Dealing with tutor churn in tertiary organisations: What we need is new business models…

churn 2

Colleague and fellow education blogger Damon Whitten posted a great analysis of what is possibly one of the key issues facing foundation level tertiary education: the churn factor. I wrote a brief summary here

In short, lots of tutors leave their jobs (and possibly their teaching careers) before they have a chance to really come to grips with any or all of classroom management, content knowledge, and how to teach.

The reasons why tutors leave aren’t highly complex. You can read why in Damon’s original post. Likewise, the solutions possibly aren’t that complex either. For example, as a tutor do you feel appreciated? As a manager or owner, do you appreciate your staff?

That’s not to say that the situations that tutors and organisations find themselves in aren’t complex… I know they are. Anyone who has been through the NZQA external evaluation and review process knows how complex the internal workings of private and public training organisations can be.

One of the things that really resonated with me Damon’s comment that tough (tougher) times are possibly coming and what we need to be doing is looking for different ways of doing education. Here’s Damon:

The pressure will be coming on soon for PTEs to produce ‘real’ learning outcomes.  There is a cull coming (we have already seen the start of it) and those organisations that don’t begin the transition to become real education organisations will not make the grade.  Mastering the art of moving learners through Unit standards will not be preparation for the next wave.  Those credits will have to reflect authentic skills development. That means if you re-assess any learner in 6 months they should easily pass the assessment.  Ask yourself, what if you reassessed all your learners right now on the units they have passed, with no teaching or support, would they easily pass the units?

We need professional tutors, who want to do this for a career.  This may require an entirely different business model in order for current funding streams to make this possible.

Now… there’s a whole big discussion to have on the first part of this:

  1. How are we going to teach and train in a way that really does prepare learners for the future?
  2. How can we address the current problems of learner assessment around unit standards?
  3. How reliable are our assessors?
  4. Are our current methods of assessing educational standards valid?
  5. Is it the system as a whole or are the weakest links in the system causing it to break down?
  6. If a learner has passed their NCEA level 1 literacy and numeracy unit standards but they can’t score above steps 4 and 5 on the TEC’s assessment tool for these skill areas… then what does this mean?

I don’t have the answers for these questions, but it certainly gets me thinking. However, its the second part of Damon’s quote that really interests me. To paraphrase:

  • Do we need totally new business models in education in order to effect the kind of change that we need in order to stop the churn (and address a whole bunch of other systemic issues)?

I think we do. And I’d add to this the following: funding agencies and business owners will not sacrifice their drive for further efficiencies in education either. 

In other words, not only are we all going to have to step up and become “real” educators working in “real” education providers delivering “real outcomes”, we are going to have to do this in an environment that will become increasingly constrained in terms of financial input.

This is means educational disruption on a scale that we haven’t seen yet.

Try this as a thought experiment:

  1. Remember how you used to consume music (e.g. radio, cassettes, records, CDs).
  2. Now think about how you consume music today (e.g. MP3s, iTunes, YouTube, Pandora, Spotify).
  3. Then think about this transition, how long it took, and the effect it had on the music industry (e.g. on record companies, CD manufacturing plants, promoters, artists, bands).
  4. Now substitute education for music. In other words, think about how we consume education today (and for the last 200 years).
  5. Then try to imagine how we will leverage technology to experience and consume (yes consume) education in 12 months, 5 years, 10 years.
  6. And think about the effect of this transition on the education sector (universities, polytechs, private providers, owners, managers, teachers, tutors, trainers, learners).

Pause and let that sink in for a while… If you’re not convinced do the same thought experiment with film. Or any kind of media.

The business model for iTunes didn’t exist until Steve Jobs and Apple invented it in 2001. It was an inevitable development that followed on from the invention of portable MP3 players, which in turn took over from the Discman, and the Walkman, and the personal cassette player, and before the record player, and the radio…

I’m with Damon. What we need is to invent new business models for education. What will these look like? Well.. we don’t know, because we haven’t invented them yet.






Author: Graeme Smith

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

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