This year, I was lucky enough to attend SxSW Edu. My experience was primarily focused around spending time with a group of organizations formally known as the Next Generation Courseware grantees. At Intentional Futures, we have the great privilege of working with these organizations, all of which are trying to make courseware better for students in higher education.

During SxSW, my objective was to get feedback on which common principles mattered most to students and faculty members. Would it be accessibility to all students, customization, or applying learning science that really moved the bar? In the end, affordability and accessibility seemed to win out.

We spent some of our time at SxSW collaborating with companies doing groundbreaking work in personalized learning at a forum called ImagineCon. One of my favorite ImagineCon interactions was created by Lumen. The simple approach they took to illustrate the promise of courseware over traditional education was as powerful as it was eye opening.

As you approached the Lumen booth, they would randomly assign you to either a traditional courseware experience or the Lumen course experience. Of course, the level of instruction, feedback, and assessment varied based on which type the participant drew. Seemingly simple, sure – but decidedly clever, because the booth taught participants what courseware offers – so you walked away with a true understanding not just “the pitch.” I must admit to being more than a bit disappointed at being selected for the traditional offering — and the higher cost that went along with the traditional textbook. I was envious of the booth-goers who got to use the Lumen product which nudges learners towards learning objectives. Through this experience it was also apparent that the instructor can play a more useful role in guiding the students towards mastery – something that I wish I had stronger abilities to do when I was in front of the classroom.

The interactive learning that I experienced at the Lumen booth represents SxSW Edu at its finest. And I for one, walked away feeling a little bit better educated.