The largest and longest-running investor conference devoted exclusively to the education sector was held on September 10th in NYC. The 15th annual Back to School Conference was held by BMO Capital Markets, a leading, full-service North American-based financial services provider. The conference showcased leading companies in the for-profit education industry, with the purpose of identifying trends in higher education.

This year's conference attendees met to discuss digital trends in the PreK-12, postsecondary, and corporate training sectors, with 15 panels discussions from industry experts and a conference poll from 300 attendees to explore key insights from the industry. With the rise of blended learning, competency-based learning, MOOCs, and online schools, industry investor partners are taking note of this dramatic shift in education delivery formats and teaching models, and discuss the implications for a digital age in education. Education investors and global education companies will be looking at how to handle rapid developments in this sector, and how to invest in the most promising technologies.

Conference Highlights

Below are the most important highlights from the conference panels:

  • Technology in the classroom will take time to implement. Although student testing is headed towards 1:1 computing, integrated digital testing in schools besides high-stakes testing, will take time because of the device and infrastructure improvements in schools that will need to take place first. Harnessing technology outside of the classroom in the meantime can work to improve student outcomes in the short term.
  • Data will play an important role in the coming future for driving results in schools. With more sophisticated LMS systems, teachers can better identify students at-risk, but this field needs to work better on gathering data with high integrity, and utilizing the data to develop actionable insights.
  • Competency-based learning is here to stay. Innovations are happening alongside shifts in regulations to allow for institutions to offer education decoupled from the credit hour. In a combined effort, education providers, schools, and employers must continue to set authentic standards for how mastery of a subject is defined.
  • Online education platforms can work to set themselves apart by offering niche degrees in high demand fields. The online education sector is expanding, but there is room for growth - especially for education programs that are offer specialized training.
  • Quality of instruction will continue to be imperative to delivering successful outcomes, regardless of scalability of online programs. Blended learning can provide quality face-to-face instruction time with students and instructors and seamlessly integrate personalized learning in the online delivery format for each student. It is important to always keep a strong value proposition for your program, regardless of how sophisticated the technology.
  • Disruptive higher education products won't kill the 4-year degree of traditional education, but the two models will compete for market share. Stackable certificates for lifelong learning and blended courses are becoming increasingly important for today's learners and employees who are looking for more affordable, flexible options. It will take time for all industries to be able to offer online courses, so for now, traditional education will remain the norm.

Poll Results

Below are the most noteable conference poll results from over 300 attendees representing corporations, investors, and industry organizations:

  • Blended learning is expected to grow the fastest: nearly half of all polled attendees expected online or blended models to see the greatest enrollment growth over competency-learning, traditional campus degrees, and alternative learning (boot camps, etc.)
  • Student outcomes is the most important issue facing education today, according to 70% of the respondents from the conference poll. Additional issues were regulation/accountability, funding, technology, and enrollments/retention.

Based on the findings from this conference, investors are recognizing and endorsing the shift to non-traditional education models in and out of the classroom. However, regardless of technological advances, student outcomes remain the most important factor for all stakeholders in the education sector.

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Resources: Photo credit. (1) Key Takeaways From 2015 Back to School Panels and Conference Poll Results (2) MEDIA ADVISORY: BMO Capital Markets Hosts 15th Annual Back to School Education Conference