Karl Rectanus is an educator, entrepreneur, and adviser. Rectanus is the co-founder and CEO of Lea(R)n, an education platform that empowers educators and their institutions to organize, streamline, and analyze education technology. He leads schools and districts, states and networks, and colleges and universities in their efforts to simplify edtech selection, procurement, implementation, and measurement. Rectanus works with learning organizations and networks across the country to establish and elevate standards of practice that drive personalized learning at scale, student achievement, and equity in access.
How did your education and professional experience shape your work now at Lea(R)n?
After being in the classroom, I became a CFO for schools, in part because I realized how deeply the operations of a school impact instruction for students. Since then, I have founded or grown four successful education innovation organizations and helped dozens more. All that means I’ve probably bought $30M worth of education technology as a school leader, and sold at least that much . . . and it stinks for all sides! There is limited, if any, trustworthy data on what’s out there, and what works in which situations. If we are going to close the digital divide, rather than let it broaden the gap between students who have and those that don’t, we have got to make this market better for everyone.
Our team at Lea(R)n built LearnPlatform to be a complete edtech management system. Educators and their organizations organize, streamline, and analyze their entire edtech ecosystem, accessing the information they most need to make instructional and budget decisions. K–12 districts, higher education institutions, and state education agencies use our free and paid solutions to easily manage, rapidly analyze, and continuously improve how they find, buy, use, and measure edtech to drive teacher and student success. We do this aligned to a mission to improve equity, access, and learning and the results have been significant.
How do you hope your work at Lea(R)n will change the learning landscape?
We believe results should matter. When results matter, everything changes: policies change, purchasing changes, and practices change. To make results matter, the insights, analysis, and information educators need must be available quickly enough to inform real decisions. This includes decisions about purchasing, budgets, and instruction. When I was CFO at Lea(R)n, I had no choice but to use last year’s data to think about next year’s budget with a workforce and students that would change by 20–30%.
With LearnPlatform, educators and administrators are able to quickly know what edtech they’re paying for, how much they’re using those tools, when they use those interventions, and how it helps students and teachers succeed. Our automation and analytics tools are designed to complement teachers’ academic freedom while providing instant access to the insights they deserve.
So, our impact on the learning landscape is big for educators and product companies. For educators, this means significant updates in their practice, how they purchase tools, and how they improve personalizing learning at scale. And, at the behest of these educators, we are launching services that allow product developers to quickly access those insights and learnings in a de-identified and safe way. This new service, called LearnConnect, means product companies can build and sell better products, no matter how big or small their company is.
What broad trends do you think will have the most impact on learning in the years ahead?
There are three trends that will have a massive impact on learning. However, it remains to be seen if this impact will be positive or negative.
- First, the movement towards measuring and reporting on effectiveness in edtech is clearly building momentum. For years, it just has not been possible, but now educators not only believe measurement and analysis can be done, but that it is something they deserve to inform decisions. We will need to ensure those are intellectually honest pursuits, not merely next level marketing.
- Second, the opportunity for personalized learning is real, but we are at the early stages. Rapid edtech IMPACT™ analyses to figure out what is working are important in micro-settings. However, to personalize learning at scale, systems like LearnPlatform will be needed to understand how to shift practices to equitably serve and support all children.
- Finally, the continued tension between equity and individual choice (through school choice, vouchers, and other financing mechanisms) is creating downward pressure on budgets for most and a boondoggle for a few. Educators and policymakers will have to look at the first two trends, valuing true effectiveness and personalizing learning at scale, to avoid leaving a large portion of our students behind.
Apart from your role at Lea(R)n, what are you currently working on & what is your next big project?
In just two years, we’ve realized that LearnCommunity has become the largest and most diverse network of schools and institutions managing and rapidly analyzing edtech and its impact. While we have some technical solutions for connecting the more than 100,000 educators and 2 million students, approximately $500M in annual edtech purchasing and collecting millions of data points a day, we have started thinking about how we more intentionally connect, share, and learn from the people that make this happen. We call them LearnLeaders, and by amplifying what they're learning, we know we will all learn a lot more.
Separately, I recently joined the board of directors for Matchbook Learning after being incredibly impressed with their mission and team. The organization is laser focused on improving bottom 5% schools in urban settings around the country. They are cracking one of the toughest nuts in education. Their combination of personalized learning tools, instructional support, and professionals are turning lives around in some of the hardest neighborhoods in the U.S. The opportunity to be close to everyday challenges while thinking about how to scale to reach more students is very exciting.
Who are the most interesting people you are following on Twitter?
Personally, I love following teachers and administrators on Twitter, in fact, so many! It’s one of the best ways to keep up with educators celebrating the great work that they are doing, and sometimes where they also share the challenges they face. The real-time connections are so important.
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Image: Courtesy Karl Rectanus