In Search of the “Path of Least Resistance to the Most Knowledge for the Most People”

By George Lorenzo – Published May 31, 2021 in Workforce Monitor – Subscribe to the WFMonitor eNewsletter

Normally I do not write articles about close friends, but in this instance, I made an exception to that personal rule and decided to write about Gordon Freedman, someone I have known and communicated with quite often for more than 20 years. My reason: In addition to being a caring and helpful business professional, Gordon is a unique and amazingly smart individual who is on an important mission to improve the world of education and workforce development. He also knows just about everybody who works in these two broad fields and is a phenomenal architect of education initiatives and projects, as well as an accommodating connector of ideas and people, all under the umbrella of making the world of education, from K-12 through postsecondary, more effective for everybody involved.

This article is based on email communications with Gordon. It is part of Workforce Monitor’s professional veterans in workforce development series. One thing about Gordon that needs to be stated up front. His career path is extraordinarily distinct and diverse, zig zagging in lots of highly interesting directions. He has served as both an executive-level professional (including six years as Vice President of Global Education Strategy for Blackboard, Inc., in which he traveled to 19 countries examining learning models and policy strategies) and as an independent consultant, in areas related mostly to education technology. He’s also worked in the fields of journalism, publishing, and television and film production. Two interesting tidbits among many in his career: He won an Emmy nomination and a Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival for a 1991 biographical documentary about Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time, for which he was the originator and executive producer.  He was also director of the 1994 film Marilyn Monroe: Life After Death

Gordon is currently president of the National Laboratory for Education Transformation (NLET), “a decade-old California research and development non-profit focused on systems level changes in mathematics learning, state K-12 data, learner records and the education-to-employment pipeline.” He’s also managing director of Knowledge Base, LLC, “a research, development and business consulting corporation focused on the intersection of technology, knowledge and policy.” His latest project, which Workforce Monitor summarized from a report he recently published – The Newest Economy: Welcome to the Credential Revolution – is related to his ambitious formation of a “Credential Alliance that includes multiple types of stakeholders, stewards and solution providers to build out a fully functioning credential marketplace.” Current members of the Alliance include NLET, Credential Engine, the Velocity Network Foundation, the Southern Regional Educational Board (SREB), and GoEducate, Inc. Plans are in place to invite new members in the coming months. 

On Education and its Connection to Work
All of Gordon’s experiences have brought him to a broad philosophical and practical perspective about all things related to education and its connection to work. “There is a huge disconnect between perception – going to school, college, training – and getting a job, a career, and making local, regional and state economies work,” he says.  “No one studies that disconnect as a central issue, like we study fitness and survival in other species or even in husbandry. There is no shortage of people working on parts of the problem, but none that I know of who are looking at the theory and practice connected to performance – nor any yardstick to measure that performance against sustainability and civility for individual lives, community quality, and regional viability.”  

In short, Gordon’s day-to-day work consists of looking closely at and interacting with a large set of educators, scientists, governance people, and businesspeople in order to “get to the truth” and solve the challenges and problems concerning education, human capital, and non-profit and for-profit systems.  

“I try to look at this whole set of things through a lens of how do you change culture practice to the benefit of all learners, which, in turn, promotes economic growth – and one day some form of civility mixed with dissent and cultural growth,” he explains. “It’s a tough battle, largely in my mind, because we have let schools and education slide to lower and lower levels.” 

A Conundrum
Gordon’s underlying objective is to find “the path of least resistance to the most knowledge for the most people.” He explains how, “unfortunately,” there are two separate paths to achieve that objective. “One is the through the non-profit public service route and the other is through the for-profit product and service route. 

“The situation exists largely because the U.S. does not have a national education system that would plan and finance for all education – K-12 and higher education,” he says. “Instead, the U.S. non-profits tend to make products and services to meet public needs, but they have problems building themselves up to be successful because they have to look for grants and donations, or the large foundations have to place bets on small non-profits. There are notable exceptions where the product route has worked well for non-profits,” he adds.

“For-profits, on the other hand, are driven by return on investment and on sales to maintain and grow their businesses. As a result, products and services have to be narrowed to the point that they cannot reach all of the market and certainly not the portions where the most vulnerable young students and adult learners are located.”

Ubiquitous Education, Equally Accessible through Technology
In something akin to a final analysis, Gordon supports a solution that “moves us to one technology, internet and app regarding teaching, learning, knowledge acquisition and record keeping for learning. . . Until learning and access to education is ubiquitous and equally accessible both through institutions and on the internet or through apps,” he says, “there can be no success in hoping to build a meaningful and equitable path from education to employment or to meaningful social participation for the majority of people.” 

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