Education

Education Can Take Some Innovation Lessons From the Music Business

This sponsored post is produced by Rob Wrubel, the chief innovation officer of Apollo Education Group, Inc.

Music, travel, transportation, and other industries have embraced technological innovation to massively transform in recent decades. Music labels were forced to give up complete control to make way for marketplaces and streaming platforms like iTunes and Spotify. Travel agents gave way to Expedia and Airbnb. Photo-capturing/-sharing (Instagram) and getting around (Zipcar, Waze) will never be the same. In all of these instances, engagement, access, convenience, affordability — and ultimately, control — really mattered.

Education has been improved by technology, but not nearly as dramatically as other markets have — or as much as it should. The existing college and job-training model struggles with widespread disengagement (learners and teachers both), often irrelevant or low-quality courses, exploding cost and physical space limitations. It also happens to be a market worth trillions, not billions, of dollars. Don’t these factors make it ripe for innovation overhaul?

The resistance is partly fueled by how we think about education. Teaching and learning are best done, many in the industry feel, in traditional classrooms. We have entrenched models and metaphors (the leafy campus, the animated seminar) that succeeded in the past. We don’t like equating improving education with improving a hotel reservation system, and we fear corporatization of learning. Conveying how to master skills and knowledge is a complex, awe-inspiring service to deliver and scale at quality — much more complicated than digitizing music or monetizing cost-per-click for a search engine.

However, we’re at the edge of a new age of innovation in learning. It’s chaotic. It may conjure memories of previous innovation waves that didn’t take hold. But this one is real because technology is making education consistently more effective, engaging, relevant, and accessible. Innovation will be embraced not because providers browbeat consumers into accepting their corporate model of education, but because markets typically thrive when customers are empowered to “vote” for the solutions with the greatest utility.

There are four ways that education will transform and innovate through technology:

Learning will become bite-sized, on-the-go, continuous – and gradually more exciting: The single most important upgrade is to make education more engaging and adaptive. Just as cable television programming went from unwatchable to must-see when money improved production values and brought in better talent, the same will happen to online courseware, which currently lags in production quality. And courseware should and will be presented so that consumers can learn what, when, how much, and on which platform they want.

The world’s leading academic, corporate, and personal expert brands will be delivered, constantly, to students: As with other crowdsourced selections (such as books, restaurants, or tourist destinations), mentors and courses that offer the most value will rise to the top. This revolutionary shift empowers, celebrates, and compensates a new wave of educators — this includes teachers as well as subject-matter experts and industry influencers who offer high value.

Coursework will be tied to career outcomes: One way for people to become and remain competitive is to involve employers in specifying requirements and certifications they demand of future employees. The technology and data needed to do this exists right now. As more learners acquire skills through online (or offline) courses whose relevance has been vetted by potential employers, they will have more control over their career path which will be a major step in closing our vast, persistent skills gap.

Degree-based learning and corporate training will unbundle and merge: Innovations such as iTunes thrived by “unbundling” — eliminating the middleman and making the core product more accessible, cheaper, and adaptive to our lives. Imagine the potential benefits of unbundling education. How exciting would it be to create learning “playlists” attuned to our particular needs, limitations, and flexibilities? To access the playlists of those who inspire us? Imagine taking only relevant and engaging courses that map to your career aspirations.

The future of education

If, or when, these exciting innovations take hold and education emulates other markets in their capability to give customers more control, another innovation may emerge: open, global education marketplaces. The potential for such individual-empowering platforms is incredibly intriguing.

What would it be like to have an “Amazon for education” — a platform that enables you to buy, choose and manage not your favorite music tracks or book and gift selections but your future? You would be in charge of managing what you learn, selecting the teacher, the teaching method, and cost.

Such portals would provide society — millions, even billions, of people — access to easily organized, accessible, increasingly high-quality and relevant courseware. A global community of mentors and teachers would be incentivized to offer information, guidance, and inspiration. It would provide the ultimate innovation in education, enabling you to expand your horizons, professionally and personally, as far as you can reach.


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