A Simple, Post-Consumer Model for (Real) Education
Education is an interactive experience.
The wave of consumerization of education is arguably several decades old now. To my view, there are two prevailing themes of that consumerization: 1) the idea of student-customer who is therefore “always right” and deserves guarantees of certain outcomes like employability and ROI, and 2) the idea that knowledge is a consumer-good.
Certainly, we have seen significant changes in the attitude institutions take toward their students with respect to life goals like employability. My own alma mater now offers an incredibly robust set of programs that start early in the college experience-including internships, sponsored projects, and career counseling. A stark contrast to the sparse, non-proctored library of leaflets and files during my time there.
But it is the second theme that I want to address here, because I believe we are at an important inflection point in the industry.
Knowledge As Consumer Good
One thing I learned early on in my tenure at publishers is that students will only spend money on curricular materials that they believe will help them get the grade they want. The patterns were extremely clear and consistent: first years tended to buy new versions of all recommended materials, and that behavior shifted with time and experience to be more selective and price sensitive. Over the last decade, the entire pattern has changed with reduced information asymmetry and changing student preferences.
More used, more digital, less cost, please.
The early efforts by Chegg and Amazon to make a hyper-efficient market for used textbooks generated marketplaces of used and rental textbooks, both physical and digital. Since then, those markets have evolved into something vastly different, while they continue to offer those textbooks. On-demand “homework help”, access to reams of essays and other “aids” for getting the grade I want are the dominant value propositions.
Inevitably, the primary producers of those textbooks made moves to offset the real economic and product model threat posed by those markets. Branded rental programs and early online shopping sites have now given way to all-you-can-read subscription services, modeled not so loosely after Disney+, Netflix, Spotify, and other media aggregators.
All of these strategic and tactical moves, some by disruptors, others by incumbents, focus on the idea that learners are consumers. From a certain product-market-fit perspective, it’s spot on: price, selection, on-demand, any device, anywhere.
And it is highly transactional in nature, it ends with distribution.
Textbook and chill, bro.
Is That Good Enough?
The trend toward consumerization begs several questions:
What are we trying to learn?
How are we going about it?
What are we learning about how we are going about it?
And I’ve got more questions:
Could we do it better?
Could we do it more cost effectively?
We can, we should, we must.
A Post-Consumer Model for Education
Here is my simple proposal for a Post-Consumer Model for Education:
Education is an interactive experience. Live educators help guide and curate the learner through the process. Asynchronous video is great for mass distribution, and it is not an adequate substitute for the real thing. Blending the fantastic affordances provided with digital tools and live/hybrid instruction creates greater value for both the learner and the educator.
New Models for Assessment
Education is an interactive experience. Research is increasingly convincing about massive gains made by learners who engage in project-based, experiential, and authentic learning and assessment. Online robo-graded homework is great for mass distribution, it has also lost the battle against the “study aid” sites. It is increasingly easier and cheaper to create newer, for more effective kinds of learning and assessment models at scale. Educators should have broad access to use them.
Education is an interactive experience. The burst of demand for instructional/learning designers on campuses and in corporate settings is a powerful indicator that the existing courses and design models are lacking. Designing pure-play and hybrid digital learning experiences in ways that specifically engage the learner and provide the educator the powerful advantages of data-informed teaching create far more value than your typical off-the-shelf and rigid courseware.
Education is an interactive experience. It should not be sufficient to claim victory with a well-designed digital learning experience. We live in an age where many industries and business focus on rapid upcycle to improve their goods and services. Yet the learning industry seems stuck on 4+ year course redesign and textbook revision cycles. Designing digital learning experiences specifically to conduct A/B testing and upcycling at least term to term should be the new normal.
Measurable Across the Learner Journey
Education is an interactive experience. It should not be sufficient to capture assessment grades from various digital interactions, especially those “aided” by “study sites”. Incredible amounts of learner activity data are exhausted into the ether in the existing learning experiences on campus today. Learners move from their LMS, to a variety of disconnected digital experiences, with little coherence or understanding of the learning moments being captured. If we want to achieve scaled improvement in how we deliver digital teaching and learning, we need to design, deliver, and measure across the entire learning journey.
A Dialogue and Collaboration
We are interested in your thoughts and ideas for how we can collectively progress the art and science of technology-enabled teaching and learning. Please contribute here and stay tuned for much more discussion and interaction!