Developing OneNote for Education: A Program Manager’s Story – Mike Tholfsen, USA

Last week we shared with you all the details about the new OneNote Staff Notebook for education. A lot of hard work has gone into making not only the Staff Notebook, but making OneNote in general a fantastic tool for use in education, and one of the people largely responsible for the product that is now receiving great feedback from teachers and students alike, is Mike Tholfsen.

Mike the is Principal Program Manager for Microsoft OneNote, and those of you who spent visited the Microsoft stand at BETT 2015 in January may well have spoken to him at some point (he was most often found wearing his purple #OneNoteAvenger cape!). What follows below is a recent post from Anthony Salcito’s Daily Edventures blog, where we meet the man behind OneNote, and see how he took the lead in adapting the product to make it specifically tailored for use in education.


Developing OneNote for Education: A Program Manager’s Story – Mike Tholfsen, USA

Anthony Salcito, February 26th 2015

Mike Tholfsen

We talk every day here at Daily Edventures about innovation. And while innovation in education is our focus, innovation in the broader sense is also core to our mission. When you work at Microsoft, innovation is a mandate. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

In fact, innovating in a company as large as Microsoft can at times be an all-consuming effort. You need to talk with the right people about your idea, who then pass that on to the other right people, who then buy-in to your idea and pass it on again. Evangelizing innovation can many times become a job into itself.

With that in mind, I’d like to share the story of Mike Tholfsen, principal program manager for OneNote. When OneNote was first developed, it was seen as a “software notebook for the modern age” – a virtual notebook that helped business colleagues share ideas, organize projects, brainstorm and research – all in one place. Initially, the fact that OneNote could be used as a power tool for education wasn’t really considered. Here’s where Tholfsen comes in.

I was working on the OneNote team back in 2004 and had the realization that the product had the ability to completely transform education,” says Tholfsen. “Once I had that realization, I have been working at bringing it to life ever since.”

And bring it to life he has. Two days ago, we released the OneNote Staff Notebook for Education. The OneNote Staff Notebook allows a school leader or administrator to quickly set up a personal workspace for every staff member or teacher, a content library for shared information, and a space for everyone to collaborate, all within one powerful notebook. The “private” notebook can be used for professional development, classroom observations, performance appraisals, and parent communications. The content library can be used for publishing of policies and procedures and school calendar information. The collaboration space is extremely flexible for use on any group activities like meeting notes and shared initiatives.

Perhaps the biggest benefit for school leaders and their staff is that everything that happens in the school can be tracked and shared in one place and accessible across devices (online or offline), with privacy for individual staff members who need to share information just with leadership. The result is organization, efficiency and collaboration with school administration that never existed before the OneNote Staff Notebook.

Tholfsen’s tireless promotion of OneNote has been a thing to behold. Whether it’s visiting schools where staff and students use OneNote, attending an education technology conference in Finland, or demoing the Notebook to internal Microsoft advocates (including Bill Gates!), Tholfsen has been the driving force behind OneNote for Education’s innovation. And for this, students, teachers, parents and school leaders the world over are eternally grateful.

Here’s today’s Daily Edventure with Mike Tholfsen.

What inspired you to become involved in education innovation?

My two Montessori school teachers, Vivian Cyrus and Rosamund Davis, were the inspiration. I went to a Montessori school from age two-eight, and some of my best childhood memories are from there, including those two teachers. I still stay in contact with both of them.

What was a defining moment in your career when you felt proudest?

The defining moment of my career was the creation and launch of the OneNote Class Notebook app. I was involved from the inception of this app and to see the way it has started to transform classrooms, as well as the wide adoption, has been a dream come true for me.

Why do you feel passionate about innovation and technology in the classroom?
The ability to use technology to unlock the human potential for learning and innovation in the education space is about important as it gets. I have been able to work with some of the most amazing schools and teachers from around the world, which has given me the opportunity to observe unbelievable innovation using OneNote.

In terms of education innovation, what are you most excited about for the future? What is your biggest hope for today’s students?

I am most excited about the potential of technology in education to level the playing field across the world, as well as to unlock new pedagogical models to transform how we educate future generations.


About Mike Tholfsen
Principal Program Manager, Microsoft OneNote
Newcastle, Washington, USA

  • Birthplace: Bellingham, Washington
  • Educational background: Bachelors in Information Systems and Computer Science
  • Website I check every day:
  • Favorite childhood memory: Going to my local Montessori school – I still stay in contact with my two teachers and visit them every few years.
  • Favorite book: The Fourth Turning, by William Strauss and Neil Howe
  • Favorite Microsoft product, tool, technology: OneNote
  • What is the best advice you have ever received? From my dad – “It can’t hurt to ask because the worst they can say is ‘No’.”


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