Technology Has Missed Education During the Internet Age

Holy crap! My entire life is a sham! The whole Web 2.0 thing we’ve been writing about for years, didn’t exist! OK snark over. I’d like to point out that this, very slanted to favour the current VC funded educational technology movement, written by a guy who could profit greatly from moving cash out of public education into his privately controlled hands (and we can talk for hours if that’s a good idea or not). I would’ve responded there, but TechCrunch requires you to sign in with your Facebook account, and that’s my personal life attached to that service, not my professional one. Oh well, the flame wars would’ve been epic. Here’s the first juicy quote…

Despite its importance, education seems to have been missed by the Internet revolution. When I walk down the hall of a middle school, not much seems to have changed since I was a student some 15 years ago.

OK, the halls won’t tell you anything. The halls are going to be the same. Although if you were there when students were in the halls you would notice the very common sight of a smartphone or even the odd tablet. But you’d actually have to look for that. However, if you look in the K-12 classroom, you’ll see a lot more instructors using different types of technology. The most interesting change will not be in the schools at all, but in the student’s home, where they connect to the school board LMS, or look up things to help them understand on the Internet at their teacher’s request. Some more advanced teachers (and you can look squarely at Google’s Teacher Academy and awards, Apple’s Certified Educator, Microsoft’s Teacher Academy to see evidence of the contrary). If that doesn’t really hold water for you, what about TeacherTube, EduBlogs or any of the other K-12 friendly sites that have existed since the mid-2000’s?

Luckily, that is changing. There are a growing number of entrepreneurs working to reshape education. Every year, thoughtful new solutions come online to solve a piece of the problem. Innovators are working hard to create students who can learn how to learn, who can think critically and who can lead.

Correct, things are changing. Entrepreneurs trying to reshape education is a real threat to education, much like how hypercapitalism is a threat to our sovereignty. Entrepreneurs will only seek to reinforce the common pedagogies – ignoring those who are working in collaborative or communal modalities. Capitalism likes behaviourist, didactic pedagogies as they’re easy to replicate in a software environment. Thoughtful solutions? No. Profit opportunities? Yes. And 99% of them fail. Look at the first EdTech boom (circa Web 2.0, or 2005) and how many of those companies have lasted? Very few.

But before we can talk about the future, let’s review the past…

Sure, but I don’t trust you to get it complete, right or even anywhere close to objective. Ignoring that just over half of the graphic deals with pre-industrial revolution, and ignores the Gutenberg Press; why do we need to know about pre-industrial revolution information, as education was a privilege of the rich – it could be argued up until the 1950’s but that’s an entirely different blog post – and a radically different thing? Oh, the cherry-picked examples (much like what I’m doing here) are problematic at best, misleading at worst. In between 1996 (when the White House offered 1 billion dollars for computers in schools) and 2006 (Khan Academy) nothing happened.

Except a whole lot happened. There’s this thing called the LMS that happened. Video taping lectures (a practice dating back to the 1970’s) and digitizing them on CD-Rom, then DVD, then on the Internet, happened. Several ePortfolio companies started. Oh yeah this thing called WordPress. What about Wikipedia? Yeah, nothing important there. Open Source software doesn’t really work in a venture capitalist world.

…and the current edtech landscape.

Misses so much that you’d hardly have time to write out what it misses.

Luckily, there are some great companies who are working to change this by focusing on helping parents give their children a solid educational foundation. The space is dominated by apps and gamification, which appeals to children’s natural curiosity and provides research-driven cognitive and non-cognitive activities to help facilitate development. On-demand app-based learning is a great supplement for families who cannot afford pre-K.

It’s not luck, it was a gap that is perceived by startups, and a few companies made a few apps that were decent for pre-K. I don’t know about pre-K efficacy, but I do want to question the idea that poor people are using apps because they can’t afford pre-K. I’d suspect that poor people aren’t using anything because they can’t afford the devices that apps run on, nor the monthy fees (if they exist). So the people using these apps are probably those who would be able to help educate their children, pre-K or no pre-K.

Also the space is dominated by apps because there’s no organization to sell enterprise level software to.

The common school was built for everyone. It was open to all races, classes and backgrounds. It taught a common curriculum to every student. It was designed to process thousands of students and get them to a base level of competency. It was the era of mass production’s answer to educating a mass of students to prepare them to enter the workforce.

While it was built for everyone, it most certainly was not open to all races (uhhh, segregation?) or classes (often the poor chose to send no one to school because the farm needed workers). This whitewashing of educational history needs to stop. Mass production didn’t start in the post-civil war era, it is commonly associated with Fordist principles, which coincide with the factory assembly line in 1910’s. Also, this whole passage glosses over the societal uses of school – socialization, networking, collaboration.. of course it does.

But the era of the assembly line is over. We are in an age of mass customization, fueled by technology. Seth Godin recently asked, “What is school for? If you’re not asking that, you’re wasting time and money.” We need to question the traditional approaches to education and embrace new modes of learning to help create the next generation of leaders.

To create the next generation of leaders? Leaders develop themselves. We don’t need to target leaders, we need to target the other 99%. Seth Godin sucks. You have to ask what is school for to understand what purpose it serves in society (hint, it’s not to create leaders), not to use time well or earn money. At least one thing is right here, mass customization is here, but if we’re just swapping UI interfaces over the old teaching methods, are we really improving things? I don’t think so.

Students are going to university because it is “the right thing to do,” often without a thought to the ROI on their education or the work opportunities after school. Only 19 percent of full-time college students graduate in four years, which dramatically increases the cost of their degree.

Why does education need to have a ROI? It’s not a business, it’s an education. The graduation in four years trope is problematic yes, but it’s mostly because students are working more than previously, just because of the cost of education, and can’t afford to not work. Part of that is the privatization of schools, part of that is the outsourcing of public funds into the hands of profit motivated companies, part of that is the rising costs of administration and part of it is the slowness of universities to adapt to a five year model rather than four. None of these problems can be fixed with an app.

Over the past several years we’ve seen the rise of the modern edtech industry. There have been massive investments in the space, and the success of these firms will dictate the future of the edtech landscape.

More successful exits (like Lynda) will help to propel the industry forward. Investments in the first generation of edtech have also made it difficult for the second generation of companies to attract investment, as investors have been watching this first cohort closely to gauge results.

You do know that Lynda started in the mid-90’s right? You know in that gap you illustrated between 1996 and 2006? It’s “exit”, to which I can only assume means the purchase of Lynda.com by LinkedIn as a value-add to users of LinkedIn, which hasn’t worked out quite so good for them. If you believe that the purchase was meant to prop up the value of LinkedIn’s stock, like some do, then really it’s not about education at all, but finance.

 

2 thoughts on “Technology Has Missed Education During the Internet Age

  1. This one jumped out big “Innovators are working hard to create students”– They are creating students? out of what? parts? Bless those innovators because those flesh clad models are so problematic…

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