Why Software Is Eating The World

Although from last year, this WSJ piece by Marc Andreessen, is still very relevant.

Marc (co-author of the first widely using web browser and Facebook board member among other tings) argues that software will become the foundation of all successful businesses. Either by forming the foundation on which they run, or through software services that deliver to customers. Marc cites some (often US-centric) examples of this trend:

  • Book retail with Borders disappearing while Amazon soared
  • Video rental with Netflix eclipsing Blockbusters
  • Media and music companies reinventing themselves as services – from iTunes to Pandora & Disney buying Pixar
  • Video games as the fastest growing entertainment category
  • Photography – just look at Kodak
  • Telecoms where Skype is the fastest growing company in the sector
  • Recruitment moving to services like LinkedIn

Increasingly, he agues, industries based on physical products (those, like food, that we haven’t yet figured out how to turn into digital bits) rely on software to power their businesses.

One of the areas that Marc calls out as yet to be impacted by this change is education:

Health care and education, in my view, are next up for fundamental software-based transformation. My venture capital firm is backing aggressive start-ups in both of these gigantic and critical industries. We believe both of these industries, which historically have been highly resistant to entrepreneurial change, are primed for tipping by great new software-centric entrepreneurs.

The view of education as an industry expressed in the quote above got me wondering about which aspects of education are most likely to follow this shift soonest. Looking at the objectives for education below (from Stop Stealing Dreams) which areas are more likely to benefit from entrepreneurial software-led change?

To create a society that’s culturally coordinated.

To further science and knowledge and pursue information for its own sake.

To enhance civilization while giving people the tools to make informed

To train people to become productive workers.

A year on: purpose

A year (and a bit) after starting this journey I’ve been reflecting a little on the purpose of it all.

It comes down to this:

Is the education system designed around the right set of outcomes?

Where the definition of *right* depends on who your are and where you are coming from.

If the outcomes that the system is optimised and funded for aren’t the right ones, then:

What should those outcomes be and how should we construct a system that delivers on them?

and for me as an aspiring educator:

Where do I add value in today’s system?

Where could I add value in a new education system, fit for the needs of students in the UK in 201x?

Do I try and change/influence the system from within or without?

I’m using this post to collect links to resources that I’ve been using to think and reflect on the above. (And as a holding pen so I can clear my mind a little to focus on the learning to teach bit.)


Kick starting the debate on “the purpose of education”.

A Whole New Mind

Dan Pink’s book on the future of society and the need for education to encompass all aspects of human nature: artistic, intuitive, big-picture in addition to linear, logical, sequential, analytical.

Stop Stealing Dreams

Seth Godin’s look at education from the perspective of the changes that the massively connected internet has brought to other industries and how education might look if it focused on, and succeeded at delivering on, all of the following objectives and not just the last…

To create a society that’s culturally coordinated.

To further science and knowledge and pursue information for its own sake.

To enhance civilization while giving people the tools to make informed

To train people to become productive workers.

The Shift: the future of work is already here

Lynda Gratton looks at how trends in globalization, society, demography, technology, and energy are changing ‘the future of work’ with the implications for education (or the implications if you assume the purpose of education is preparation for work). Includes evidence to support many of the assertions made by Pink.

Changing Education Paradigms

An animated version of (Sir) Ken Robinson’s (classic?) speech on education and society.

The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age

A report summarising a collaborative look at the impact on institutions from the changes in technology that enable ‘shared, interactive, learning.  (Part of a series from The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Reports on Digital Media and Learning)


A collection of observations and reflections on what was needed to build, run, and grow a business in the highly connected and scaled world enabled by the internet today. Based on the experiences of 37signals building things like Basecamp.

The Spirit Level

Why more equal societies are better for *everyone* than less equal societies. Kind of a foundation for thinking about the rest.


Most people think this blog is outstanding.

But, just because the government are looking at it, doesn’t mean we should discount it (behavioural science that is).

Future of Ed

US site focused on the Future of Education. A subproject of KnowledgeWorks, a US organisation that supports schools across the states.

JCQ Not Open

This post was going to point to the JCQ data on 2012 GCSE exam results. Instead I’ll link to the Guardian Datablog post (which has a link to a Google spread sheet version of the data).

Why so?

The JCQ is the Joint Council for Qualifications (see Wikipedia for a description). It acts as ‘a single voice for the seven largest qualification providers in the UK’.

The Terms and Conditions for the JCQ website include this clause:

2.6 You undertake not to:


establish a link to this website from any other website, intranet or extranet site without our prior written consent;

Complying with this clause means not *establishing* a link with the JCQ site [1]. A rather strange clause to include in the T&Cs for *using* a web site. The result? I guess it makes JCQ a single voice that’s not part of the conversation.

To quote Nate Anderson in Ars on a similar issue:

But those wanting to link to a normal Web page on the site certainly don’t, as a general rule, need permission to do so; indeed, the Web would be a hugely different place if linking were permission- and form-based. One can see why Lowe’s likes such agreements, but it’s harder to see why anyone would sign one.

I wonder if they really mean this. I’ll ask.

In the meantime…


[1] I suppose there’s an interesting legal discussion somewhere on whether including an HTML anchor tag is *establishing* a link (or if that’s what happens when the browser makes an HTTP request to the webserver hosting JCQs site). Irrespective

A Lost Generation

Last week the Institute of Engineering and Technology put out a press release:

A leading UK expert on information and communications technology (ICT) says today that the teaching of ICT in England and Wales is 20 years out of date and as a result a whole generation has been lost who could have designed the systems of the future.

It went on:

There is an urgent need for school to be teaching the current generation Computer Science as a subject in schools in order that our future work force is equipped […]

I agree.

What’s more I’d go further and say that as well as the teaching of ICT, the use of computing to support learning and administration in schools is also 20 (plus!) years out of date. That’s based on a year working in a school after many working in the technology industry.

It’s been depressing to realise that many of the productivity benefits I’d taken for granted in the business world are completely alien in the environment of typical 11-18 schools I’ve seen.

To those that espouse the benefits of teaching and preparing learners for the 21st century, I’d like to point out two little things:

  1. It’s a lot easier if you’ve first dragged your institution and its processes into the end of the 20th century (if not the beginning of the 21st)
  2. We’re already over 10% into The 21st Century. So we better get a move on…