Unbundling education and training for online

The online world lends itself to unbundling. Unbundling is when you dismantle various aspects of a previous business model and sell them separately. Sometimes different companies and organisations can then specialise in a specific aspect of the business or industry.

An example would be in telecommunications. Previously, one monolithic company might have controlled all aspects of telecommunications within a country or region. Unbundling the industry means that now we can have companies that specialise in maintaining the lines, others that only offer broadband and phone services, and so on. In other words, unbundling potentially means:

  • Increased specialisation
  • More competition
  • Better efficiencies

I think this is what is happening (or going to happen) to the education sector over the next 10 years. Education and training is going to be unbundled and the Internet will be the vehicle to make it happen.

Currently, we certainly don’t have a single entity delivering education and training. So the telecommunications example doesn’t quite work. However, we do have lots of monolithic educational institutions that behave in similar ways. We also have a lot of inefficiency in the current system. We also have a problem with recognising and developing specialist areas of knowledge including how this specialist knowledge is disseminated.

The old model has always been to protect the specialist knowledge within educational structures that are reminiscent of the medieval guilds.

The internet is changing that. Information is now free. That means that even if you know something interesting that has allowed you to charge a lot of money for what you do, the chances are that your monopoly on this knowledge is about to end.

Some kid is going to post it all for free. If they haven’t already.

That means that you need to start working on a different business model for doing education and training. This is where I think unbundling comes into play.

We need to unbundle the education system. If we could separate out the different components we could then encourage increased specialisation, more competition, and better efficiencies.

So what are the components of an educational system that need to be unbundled?

Here’s a preliminary list:

  • Pre training: Information about education and training pathways including the decision making processes, form filling, application, and general matching up of people to the training opportunities that are available. There’s a business opportunity here for people, websites, or specialist organisations to act as online education brokers.
  • Learning platforms: If you want to do online or blended education you don’t need to have a software engineering team build your own platform. There are dozens of new edtech startups beavering away creating some really amazing 21st century learning platforms. This technology is still really in it’s infancy and I’d love to see if mature and develop over the next few years. There’s still opportunities here, but because it’s so specialised, why would you want to do both.
  • Niche content creation: This is what interests me. If we look at the music industry as an analogue, we can see that there as been a shift from big monolithic record labels doing everything to an unbundled music industry where artists have much greater control over their music. In fact, the artists can connect directly with their fans via music publishing platforms like iTunes. A musician could potentially write, record, produce, and sell their own music directly. Online platforms could provide similar opportunities to content specialists, whether organisations or individuals. I see big opportunities and potential here, but the problem is that information wants to be free.
  • Teaching and learning: This might go together with niche content creation but it doesn’t need to. It’s one thing to create content or new knowledge for a specialised subject area. It’s another thing to engage with learners and teach them this content. This is education and training, rather than just information for education and training. This interests me as well because of the connection to content creation. We should see better tools coming online to really engage our learners over the next 10 years, like online adaptive learning engines for specific content areas.
  • Assessment of learning: How do you know whether someone knows something? How can you tell if someone has made any progress in learning a skill or demonstrating knowledge? Well… you have to assess them. This is often part of a package deal with whatever learning platform you are using for the teaching and learning part. But it doesn’t have to be. External and more objective measuring tools (like exams) are a well established means of measuring learning, particularly in many specialised industries. Assessment is also it’s own specialised field of study and expertise.
  • Credentialing: Gaining credentials like certificates, diplomas, and degrees is traditionally part of a process (the end point usually) that learners experience when they enrol for a course of study. But it doesn’t need to be. It’s possible that in an unbundled education system, accredited organisations might focus more on applying credentials rather than delivering training. This could mean that they also provide the assessment process, but it could just mean applying recognition of current learning (RPL) or current competency (RCC) processes. This could have implications for those delivering training and doing assessment as learners would need to be collating and compiling a portfolio of evidence.
  • Registration of credentialed professionals: Some professions are used to some sort of professional registration for those who gain the right credentials. This allows for quality assurance mechanisms and also helps people sell their skills to others who can choose them from the list.

What do you think? Have I missed anything? Let me know in the comments…

Author: Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

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