Scanning the Horizon at SXSWedu

My purpose in today’s article is to conduct a speedy reconnoiter of some happenings in the area of technology in the predictive education bazaar that we know as SXSWedu. The SXSWedu® Conference & Festival was held this year in Austin, Texas from March 7-10. SXSWedu is a part of the SouthbySouthwest family of conferences, fostering “innovation in learning by hosting a diverse and energetic community of stakeholders from a variety of backgrounds in education.”

With over 6,000 international attendees, exhibitors, thought leaders, and other innovators in the education space, there’s no wonder why a number of noteworthy educational trends surfaced. All I can say is this: for those companies interested in serving the education market, take notice. Those in attendance, largely twenty-somethings and younger, represent your future markets. Below are some of the iterative themes, as evidenced by a conference session analysis, emerging from SXSWedu that will likely affect your future as well as the evolution of ensuing ed-tech conferences.

Young people at SXSWYour 2016 SXSWedu “Big Ideas” Watch List (presented in order of importance by number of sessions offered)

The Future. The leading theme emerging from SXSWedu was the “future of education.” What will it look like? How will it be redesigned and hopefully different from what we have today? For DD readers, do your products convey a message of legacy learning, or the more transformative approach to learning that is certainly coming?

Park Expo Rethink HSAn outside exhibit a SXSWedu on the topic of “Rethinking High School”

The Maker Movement. Having long been considered a nation of investors and tinkerers, our preoccupation with richly visual and physical world that surrounds us, making, inventing, building–creating things with our hands and machines—has simply morphed into the maker movement, a recent culturematic. Design-build engineering, purposeful tinkering, if you will. (See Maker Faires and Maker Conferences.) For DD readers: how can you tap into this deep cultural phenomenon in schools?

Online and Personalized Learning. Significant intellectual bandwidth at SXSWedu was dedicated to online, blended, and personalized learning—all close cousins. For DD readers: how can you tap into and leverage the “personalized learning” meme in education today, a meme strongly echoed by national educational technology plans across the world?

Gamification. Another strong theme at SXSWedu involves the effort to make learning more attractive. More absorbing. More fun. Through the elements of gaming. For DD readers: how can you tap into and leverage “gamification” elements in your exhibit hall presence, sales literature, and messaging? Can you transform your technology into a tool for fun (and still be educational)?

Evolving Learning Spaces. At SXSWed we witnessed an exceptionally strong and continued push toward the transformation of classroom learning spaces. For the DD reader: High-end display sales almost always accompany redesigned learning spaces in schools. Are you ready to speak that language?

The Virtual Reality Leitmotif. The virtual reality theme at SXSWedu was everywhere: in the sessions, in the expo, and in their renowned SXSW hands on“playgrounds.” I’ll be providing a deep dive discussion on this topic in a future article. For now, for our DD reader, meet the new popular kid on the block: VR.


For just a short paragraph, please permit me the opportunity to chase a rabbit trail. During my excursion to SXSWedu in Austin, I also pursued a clever social and economic experiment. Travelling to Austin for many years to attend various conferences, I have always been forced to rent a car at a most unwelcome price. And then face the parking nightmare that is Austin. And the traffic. This trip, I decided to use Uber—the ride sharing darling of the gig economy—everywhere. All Uber—all the time. The results of my experiment? Median wait time was 6 minutes. Service was door to door. Cost was less than 48% of my similar rental costs over the last three years, and far less than taxi transportation. When planning for the upcoming U.S. conference season, have you considered ride sharing? I’ll never do it the old way again. It’s the future. (Of course, the Austin airport is Uber-friendly, which is not always the case.)


Well, that’s the quick overview. Later this and next month I will attempt some deep-dive articles about VR and some vital new information coming out of SXSWedu. But for now, I just want to escape before Obama comes to town for SXSW, and the entire city heaves in gridlock. –Len Scrogan