake of knowledge is oftentimes a waste. It's applied knowledge that matters, and time spent memorizing fun facts is time that could be otherwise spent further understanding, mastering, and succeeding at whatever it is you are most interested in.

It is a debate that has been going on for centuries: how do you create a system that appeals to all different types of students. We know that not everyone learns the same way. We know that some people are far more inclined to succeed at math and science than the arts, or vice versa. We know that one size cannot fit all, and yet the education system continues to be treated as such.


Because that's how you scale. You simplify and reduce things down to a replicable process.

Valued at close to $1 trillion, the education business is ripe for improvement, and many of those same struggling students turned entrepreneurs see the wild potential.

Take Sophia Parsa and her business partners, Shakib Zabihian and Randy Horowitz, Co-founders of Toot, an education messaging app connecting students with tutors for on-demand answers to academic questions. They were both just awarded placement on the Forbes 30 Under 30 Education list for 2017 for their work with Toot.

Parsa's story falls under that classic entrepreneurial cliche. Prior to diving into education entrepreneurship, she was a C student that didn't care much for school or the education system. However, she had the drive to start a business, and interested in her own lack of connection to the learning process, started her first tutoring company connecting students with tutors on campus.

This simple concept is what laid the foundation for Toot, a text messaging platform for students to connect with tutors for one-off questions related to their subject of study. Through data, Parsa and her team have seen many students across different schools were using the same textbooks and yet struggling with similar types of problems.

"Historically, schools have no way to understand what's happening outside of the classroom and to zoom in on areas where students are struggling," Parsa asserted. "Toot will offer analytics of its messaging service, allowing educators to better understand where students are stuck and how their curriculum can be optimized accordingly." By having access to this sort of data, Toot now plans to extend the backend to schools so that the messaging platform can be a tangible extension of the classroom.

But startups like Toot are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how entrepreneurship, specifically tech, can and will soon greatly impact the education system as a whole.

Here's how:

1. Apps and platforms will be built and provided as options based on the way each student learns

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, one of the biggest challenges the education system faces in scaling across the country is in catering to all the different types of learners. Some students are visual learners, some remember knowledge better through listening, etc.

Technology can and will soon provide viable options to students who would like to supplement their learning process--in the same way some people like to listen to an audiobook while they read. As these platforms become more and more accessible, soon students will have a choice, rather than being wedged into the way the system works.

2. Tech will integrate learning into the ways young people already communicate.

One of the reasons Parsa and her team chose to build Toot as a text messaging platform is because they were very aware of their target market. Students and young people in general are natives to the world of text messaging.

According to Parsa, "There are some students who just don't think about tutoring, and there are some students who are just too shy for that face-to-face interaction. We can give them a tool where they can be anonymous, ask one-off questions, and avoid the high barriers in getting someone to come all the way over to their home just to answer one question."

If Toot had been an entirely new app for them to learn, that would become an unnecessary barrier to entry. Instead, they built something that integrated and followed suit to the ways young people were already used to communicating. So in the same way a student would text their friend a question about the study guide, now they could just text a tutor.

This is just one example, but a poignant one. Tech entrepreneurship strives to approach the art of education from a different direction. Instead of trying to automate or simplify the way learning has always happened, today's entrepreneurs want to re-think the process. They want to start with the student in mind.

3. Truly personalized learning is the future.

The be-all-end-all goal for education entrepreneurship is to make each and every student feel as though their learning process is theirs and theirs alone. As more and more technology is integrated into classrooms, software will have the capacity to understand where each student is and what they need most at that time. This level of personalization is what will make a student feel understood, and although many fear that technology will create social barriers, many would argue that these social barriers already exist in the way some students are alienated by modern education's current processes.

"We're in the business of empowering students," Horowitz added. "Students that take ownership of their learning not only are better at determining their individual weaknesses, they are also better equipped to set goals and hold themselves accountable."

Along with more integrated software, this leaves room for learning to become gamified. Through gamification, students can compete against their friends, unlock rewards (or, for example, opportunities for extra credit), and more tangibly track their progress.

Funny how the very students that struggled to find their way through school are now using tech to try to improve it. This is entrepreneurship at its finest: the art of building the solution you needed but never had.

Published on: Mar 6, 2017
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