LearnLaunch Fosters EdTech Innovation with February Conference, Year-long Ecosystem in Boston

Last week, the 5th annual LearnLaunch Across Boundaries Conference took place at Hynes Convention Center in Boston. The convention center was full of an energy unique to the event, and the session rooms, tables, and even floors were full of edtech enthusiasts passionately discussing ways to best provide learning for students of all ages.

LearnLaunch, an organization that also hosts an edtech accelerator, a co-working space, and a number of regular meetups based in Boston, initiated the event in 2012 to support their mission of fostering the edtech community of Boston and beyond.

This year’s conference pulled in around 1,200 attendees at Boston’s Hynes Convention Center. The headcount was hundreds more than last year’s event at Harvard Business School, yet the setting was still somehow intimate enough that educators could connect with big business CTOs, edtech startups could pitch to social investors, and students could communicate what they’ve learned directly to those trying to change education from the top.

While many of these elements have come to be expected, one of the biggest notable differences between this year’s conference and last year’s was size.

“I think [it has] been amazing on several facets to see this conference just explode,” said Michael Horn, renowned edtech expert, speaker, author, and LearnLaunch board member.

Horn noted that of the attendees, approximately 80% hail from New England. “It’s become really a regional event, which is great, exactly what we wanted it to be.”

Rising from 850 in 2016 to 1,100 in 2017, the conference’s growth was significant enough to validate the new, larger venue. Yet more important than the numbers is the role that LearnLaunch plays in bringing together the educational community of Boston and beyond.

“I’ve been part of LearnLaunch from the beginning…we were one of the first sponsors.” said George Moore, CTO of Cengage Learning.

“I think they’ve done a great job to really build a culture here in Boston, and just overall a group that has international recognition.”

Moore went on to describe Boston’s growing role in the world of edtech, and how LearnLaunch has fostered this over the years.

“We’ve relocated our headquarters to Boston, for the sole reason that Boston is the crossroads of technology and education,” said Moore. “And I think LearnLaunch has helped solidify that and given the startups, which are really important to the ecosystem…a process to get more engaged and grow faster.”

Education has always been one of the primary industries in Boston, owing to the proximity of the country’s first university, Harvard. Yet as time has passed, it has also become a center for technology, due to its proximity to one of the country’s most innovative universities, MIT. Throw in 52 other higher education institutions, the Cengage headquarters, prominent offices of Pearson and McGraw-Hill, and it’s clear as to why Boston has become a major hub for education technology the past few years.

Behind the scenes, it’s evident LearnLaunch has been playing a pivotal role in combining the education and technology industries in the city into an edtech ecosystem that supports the growth and learning of companies large and small, by partnering with the larger educational corporations and fostering the growth of fledgling startups through their accelerator, campus, and regular events.

But the edtech ecosystem doesn’t need to end at the Boston city limits. According to LearnLaunch Managing Director Liam Pisano, the organization hopes to replicate what they’ve done for Boston in other communities on the Eastern seaboard, particularly with the campus model and the support it entails.

“That’s not easy,” acknowledged Pisano, “But I do think that we’ve created a model that should be replicated in some way, shape, or form, and I think that’s up to us to find the right partners to replicate it.”

So while Boston might be the hub of edtech for now (and the hub of the universe to us, forever), as the edtech industry grows, so will events and organizations that foster this community around the globe.

For now, we’re happy to be in the thick of it all at this year’s LearnLaunch conference, and every day.

Highlights from the LearnLaunch Conference

We had the chance to interview a few of the educational experts speaking at the LearnLaunch Across Boundaries conference, who shared what they spoke about and their own take on education today. To get a snapshot of just what was covered during the conference, here are our conversations with the educational experts present in Boston last week.


Interview with George Moore, CTO of Cengage Learning

We spoke to Moore about his experience at the conference, his participation in the event, and the biggest ways that Cengage is trying to evolve to meet the needs of 21st century learners.


Interview with Michael Horn, Speaker, Author & Co-Founder, Clayton Christensen Institute

Horn was not only moderating two sessions at the LearnLaunch conference, but has also been a LearnLaunch board member for the past year. Horn shared his unique perspective on both the organization and the annual event, as well as his own fascinating role in the evolution of edtech.


Edchat: International Education with Norihisa Wada, Christina Bai, and Dr. Jacob (Yaki) Dayan

To take advantage of the many international thought leaders present at the event, we hosted a short group discussion with international education experts Norihisa Wada (Japan), Dr. Yaki (Israel), and Christina Bai (China). The three shared their perspectives on educational solutions, global edtech development, and more.


Interview with Dr. Bror Saxberg, Chief Learning Officer, Kaplan, Inc.

Of all the people we’ve interviewed, Dr. Bror Saxberg likely has the most impressive credentials, including an M.D. from Harvard and a PhD in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT (amongst other degrees). Saxberg combines his many areas of expertise as Chief Learning Officer of Kaplan, where he is tasked with applying learning science to the company’s collection of products. In this conversation, Saxberg recaps what he spoke about at the LearnLaunch conference, as well as what personal experiences sparked his interest in learning science and personalized learning.


Interview with Curtiss Barnes, Managing Director, Global Product Management & Design, Pearson

If you want to know what’s going on in global education, Curtiss Barnes is the person to speak to. Responsible for global markets at the largest global education company, Barnes has the full scoop on what’s being developed and what needs to be developed to solve global needs in education today.

Hannah Nyren

Hannah Nyren

Hannah Nyren is the General Manager of EdTech Times. A Texan by birth but a Bostonian at heart, Hannah is an educational writer, AmeriCorps alum, and one-time StartupWeekend EDU (SWEDU) winning team member. She started her career at a Pearson-incubated edtech startup, but has since covered travel, food & culture, and even stonemasonry in addition to education.