NW Ed Cluster "Fireside" Chat: Keith Oelrich, CEO Learning.com

Since 2003, more than 30 companies here in the Portland metro area have been networking through the NW Education Cluster to learn about each other's businesses, discover synergies, and explore the potential of the education/training industry as an economic driver for the metro area and the state of Oregon. The companies include e-learning businesses, content providers, testing and evaluation services, learning management system authors, and many others at various stages of business maturity.

At our latest meet up, hosted at Learning.com here in Portland, I interviewed their CEO, Keith Oelrich, in a cozy “fireside chat.” Learning.com is a leader in the K-12 online learning experience, advocating for and specializing in engaging digital literacy curriculum (and is a former client of Clarity Innovations).

Missed the gathering? Here are a few fireside chat takeaways from Oelrich’s perspective:

  • It’s important that we overtly teach students digital literacy skills. In the past, we were tempted to think that students often know more about technology than we do, but that’s not the case, and as we move to more computer-based assessments, it’s important we don’t see those skills as intuitive.
  • In order to adequately teach students those skills, we must teach our teachers. It’s essential that our teacher preparatory programs address technology, and that we also somehow provide that education to our legacy teachers.
  • Personalized Learning is the most exciting thing about education right now. It’s kind of a “holy grail,” and not an easy feat (especially for a tech company), but the kind of engagement and relevance we’re seeing with our learners is transformative.
  • To transform the system, we need to raise teacher pay, but while I’m wishing, I would love it if every state had a staggered budget cycle. I’ve been CEO here for five years yet I’ve only had four opportunities to see if what we’re doing works. It makes it difficult for companies like us to get enough learning cycles.
  • OER has the potential to change where the money goes. Imagine if every school’s resource budget was freed up because they were using Open Education Resources… we could really change the game: pay our teachers more, invest in 1-to-1 devices, and it’s a vastly under-explored option.
  • There’s no longer siloed departments, where “Technology” has one office and “Curriculum” another. We’re starting to see Tech Integration actualize, and that means that when we talk to schools about our product, we’re talking to people who know the curriculum. That’s a change we’re happy about.

We’re grateful for our partners in the education community for making this latest meet up such a success, and a big thank-you to Keith and his team for hosting. Keep your eyes peeled for our next gathering by following our group at meetup.com.