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January 21, 2013 Shop Talk

Q&A With Jeffrey Elliott of The VHS Collaborative

Matt Volpini Jeffrey Elliot, CEO, The VHS Collaborative

If finding a career that can serve as your passion can be a life-changing experience, then Jeff Elliott might consider himself twice as lucky. After working in the newspaper business with an employer (Tribune Co.) that had a stake in education, he switched over to that side of the Tribune empire and "was just hooked." Now, more than 15 years later, he's just moved north from Oklahoma to take over as CEO of The VHS Collaborative, a non-profit provider of online education for high school and middle school students.

Does the adoption of online education tools presage a change in how we'll educate our children?

It does. In some ways, it's just another tool for us to help facilitate and enhance education. But in other ways, it does fundamentally change the model. It broadens access to quality education. It helps to do that so more students (who are) maybe economically or geographically restricted from a quality education will now have much greater access to that quality education. It also allows for more individualized instruction.

And what can it do for preparing the students to enter the workforce?

If a student is going into college, they're going to be taking courses online, and at least some of their curriculum or some of their assignments or some of the things they do (are) going to be online. So we need to prepare students, especially at the high school level, to be successful in that kind of environment. Same thing with the workforce, really any job that you have today; you're going to be in an environment where you're going to have to use technology and be comfortable.

We've heard the phrase “disruptive technology” (market-changing innovations). Are online education tools the most disruptive when you look at the impact they can have on the education industry and profession?

I think that some of the things we're seeing today fit much more into that evolutionary category. I don't feel like the education technologies that we're using right now are all that disruptive. I think the disruption will happen once we have a broader implementation or a broader adoption of technologies that truly transform the classroom. We're kind of nipping at the edges today. I haven't quite seen that disruption that really changes the entire paradigm.

You have a journalism degree and — in what is probably rare for journalists — a business degree as well. What piqued your interest in running a business?

Very early on at the University of Missouri, I realized that although I loved to write, and I loved reporting, I also really liked the idea of the business side of journalism: what new ways to bring news to the public.

The business model at VHS is similar to that of the company you most recently left. What was most intriguing about this opportunity?

The most intriguing thing about this opportunity is the way it prepares students to enter either college or the workforce. The model of VHS Collaborative is students working in groups on projects together so they're really doing things to meet the requirements for their high school credits. But they're also meeting in a format that's going to help them be more productive members of society or a business, or successful in a college setting.


Shop Talk - Jeffrey Elliott, The VHS Collaborative

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