This interview, written by George Nantwi for New Learning Times, originally appeared on August 14. 2016.
Jade Roth is the CEO at Flat World, where she is responsible for all of the company’s strategy and operations, with a focus on enabling partner institutions to help students master the critical knowledge and skills they need to achieve their professional and personal goals. Roth previously served as Vice President of Books and Digital Strategy and as Chief Product Officer for Digital Education at Barnes & Noble. She has also served on the Advisory Board of Penn State’s World Campus, as a Trustee for the National Association of College Stores, she's an advisor to LRNR, an adaptive learning platform, and to Bright Hill Press, a nonprofit literary organization that focuses on arts education.
I attended Bennington College, a small liberal arts school in Vermont. Bennington's philosophy was designed to encourage individual exploration. With the freedom a school like Bennington offers comes a great responsibility to take advantage of the opportunity in a meaningful way, both academically and socially. Those tenets have infused my life and given me the skills and ability to take chances, question, seek answers and drive forward. I cannot think of a stronger foundation for life.
During college, I worked as a part-time student employee at Barnes & Noble. That job led to a 34-year career, which culminated in my role as Vice President of Books and Digital Strategy and Chief Product Officer for Digital Education. Seeing the arc of a company from the inside, and now from the outside, has certainly shaped my views of what it takes to build and sustain a company. That experience has informed many of the decisions I make today. Flat World is a very different company than Barnes & Noble. During my time at Flat World, I have learned what it is to be singularly focused on enabling colleges and universities to change the lives of adult learners. I have come to deeply understand that one’s team and partners are the most important assets of any business; they are what nourishes the future.
I truly believe our work will provide new opportunities for learners to complete their degrees, advance their careers, and achieve a quality education on their own terms, without leaving them in debt. Today, in the United States alone, 60% of Americans go to college but 33% drop out after the first year and only 50% graduate at all. We have $1.3 trillion dollars in student debt. Many students are saddled with debt and yet do not have the credentials required to advance. This affects people throughout their entire lives. Graduates with a bachelor’s degrees earn 66% more than those with just a high school diploma.
When faced with choices such as getting to work, spending time with one’s family, and completing one’s education, education often falls last. Flat World’s competency based education (CBE) platform enables colleges and universities to build and offer an affordable, self-paced, flexible education with clear demonstrable skill assessment that aligns to workforce needs. This marriage of affordability, flexibility, and skills based learning empowers people to change their lives.
I believe we will see deeper engagement between faculty and students. It may seem counterintuitive to think that in a competency based model there can be deeper connections between the educator and the learner than those which can be achieved in other models. However, when you consider the support structure CBE provides (faculty, coaches, graders all bolstering the student) one can see how faculty are empowered to focus on the learning process, knowing that the other infrastructure is being provided.
Data and analytics also have promise in supporting the lives of students. People often talk about data for data’s sake, but data is only good if it is supporting students; otherwise it is simply an endless warren of metrics that result in a rabbit hole. Clear understanding of what is needed to strengthen the connection between the student and the learning journey and then providing those metrics in a meaningful, integrated, and simple fashion will be critical.
As a small company with an agile development process, we can be very nimble. We release new functionality monthly. We continue to focus on creating a deep, distraction-free, measurable learning experience. Additionally, we are working closely with our partners on innovative features that will propel the CBE experience forward for students, faculty, coaches, and administrators.
While I have a Twitter account, I do not use it much nor do I tend to follow people on Twitter. I believe the long, written format is required for thoughtfully unspooling and addressing many of today’s largest issues. We have gotten away from thoughtful (passionate, yet respectful) debate and particularly in areas such as education, where so much is at stake. I believe we need to have the open space, with the fullness of time, to create meaningful solutions.
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