A while ago I wrote about 7 trends in education that will disrupt our work as teachers. Here are 7 more. There is some crossover between them. But 18 months is a long time in internet years and the situation in education is changing.
In New Zealand, there is a good trade in private training establishments (PTEs). Well, recently anyway. There is also a trend for public training providers to merge (at least the smaller ones). One of the organisations buying up PTEs is now a publicly traded company listed on the NZX.
It’s economics that motivates these sales, acquisitions and mergers. And hey, if you’re reading this and you’ve got the budget, then feel free to make me an offer…
Times are tough for some education providers. We are all expected to do more and more with less and less. The hidden side to consolidation is closure. Education providers will close if they can’t make a profit, sell, merge, or otherwise pivot. This includes non profit organisations.
2. Offshoring and outsourcing
Here’s how to do it. Develop and or buy a mix of face-to-face, blended, and online education products. Decentralise your training. Centralise your back office. Shift this back office (or most of it) to a cheaper offshore location. Others could handle customer service, compliance, accounts, administration, etc. In a completely different location. Like Manilla, for example.
Teachers and trainers could also be offshored and outsourced. This is harder though, especially if you’re funded to deliver training locally. But, there are ways of meeting this halfway. One way is to use a flipped classroom method or similar, with classroom based coaches and tutors.
The education bureaucracy runs on rules related to compliance and funding. These rules become increasing more complex. This is just the nature of things. Compliance is a kind of taxation and inflation. Despite a few fluctuations, it always increases over time. This means that if you can navigate the complexity you can survive and thrive.
If you need someone to navigate this for you then you will always find yourself lower down the food chain. This complexity exists in all domains. So, it’s possible to learn the rules in one domain, but not understand them in another.
These rule systems are algorithms. And we should expect their administration to become computer driven and automated. This is why administrators and middle managers are being fired out of all bureaucracies.
This is related to complexity. Humans are complex. So are bureaucracies as they comprise of humans (mostly anyway). Technology increases the interdependence of the parts in a system. And this increases complexity inside a system.
The 21st century education-compliance-funding-technology bureaucracy is a complex and bewildering beast. The increased complexity in the system makes it harder and harder to see the causes for the problems that we’re funded or paid to mitigate. This is opacity.
For example, in the field of adult literacy and numeracy education, the causes for low levels of adult literacy and numeracy are opaque. It’s hard to see what’s behind poor student performance. It’s a whole ecology of issues and it now seems impossible to separate these out with any coherence.
This is not a problem in practical terms as we can still see the effects and stage various interventions. But, discussion around causes (however interesting) starts to lose it’s meaning and value.
I’ve already written about the self driving car as a metaphor for 21st century education. MOOCs are another part of this experiment. I’ve written about our own experiments with this including unbundling our training, how to improve MOOCs by embedding foundation learning. I’ve also done a podcast about it here.
But, automating education is fraught with difficulties. As it should be. Embarking on a course, doing a qualification, or even just learning a new skill is not the same as doing an online banking transaction. Or watching cat videos on YouTube.
There are two barriers to automating education. One is that most of the automation models fail to have any real business model attached to them. In other words, they open source all the knowledge for free. This means that the perceived value goes down.
Participants often fail to complete since they have no skin in the game (e.g. money or other form of accountability).
Our solution to this problem is to lock up most of the assessments and the credentialing process, while keeping the content side open. So MOOC for us = “Mostly” Open Online Course instead of “Massively”.
The other problem relates to the need for human intervention in the learning process. People need coaching by people.
You can substitute videos and clever online interactions, but at the end of the day people want someone to tell them to do something, that they’re on the right track, and to answer questions and provide encouragement. Our solution has been to do this by txt, phone, and email.
As I’ve alluded to, automation of the complex rule systems that drive the funding and compliance machinery should be straightforward. I’m not passing judgement here. But in a system administrated by machines there is little room for fuzzy decision making, risk taking, or innovation. This means that innovation in education needs to come from outside of the existing funding and compliance structures.
Continual restructuring, closures, mergers, complexity, opacity, and increasing risk for those in education mean that people get tired. Particularly smaller players.
The education system is in danger of creating a kind of educational chronic fatigue syndrome where the troops on the ground are chronically fatigued due to overwork and the continual threat of job loss. Not to mention other pressures such as maintaining student numbers.
Education is a multi-billion dollar industry. Because of this investors including government, want to see a return on their investment. All investors want to get their money (or value) out as soon as possible. This is a rule.
This leads to short term solutions that fail to take into account the bigger picture. For example, are poor student outcomes a reflection of the larger national or even global economic success and failure cycles? Do these then impact on family situations, jobs, health, and other variables?
Risk is now shared all the way down through the system. Perhaps this is as it should be. I don’t know. But, it seems short sighted.
Organisations and people who are over-exposed to risk in the system will work to mitigate that risk once they are aware of it.
There are two parts here. One part relates to awareness. Education providers are only just starting to wake up to the inherent risks involved in having skin in the education game.
The other part relates to mitigating the risk. Managing the upside against the potential downside, for instance. It doesn’t make economic sense to have a million dollars in revenue if you are spending it all to stay afloat.
How to survive and thrive…?
I don’t have a solution. I do think there are some broad principles that apply. But, you’ll have to wait for another post.