Innovations in technology are poised to upend how students learn and the way educational institutions impart knowledge to people around the world, according to panelists at the Milken Institute Global Conference.
The Internet and access to computers have already rapidly changed the way teachers interact with students. Now, the sector is attracting attention from entrepreneurs who are rushing to roll out products such as online classrooms and educational games.
Michael Moe, chief investment officer at GSV Asset Management, said the business world is drawn to education because the many troubles in the sector present an opportunity.
"Entrepreneurs flock to problems," he said. "There is no greater issue than how to educate the populace."
One area ripe for continued innovation is online teaching, said Chip Paucek, chief executive of 2U, which provides an online education platform for schools.
Paucek predicted the 21st century would be the era of online learning in much the same way that previous centuries were the era for historic universities such as Cambridge, Oxford and the Ivy League colleges.
"We think schools that end the segregation of online students, those schools will win," he said.
Students who attend virtual classes should be charged the same as those who attend classes in person, Paucek said. Combined with a quality education, that will help remove the stigma of online degrees such as the new doctorate in education that will be offered online by USC starting in 2015.
"Online education hasn't been very good for very long, and those preconceived notions get worse as you go from Europe to Asia," he added.
Many investors are now looking at education as part of a heightened interest in investing in companies that have a do-gooder element, said Barbara Kurshan, a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education.
Aside from education, the buzz-worthy sectors for investors currently are healthcare and green energy, she said.
The panelists agreed that the education technology sector is too young for them to make predictions about which start-ups will achieve huge successes -- and reap huge profits.