Invention versus Innovation: What Does it Mean for Education?

CEO, One-to-One Institute

Language means a lot: especially when seeking real results. I’ve been thinking about “innovation” vs. “invention” since reading the Back Page story in Entrepreneur a while ago. We frequently hear that education, as a whole, needs to be innovative. What does that mean? Any definition or thought provoked around “innovation” seems soft to me. What we can’t seem to do is define “results” or the “obligations” of innovation. Does innovation inspire actions that lead to “results”: something tangible as outcome? It’s pretty amorphous but sounds so 21st century. We can keep saying, ”let’s innovate” and do nothing and see nothing emerge as outcome. As the Back Page article notes, “Innovate. Please. The future depends on it. But also: invent. Because the future depends on results, too. Things we can touch and walk through.  Things we can smell and experience. Services that will change our lives.”

If we shift the emphasis to “invention”, a different perspective is created. Innovation seems amorphous, hard to define, see or touch. Innovation that leads to invention is different. The end result is “something”—a product of some sort—probably different or unusual from what has or has not previously existed. When we invent, we are committed to producing something….at least, we keep trying. With innovating, one may be working on something but when inventing one is committed to creating: something will be actualized and there will be a result. Inventing can fill a need, a void, or be an effective strategy for desired results. Innovating? Not so much.

Roshan Choxi didn’t learn all he wanted to know about software development in his four years at a top-rated engineering school. He was amazed at how much he learned that was actually relevant to the industry at a young web start-up company. He wanted others to benefit from his same experience. Roshan and colleague, Dave Paola, “invented” Bloc in 2011. They engaged veteran/expert designers and developers to provide experiential apprenticeship, online boot camps in web, mobile and software development. Students have one-on-one mentorships with experts to build products. It was an example of personalized learning at work before it became a national imperative.

Students emerge from the program having produced actual products. These creations become the foundation of a viable portfolio as they launch into the job market. And, by the way, the program includes a job-prep feature to help students create an online profile and prepare for the interviewing process.

This all came at a cost of $5,000 per boot camp the year of creation. It was self-paced, online, mentor-nurtured (100 soon to be 500) and included collaborations with fellow learners who leave “work ready” and postured for higher salaries than non-Bloc fellow job seekers. It continues to grow.

There’s not a direct parallel between Bloc and K-12 education. The latter has no venture capitalists or the like. So the “invention” concept also needs to be addressed in the financial, retooling aspects of how education is grounded. There are numerous K-12 education inventions (aka disruptions?) afoot that seek to provide learners with knowledge, skills relevant to a global economy and being successful as adults in a hyper-connected world.  These inventions are elusive in too many systems across our country. 

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