AltSchool: Personalizing K-12 Classroom Learning

Digital technologies are paving the way for disruption in the classroom with the development of personalized learning tools.

Transforming the traditional K-12 education supply chain

K-12 education has historically relied on a factory model to deliver learning to students. Classrooms are comprised of a fixed number of students who interface with teachers to access knowledge and engage with learning concepts. The flow of knowledge is determined by educators – teachers and administrators – who decide what is relevant to students and how material can be taught. Global education systems have come under significant pressure in responding to the demands of burgeoning youth populations with dynamic educational requirements. As classrooms become more crowded and as budgets dwindle, K-12 educators struggle to meaningfully engage students in maximizing learning outcomes [1].

According to the CollegeBoard, only 46% of SAT test-takers graduating in 2017 are ready to enrol in and succeed in entry-level college courses [2]. The factory model of K-12 education has created wide student achievement gaps. The Clayton Christensen Institute highlights that “traditional teaching constrains teachers to one-size-fits-all lessons and pacing that make it hard to meet students’ individual needs” [3]. New technologies are allowing educators to reexamine the traditional factory model and to engage students in individualized and personalized learning by optimizing the pace of learning and tailoring the teaching approach to fit the needs of each student [4].

AltSchool: personalizing learning

AltSchool is leading the global conversation in personalized learning by pioneering micro-schools to deliver new learning methods and technologies to students. Founded in 2014 by Max Ventilla, AltSchool currently runs lab schools from pre-kindergarten to the eighth grade. The company seeks to disrupt traditional K-12 structures by providing project-based learning opportunities to students. AltSchool’s nine technology-heavy grade schools allow students to drive learning outcomes by accessing knowledge and material based on individual interests [5]. The company has garnered significant investor attention, having recently raised $175m from investors including Mark Zuckerberg [6].

Ventilla and his team are currently in the process of developing educational technology and establishing micro-schools to test their personalized learning model. AltSchool has already developed nine schools across California and New York, and is in the process of engaging charter schools and private K-12 institutions, both locally and globally, as partners in a pilot program over the next year. The company relies heavily on engineering talent, seeking to match each teacher to an engineer to facilitate individualized learning.

In the long-term, AltSchool aims to transform the K-12 education supply chain by establishing itself both as an educational software services company and as an education management company that operates physical schools. To make its technologies accessible to a broad range of educational contexts, AltSchool is also devising pricing structures that would allow public and private K-12 institutions to pilot personalized learning technologies.

Taking the next step

AltSchool has garnered significant press coverage in recent months following its successful fundraising activities. To truly activate itself as a change agent for traditional K-12 education, the company should focus its efforts on:

  • Measuring outcomes from existing pilots: AltSchool’s potential customers, particularly within the public education context, would require demonstrated impact from personalized learning methods and technologies. AltSchool is well positioned to use its pilot programs as control environments for testing personalized learning methodologies.
  • Building a scalable model: As part of its beta-testing phase for educational software development, AltSchool would be well-advised to engage a variety of educational institutions as pilot schools (public, private, charter, international). Technologies will require customization based on the end-user, and as such, AltSchool would benefit from incorporating these diverse requirements into its software design process at an early stage.

The need for a refreshed model to engage K-12 students in the classroom is clear, but the question remains as to how effective technology is as a means to boosting learning outcomes. In its early years, AltSchool will have to reliably demonstrate the efficacy of personalized learning technologies, both within its own schools and within external partner schools. Moreover, AltSchool has made a conscious strategic decision to establish itself as both an education operator and a software development company and thus play in two components of the educational supply chain. Recent concerns have materialized over the company’s ability to perform both activities, as evidenced by Ventilla’s decision to close down several micro-schools [7]Can a software developer create commercially viable educational platforms while simultaneously operating its own physical schools?


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[1] Michael B. Horn & Heather Staker, “The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning,” Innosight Institute, January 2011, , [URL], accessed November 2017.

[2] “2017 Report Overview – SAT Suite Program Results,” CollegeBoard, 2017, [URL], accessed November 2017.

[3] Thomas Arnett, “We need to change the teacher vs. technology narrative,” The Clayton Christensen Institute, August 2017, [URL], accessed November 2017.

[4] “Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education: 2017 National Education Technology Plan Update,” U.S. Department of Education, January 2017, [URL], accessed November 2017.

[5] AltSchool, “Company Approach,” [URL], accessed November 2017.

[6] Adam Satariano, “AltSchool, backed by Mark Zuckerberg and other high-profile tech investors, is scaling back and shutting a school as losses pile up,” Bloomberg Technology, November 2017, [URL], accessed November 2017.

[7] Leslie Brody, “AltSchool to Close Elementary School in Manhattan’s East Village,” The Wall Street Journal, November 2017, [URL], accessed November 2017.


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Student comments on AltSchool: Personalizing K-12 Classroom Learning

  1. The question of whether a software developer can create commercially viable educational platforms while simultaneously operating its own physical schools is an interesting one. The rise of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) including iTunes U, Udemy, Coursera, Udacity, and Kahn Academy has certainly proven the market, though critics remain adamant that the experience within a physical classroom simply cannot be replaced due to the value of human interaction and inherent difficulty in replicating social learning behavior online.

    I’d be curious to see how AltSchool may be able to leverage its existing US classrooms and software to reach less developed nations to create global peer learning opportunities (e.g., a classroom in California with a sister classroom in Myanmar funded by US revenue streams). While I tend to agree that it is difficult to fully replace classrooms with online learning, I do think AltSchool’s platform could be used to enhance classroom learning at scale in order to impact areas where better educational opportunities are most needed.

    1. Great question, and I too believe that there is significant room for testing the applicability of this technology within classrooms in less developed markets. As I see it, the issue at present lies in two areas: (1) the affordability of this technology and the idea of a digital classroom – AltSchool would either have to directly support the deployment of this technology in a developing world classroom, or would have to alter the pricepoint and potentially even the functionality of the offering and (2) the content itself – what a student requires in term of skill-set and knowledge in California would be dramatically different than what a student needs in Myanmar. If AltSchool can customize these technologies at an appropriate price point and in a customized manner for developing world contexts, I would say that Ventilla has a winning card in his hands as the rollout to developing world classrooms would be a sustainable initiative for the company.

  2. Aahan, you raise some very interesting questions about the future of personalized learning. Salman Khan of Khan Academy, makes an interesting complementary argument that personalized learning can ensure that students attain the required knowledge in subjects before moving on to the next level, without compromising their peers’ learning ( However, I am suspicious of how quickly AltSchool can attract, train and retain enough talent to rapidly scale while effectively delivering their learning model. As long as the system is not 100% digital, how will AltSchool attract, train and retain teachers that are willing and able to engage with the new educational model?

    The question of whether AltSchool can be a software developer while operating their own schools is closely tied to this personnel issue. While AltSchool might be able to perform both activities at a small scale, it will be challenging to do so massively and internationally. And, if they let others operate their schools in a franchise-like system, how will AltSchool ensure consistent quality? I believe that AltSchool should operate no more than 10-20 schools in the USA in order to understand classroom dynamics, but only insofar as doing so helps the company develop software that can be sold massively throughout the world.

  3. Edtech is one of my favorite topics! Thank you for covering this Aahan. You pose an interesting question by asking, “Can a software developer create commercially viable educational platforms while simultaneously operating its own physical schools?” I definitely think they can. Many for-profit and non-profit organizations have combined traditional methods and technology to deliver great value to students. One organization that I really admire in this field is Bridge International Academy. The first Bridge International Academy opened in 2009 using a “school-in-a-box” franchise model. The objective was to give “children a quality education for roughly $5 a month, beginning with early childhood development classes through eighth grade.” Supported by big-name investors, including Bill Gates and Pierre Omidyar, the company looks to provide quality schooling to children living in extreme poverty. Bridge International takes advantage of technology to achieve its aims, including the use of tablets and smartphones. Standardized curricula are delivered simultaneously and concurrently by the teachers, who use tablets to coordinate their efforts. These scripted lesson plans have “step-by-step instructions explaining what teachers should do and say during any given moment of a class.” Administrative tasks, including tracking of teacher schedules and subsequent student evaluation, are included with the package so Bridge can be sure their “Academy Managers,” as administrators are called, deliver the program as expected [1]. Since 2009, it has built more than 500 schools in India, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, and Uganda, and has educated more than 250,000 children [2]. Both software companies and physical schools can embrace such innovation to combine technology with traditional methods to deliver strong learning outcomes.


    [1] Anon, (2017). [online] Available at: Raab, S., Raab, S. and Susan, M. (2017). Bridge International’s “School-in-a-Box” Approach to African Education – Non Profit News | Nonprofit Quarterly. [online] Non Profit News | Nonprofit Quarterly. Available at: [Accessed 29 Nov. 2017]. [Accessed 29 Nov. 2017].

    [2] Ojomo, E. (2017). Bridge International Academies; a model for innovation – Christensen Institute. [online] Christensen Institute. Available at:

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