The Imagination Economy

California’s two great exports are disrupting and transforming teaching and learning

A Faculty Perspective

By Alan Arkatov

The Age of Engagement is upon us, and it’s having a profound impact on how we educate the world’s population. The most important factor — finding ways to get (and keep) students interested in learning — is being solved by the plethora of new content and interactive learning vehicles. No region of the world is better equipped and positioned to lead this education transformation than California, thanks to our two unmatched exports: technology, led by Silicon Valley; and entertainment, led by Hollywood.

There’s probably no better example of this than the impact of California’s Khan Academy. Sal Khan’s initial attempt to tutor his cousin via the internet has led to the delivery of more than 1 billion lessons around the world in the past decade, forever changing how teachers, parents and students teach and learn.

This kind of disruption is no longer the purview of just a few talented folks like Sal. Quite the contrary. The sheer volume of outstanding new educational content and distribution platforms is unprecedented. And the speed with which they have emerged has created quiet chaos and huge challenges for the traditional gatekeepers of education (school districts, colleges, textbook publishers) and the world of efficacy and research. Meanwhile, teachers and students have been entrusted to sort through the abundance of choices, with limited guidance.

To be clear, “traditional” education will not disappear anytime soon. Rather, a simultaneous, parallel universe is beginning to take hold, driven by powerful new content for the arts and sciences. Constantly evolving technology will be key to this exciting new world, such as interactive games boosted by virtual reality and augmented reality. Importantly, for the first time in history, we’ll not only have the ability to properly understand and utilize the neuroscience that is inherent in how every individual thinks and learns, we will integrate it into the education framework.

What we now have is no longer really an education problem — great teaching, great content and great learning environments can be quantified. We know what works, along with what is scalable and sustainable.

What we actually have is a communications problem — cutting through the clutter and disseminating (for all students) what works. How it all gets sorted, effectively and efficiently, is the real challenge that we now face. As always, politics, bureau­cracies and vested interests will create frustrating roadblocks to improving the education ecosystem.

Thankfully, California’s huge population, along with its in­creasing accountability demands and the profusion of creators and storytellers who drive the imagination economy, will be powerful countervailing forces. Inevitably, the Golden State will lead the way as the latest content and products connect with the wholesale (school) and retail (individual consumer) education markets.

California — whose film studios propelled the entertainment industry, and whose research universities brought the internet into being — is once again in the right place at the right time (with the right people) to fundamentally change how society thinks, teaches and learns. And USC’s expertise, led by the con­vergence of its faculty in the schools of education, cinematic arts, communications, engineering and medicine, will be front and center in this Age of Engagement.

Alan Arkatov is the Katzman/Ernst Chair for Educational Entrepreneurship, Technology and Innovation at USC Rossier.

This article appeared in the spring/summer 2017 issue of USC Rossier Magazine.