Education mastermind John Dewey transformed the way we approach teaching and learning. He had the right idea, that is to engage the mind in learning, over a century ago: “Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking: learning naturally results.”
Learn by doing. It’s simple and it’s still revolutionary. Roblox is putting Dewey’s 19th and 20th century genius into 21st century practice. Think about how you learn to cook. A chef can tell you what to do, but until you start mixing ingredients and applying heat, it’s all theoretical.
Roblox, a publicly traded company now valued at over $40 billion, is in the John Dewey zone. Born in 1859, Dewey received a doctorate from Johns Hopkins University in 1884, becoming the quintessential thinker in a school of philosophy called Pragmatism. He is still a seminal figure in the progressive educational reform movement that emerged in the first half of the 20th century.
One of that school’s main themes was that top-down teaching, or what William Glasser in his book The Quality School calls boss-led teaching, or authoritarian models of instruction, should be replaced with a curriculum that focuses on real-world experiences. In Dewey’s world, the democratization of education meant that schools should be “an embryonic community life, active with types of occupations that reflect the life of the larger society and permeated throughout with the spirit of art, history and science … ” (The School and Society).
Dewey once said that we should teach chemistry by having students cook breakfast. And why shouldn’t we? Imagination and motivation are built right in.
What Dewey advocated for education we might today call entrepreneur education. There is another innovative education company, which is currently private, that students, professionals, and investors should keep an eye on. Founded by Roger James Hamilton, a futurist and New York Times best-selling author, Genius Group, is global entrepreneur education company.
Through its ed-tech arm, GeniusU, they have already served 1.4 million students in 200 countries with hands-on, live, interactive entrepreneur-based content where students and professionals learn about the trends shaping the digital decade, artificial intelligence, digital currencies, decentralized finance, the metaverse, and more.
Roblox is doing a version of that, but its bacon and eggs are ones and zeroes. Roblox is the highest valued content-based ed tech company in the $10 trillion global ed tech industry. It was co-founded in 2004 by David Baszucki, an entrepreneur, inventor, and engineer ranked by Goldman Sachs in 2018 as one of the 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs.
In January, the San Mateo, California-based company, which teaches kids how to create and code their own educational games, raised $520 million and now maintains a $40 billion-plus valuation. That’s nearly three times the valuation of the previously highest valued edtech company, Yuanfudao, a China-based K-12 online tutoring company valued at $15 billion.
In a TechCrunch article, Baszucki explained that the genesis for Roblox came from his previous company called Knowledge Revolution, which made teaching software that allowed students to “simulate physics experiments,” which students ultimately turned into a game.
Welcome to the gamification of education. Kids now spend far more time engaging with video games than watching TV, and research shows modest game-playing improves key skills because it’s active, not passive. Teaching kids by letting them build their own games comes with built-in motivation. Roblox leverages that motivation.
Roblox meets John Dewey, 199 million users in this “embryonic community” (RTrack), learning real-life skills, solving real-life problems in a fun, interactive, collaborative environment with a working end product as the goal. Roblox now has an estimated 36.2 million daily active users, subscribers who are creating their own metaverse, with some of them making money from selling educational games they create on the Roblox platform. Wow. Students create and can sell their own new, engaging material, games that teach solving real-life problems.
Roblox’s growth has been nothing short of astounding, driven by innovative content, a decentralized learning system with robust, easy-to-use technology, and the COVID-19 pandemic. According to backlinko.com, learners spent 8.71 billion hours of user engagement on Roblox in the third quarter of 2020, up from 2.1 billion hours in early 2018.”
In fact, Roblox added 5 billion hours of engagement in the first 3 quarters of 2020 alone.” Revenue for Roblox reached $587 million for the first nine months of 2020, up 68% over the previous nine months.
With their Roblox studio platform, a user can “create anything and release with one click to smartphones, tablets, desktops, consoles, and virtual reality devices.” Roblox also offers free lesson materials, with coding training to develop games that teach history, geography, art, and more.
So here we have it, Dewey’s progressive educational ideas packaged in 21st-century technology. Roblox gives the students something to do, not just something to learn; and that doing leads to results that may become viable creative enterprises. The revolutionary thinking of John Dewey runs deep in the ed-tech revolution. Congratulations, Roblox. Job well done.