By Thomas Frey and Trent Fowler
Victoria is a powerhouse serial entrepreneur who sold a growing company to Google in 2012, then spent the next few years thinking about how to have a large, positive impact on the world.
Around this time she was considering how she wanted to educate her children, so she was also spending a lot of energy researching different models for education and issues with existing approaches.
She wanted something holistic, in which a child is a key partner in the exciting process of learning, and was taught skills like communication along with the standard mathematics, science, and the like.
Though there were schools that offered what most of what she was looking for, they all had the same issue: they couldn’t scale.
This is the problem she and her husband set out to solve.
After extensively testing and refining their initial ideas, they decided to launch Prisma with the onset of the Covid pandemic.
(For more information on education after COVID19, check out “Rethinking Education: How will we learn post-pandemic?”)
Prisma draws on many educational models, like the Montessori method, and is unique in giving students quite a lot of autonomy in choosing which projects they tackle.
A crucial advantage in online learning is that it breaks schooling from being locked into specific geographies (which are often stratified by demographics, class, and race). It offers the flexibility of learning when and where you want to. Not surprisingly, Prisma classes mix children from different countries, different backgrounds, and different interests in a way that is really productive.
Another differentiator for Prisma is that it tries to foster a ‘designer’s mindset’ in its students. Much of being a successful adult boils down to being able to continuously refine a project until it meets a high enough standard. And yet it’s possible to make it all the way through college without having done anything like this.
By making iteration and improvement a core part of the projects undertaken by students, Prisma helps students develop a much more useful and realistic sense of what learning and achievement actually look like in the real world.
A theme we touched on in the interview was the role of artificial intelligence in education. Though we’re probably a long way from having fully-automated AI teachers, there’s plenty of room for AI to help out with individual tasks, such as offering simple feedback on essays.
The core promise of using AI in education is that it could better allow Prisma to scale. There is a limited number of skilled teachers in the world, and the more we can automate their routine tasks the more time they can spend doing the hard work of making sure children are learning optimally.
(This also came up in our interview with Ruben Harris, CEO and founder of Career Karma)
We also spent some time discussing the application of virtual reality Prisma classes. One obvious way this could help would be in making virtual meetings feel more tangible and realistic. But it could also help learning; nothing would bring physics, chemistry, or biology alive like seeing a vivid, life-sized, 3D illustration of the underlying processes in a virtual world!
Stepping back, Victoria has a few thoughts on the future of education more broadly. She agrees with us that college will have less importance as time goes on, which will inevitably impact what is taught in classes below that level. She also thinks that there will be more and more demand for flexibility in education. More and more families will want a way of educating their children asynchronously and online.
A final important thread was the discussion around just in time learning versus just in case learning (a theme which also cropped up in our discussion with renowned education expert Andreas Schleicher). Often children are taught many high-level concept ‘just in case’ they need them at some point. Another valid model is letting interest drive educational goals and learning things ‘just in time’, i.e. when they’re actually needed.
Just in time learning will work so long as students have at least a minimum of high-level knowledge and if their depth-based projects prepare them for things like structuring learning goals, iterating, and taking feedback.