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Our topic this week on the GeekWire radio show: The future of education, and how technology is changing the experience of learning in the classroom and at home.

Joining me as guest host is Frank Catalano, the GeekWire columnist who works as an education technology consultant. He’s just back from a trip to SXSWedu in Austin, where he covered Bill Gates’ talk to the conference. Our opening news roundup covers some of the highlights from that talk, including the use of computerized “learning analytics” to understand a student’s progress and personalize their lessons, with an instructor as a guide.

Jean Floten, WGU Washington chancellor, joins us in the studio to talk about online learning. (Erynn Rose Photo.)
Jean Floten, WGU Washington chancellor, joins us in the studio to talk about online learning. (Erynn Rose Photo.)

Our guest is Jean Floten, the chancellor of WGU Washington, the nonprofit online university that is part of the larger Western Governors University, recently named one of the most innovative companies of 2013 by Fast Company. Floten joins us starting in the second segment, explaining how WGU Washington applies many of these same principles, including learning analytics and personal mentoring, to its online courses, which are targeted in large part to mid-career adults.

“I just love this moment in time in higher education,” Floten says, describing this era as a renaissance for learning.

But is online learning for everyone? A recent New York Times opinion piece, the Trouble with Online College, highlighted the larger dropout rate for online courses for community college students, in particular.

Floten, who led Bellevue College before joining WGU Washington, has a unique perspective on the topic — informed in part by the analytics that WGU uses to track student progress.

“We have learned a lot about who is successful, and online learning is not for everyone,” she says. “For instance, we want to make sure a student has already had some college. We want to make sure that they’ve had experience with online learning. They need to be an incredibly self-motivated and independent achiever. Even though it is mentor-supported, you really need students that are disciplined enough to get through a curriculum.”

Other topics include “MOOCs” — massively open online courses — and the concept of the flipped classroom, championed by the Khan Academy’s Salman Khan.

We also talk about some of the Seattle-area startups working in education technology, including Dreambox Learning and inBloom.

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Listen to the full show above or via this MP3 file.

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