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Unbundling Education, An Updated Framework

This is the new version of the popular diagram revealing the value propositions of post-secondary education.   The update is for my upcoming chapter in Stretching the Higher Education Dollar, a book compiled by Kevin Carey, Education Sector, and Andrew Kelly, American Enterprise Institute.  If you’re interested in the book, please leave a comment.

The theme of the chapter is that schools spend a lot of time and resources on things that are about to get eaten by scalable internet technologies.  To bring down the cost of school, schools will have to acknowledge this and reposition, adding value where there is light blue, and relegating the dark blue areas to the Internet.  Obviously, it’s more messy than this.  But this is a good way to think about isolated value propositions as an entrepreneur, and what services and value propositions schools should find a renewed focus on.

Please share and take, attribute please.

A Diagram of Twelve Services of an Education

Twelve Services make up most of the value proposition of School, listed here in the order that technology can replace them. Can the whole thing be replaced?

What is the newest innovation in online learning?

I answered this question, What is the newest innovation in online learning? on Quora.

The actual biggest innovation in online learning isn’t an innovation, it’s the ACCEPTANCE of online learning.  Any numbers of studies have been published that show online learning can be as effective as in the classroom, and hybrid classroom/online models can be more powerful than just the classroom.  The unimpressive reality is that much of what is called “online learning” is just a course delivered online through a relatively mundane Learning Management System (ala Blackboard, eCollege.)  It’s taken so long for this to be accepted, that this acceptance is the primary driver in the market of innovation right now.

There’s one other preface – the INTERNET is the innovation that matters, no matter the product or content. It gets information and capabilities into the hands of people.  We’re all just waiting around for the right products to come along to make it easier than reading the entire Internet.

So, let’s take for granted an ACCEPTANCE of online learning, and that with the Internet nearly anything is possible. There’s a number of really amazing things that are happening:

Scaling School
There are a handful of companies, the most hyped being 2tor, that are taking schools online and doing all the marketing and program development, providing the software and the human resources, and taking an enormous margin off the top.  The biggest online k12 school is Florida Virtual, but it’s a state run school.

Social Learning

  1. Networks of peer-to-peer learning.  My favorite example is the kids on YouTube teaching each other music and songs, and the little cooking shows on YouTube have helped me bigtime. In terms of products, Skillshare just jumped in and is making some noise (on top of EduFire and TeachStreet having moderate success on a similar concept.)
  2. Supplementary materials and tools, some of them crowd-sourced.  Having trouble learning something, don’t worry!  There’s help in abundance.  From on demand tutors (TutorCloud), to resources provided by students for free (Quizlet), to paid notes and answers taken by the smarter kids in the class (Cramster and Notehall are being integrated into Chegg.)  Having trouble knowing which college to go to? Acceptly to the rescue, or need help choosing courses? MyEDU is there for you. There are so many of these it’s impossible to keep up.
  3. Products that emphasize relationships and sharing.  Our Schools App (by Inigral) is an example of a product exclusively focused on this aspect (we avoid learning altogether now), but Instructure and GoingOn are just rethought LMS type things.  MentorMob and StudentMentor are just tools to meet people to help you, they’re not trying to teach you anything.

It’s not just about the content, it’s about the relationships.

Adaptive Learning
Adaptive learning engines are intelligent programs that start to understand what you know and don’t know, what types of content and modalities (look it up) you respond to. They serve content that’s more and more specific to you, building on what you know and repeating what you have trouble with.  I honestly have yet to see a really good one, but it’s in the zeitgeist and all the publishers are taking their shot building one.  Hearsay puts Grockit and Knewton in the battle royale, with my preference for Grockit for their approach to Massively Multiplayer Online Social Learning Games or whatever they call it.  Our investor, Founders Fund, backed Knewton, suggesting there’s something there that’s about to blow up.

Interactive Content and Textbooks
Kno and Inkling have the early lead, but the idea of the textbook is dead already, even though there’s still $14 Billion in textbook purchases.  Textbooks will not be textbooks, videos will not be videos, lectures will not be lectures.  It will all be learning content (or objects), and it will all be interactive and multimedia. It will blow your mind and make you wonder how the hell you ever sat down and read a course reader and think your kids are getting spoonfed learning fruity pebbles instead of the dull pine bark we had to chew when we were growing up.

Optimized Learning
Some learning platforms now actually try to optimize for the way your brain learns.  It’s not just content adapting to your style, it’s actually chunked and formatted to increase the probability of understanding and retention.  My favorites here are Memrise and LiveMocha, with LiveMocha being focused on foreign language learning (and really just iterating off the work of RosettaStone).

All education technology products are increasingly being gamified a little to a lot.  uBoost is a company that gamifies the process of school altogether, and Creative Commons just released open source badges.  Expect more silly points and badges and contests, everywhere.

Massively Open Online Courses
Superprofessors are the way of the future, and so are their big, hairy, online courses.  The intro to Artificial Intelligence course at Stanford has been put online, and over a hundred thousand people registered and over 30 thousand turned in the first assignment.  Ummm… What?  No one knows what to do with this, but there’s a there there.  A big there.

Supporting Schools and Teachers
There are all sorts of tools emerging that support school as we know it. MasteryConnect, ClassDojo, Goalbook, Engrade, and Learnboost are all doing great things in K12. Coursekit and Piazzza just launched for HigherEd. Logrado helps college counselors and academic advisors communicate with their constituents. There are so many of these your head will spin.

Alternatives to the idea of School as we know it.  
Things like Western Governors University and UniversityNow! are popping up as degree granting online programs, and they are presenting the idea that you don’t need to go to school at all.  As a matter of fact, all those silly buildings and professors and courses are just things that have inflated the price.   University of the People and P2P University are pushing here, but not to the success we would hope.  And the idea of UnCollege, catching on like an Occupy movement, is that you don’t even need to be enrolled into a degree program, you can just do everything DIY.  If everyone has a degree than the degree itself becomes meaningless, and there aren’t any jobs waiting for you anyway so you might as well go make your future yourself (with all these cool online learning tools) instead of sit back and party for $25K a year.

Standard Online Degree Programs
(Note, I purposefully avoided big online brands of school.  It’s because other than circumventing the cost model of going to school, I don’t think they do anything all that innovative except for process financial aid.  They still underpay adjunct professors and have classes with small class numbers, on technology that’s generally not proprietary or cool.  I have yet to see anything I would call “innovative” from a product or technology perspective from these big players.  If they have a problem with me saying that, they can call me and I’ll tell them where they can innovate and do better.)

Technology Implementation in Higher Ed: What do GRCC and Carnegie Mellon Have in Common?

On Friday I got a chance to pick the minds of two great individuals: Eric Kunnen of Grand Rapids Community College and Jay Brown of Carnegie Mellon.  The two might seem like they wouldn’t share too much in common, Kunnen is Coordinator of Instructional Technologies at an outstanding community college, and Brown is a Director of Marketing for Web Communications at a top research university.  However, both share a passion for the social web and edge technology… and aren’t afraid to pursue it.

You might know Kunnen for his well circulated GRCC blog, his visible involvement is edge uses of Blackboard, and his early and loud adoption of Coursefeed on Facebook (full disclosure, they are theoretically a competitor of ours).  Carnegie Mellon recently pulled off effectively riding an authentic instance of “viral content” – that rare combination of keeping the content ( “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch) authentic, genuine, and “free” while integrating the phenomenon into their overall communications strategy.  CMU’s presentation at the AMA Symposium on Higher Education was, IMHO, the best example of rubber meets the road at the conference.

Equally as important to their passion is that their institutions and the leadership at them actively encourage them to experiment with utilizing new technology.  Brown described Carnegie Mellon as an “Entrepreneurial Atmosphere” that bled into institutional practices.  He had mentioned in his AMA presentation that the best angle in edge marketing is to just put stuff out there – if there’s no kickback, move on and get even more courageous. All campuses that get great attention for their use of technology, like our founding partner ACU, seem to have this sort of culture – a culture that’s shorter on conversation and longer on execution, and by nature experimental in its analysis of all things new.  As Kunnen put it: “We don’t want to sit around and talk about it meeting after meeting.  We just do it.”

This reputation for technological gusto rubs off as a “Je ne sais qua” factor.  However, the method is always the same: the institutions hire good people, give them or embrace an existing sense of mission, and let them do their job.

As someone who thinks about overcoming barriers to innovation in education, I commend Kunnen and Brown and their institutions for living on the edge.

Facebook for Alumni Associations: A Guide for Advancement Professionals

a video we made for alumni professionals

Alumni Associations on Facebook from Inigral Inc. on Vimeo.

Facebook Hits 100M Users

I met up with one of my friends at Facebook yesterday and he told me he and the rest of the company had been celebrating Facebook hitting 100Million users all day.  Zuckerberg took everyone out to a lawn in Palo Alto and gave a Jobsian “100M users isn’t just a company, its a movement” type of speech. Here’s an article with Dave Morin tweeting the news.

I post this because there are still some people in Higher Ed or K-12 that think Facebook is a fad, or that Facebook is for kids, or that students will jump ship as soon as adults get on.  Facebook’s fastest growing segment in the US is those over 35.  Some days they get .5 million new users a day.  Facebook will be bigger than Myspace in about a month or two, and it is infinitely more scalable and usable.  The site has engagement and retention rates that beats the absolute pants off of any other site on the web.  Facebook is not going anywhere.  Hands down.


Debunking the Creepy Treehouse: the Functional Mall.

I need to debunk the Creepy Treehouse, as it seems to have become some sort of rallying cry and is pulling people in the wrong direction.  I’m going to debunk it with contrarian metaphor: the Functioning Mall.  (If you come up with something more catchy, let me know.)

First off, let me tell you that the metaphor of the Creepy Treehouse is powerful.   There are many different ways you can build a Creepy Treehouse.  Instructors crossing lines by getting into personal or social settings where they are not particularly invited is totally creepy treehouse.

However, this in no way suggests that instructors should not be using innovative, even social technologies to engage students.  Adults and Teachers and Parents are allowed to and should get on the Social Web, but they must do it carefully and obey the general laws of coexisting with teenagers.  There are, in natural settings, places where the two have been known to coexist.  This has been happening since at least, as far as I can calculate, 1992 😉  We can look there for another metaphor: the Functional Mall.

Now, youngsters hang out at the mall.  They consider it a highly social space, and their scene is operated more or less on their terms.  Grown ups, while not prone to hang out at the mall, go to the mall.  There are stores targeted for teenagers that no adult should go to (e.g. Urban Outfitters), stores targeted to adults that no kids would be caught dead in (e.g. the Back Store), and places where both species coexist in their native habitat (say, a movie theater or the Cookie Company).   Adults and young adults know how to behave around each other, seemingly, in this same ecosystem.  There’s a rule, and let me make it transparent: transactional interactions are accepted, social interactions are not.  If a teacher sees their student at the mall, wave hi (or better yet nod slightly).  A security officer opens doors, stops fights, tells directions.  A store owner or employee helps them find things, accepts money, packages items, and send them on their merry way.  Yes, there is a clear line, and that line is socializing rather than transacting.

Would youngsters want adults to leave the mall, never to return? Well, not really.  They understand that the mall can be there for their dates and shopping sprees largely because adults also shop there.  And the mall doesn’t want to limit its customer base to teenagers.  I mean, there’s a business in teenagers: you could have rollerskating rink, or a go-kart shop, maybe put them in the same spot with mini-golf.  But the real business is open access and open wallets.

Facebook, most decidedly, does not want to be just for teenagers.  Most of the country doesn’t realize this but, out in the Silicon Valley, Facebook is hot business.  Microsoft invested in Facebook at a 15 billion dollar valuation; that’s more valuable than Ford Motors.  Their revenues are probably around 200 million a year and climbing dramatically; they have around 550 employees up from some 50 three years ago.  Their engineering and operations team is the magnet for the best talent anywhere.  Zuckerberg just recruited Google’s COO and Head Chef to boot!  This isn’t happening because people think Facebook is going to be a site for college students and teenagers.  Facebook, hands down, is going to get everyone on it and won’t stop until they do.  In the past year in a half its grown from around 35 to 90 million users.  60% of the population of Norway is on the site.

College students aren’t going to just up pick and move to another site.  Facebook is the only web application that’s figured out how to scale and still keep some sort of cohesion as a product and a community.  It’s got privacy settings, and gives users granular control over who can see what.  Grown ups can join without any creepy treehouseness.

What Facebook is lacking is a way for those with careful relationships to have transactional interactions.  But, that’s a good part of the reason that they’ve opened up to applications.  Soon, you’re going to see transactional applications for just about any interaction for any set of careful relationships you can think of.  Yep, you heard me, you’re going to be able to interact with your boss without being friends.

We don’t need to give educators an excuse to not be using these technologies, we need to be getting them to understand how best to use these technologies.  We need to keep in mind the “creepy treehouse” to guide us, but let us not point to everything on Facebook and Myspace, Twitter and Flickr and start accusing.  As long as everyone is using their privacy settings and limits contact with those that might be of a “transcendant” age group or have a “careful” boundary (e.g. teacher/student, parent/child) to transactional interactions.

College Counselors in Middle School, Raising Expectations or Setting up for Failure?

Mildred Avenue Middle School in Boston will be the first middle school in Boston to get a full time college counseling office. 

I suspect – if other investments are not made in creating a more rigorous curriculum, teaching students to study and think independently, and guiding them through becoming fluent in written and mathematical analysis and processes of creativity, collaboration, and research – it will be a dramatic failure at producing students that are prepared for college.

Getting more and more children aware of college does not automatically have the affect or effect of getting them prepared to go to and succeed in college.   That, schools don’t want to recognize, takes innovation and work by everyone at all levels in all subjects.

I also posted this on College Redi

Cities in Crisis Addendum: How our Urban Schools Actually Fail

As a nation, we need to be thinking long and hard about how we’re failing our youth.  The school system, in particular, necessitates new diagnosis, new ideas, and immediate action.  One of my recurring theses – the overemphasis of core, academic subject areas at the expense of all else has the counterintuitive effect of lowering graduation rates and performance in those core subject areas – seems particularly relevant to our failures exposed in Cities in Crisis: A Special Analytic Report on High School Graduation.

The report, written by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center and sponsored by America’s Promise Alliance and the Gates Foundation, reveals poor graduation rates in the 50 most populous cities US.  The statistics and conclusions were predictably appalling.  Bloggers and those commenting on articles in the press are describing our school system as “failing” and the problem as a “catastrophe.”   Across the country, graduation rates are 15% lower in urban areas compared to suburban schools.  In Baltimore, Maryland and Columbus, Ohio, graduation is lower in urban areas by more than 40%.  Cities in Crisis only brings to light what we all knew, and, as it’s been published by high profile institutions, in stereotypical form it lacks the courage to make any recommendations.  I’ll gladly step in to fill that void in the dialog.

Schools fail at graduating their students for four reasons: 1) A significant minority is alienated by the core, academic subject areas and the concomitant instructional techniques often well before High School, 2) schools fail to offer or support programs that might inspire, train, or at least entertain alienated students, 3) schools fail to identify and provide effective programs for those that need remediation, and 4) surrounding communities are unable to demonstrate real-world examples of education fulfilling its promises through role-models and economic opportunity.

The cycle is simple and can easily be personified: Student A, sometime in early middle school, becomes bored and distracted, falls behind academically, and is often in need of discipline.  He looks around in his family and community and no one seems to be able to help him academically.  Most of them seem to view academics past basic reading, writing, and math as irrelevant.  Most of his heroes are sports stars or entertainers.  He likes his art class and woodshop, but both of those programs are undersupplied and dilapidated.  The principal and all the teachers just keep on emphasizing the importance of the same “irrelevant” stuff.  He gets down on himself in school and starts finding confidence in his blossoming social life outside of school.  No one at this point intervenes.  As he gets out in his neighborhood, most of the adults are not using their education.  The ones who make the most money have a trade or are involved in illegal activities.  The only high school graduates he knows work retail.  At this point, school is all but written off completely.

The school systems reaction to a student with this story is to keep on emphasizing core academics, which he is behind on.  At the high school level, he may be forced to do some remediation, which makes him feel singled out as “dumb.”  More than likely, he probably doesn’t show up after a while.  The school has cut or is starving any program that might get this young person’s attention and allegiance.  The school offers very few technical programs that will help him get a job.  They do not foster relationships with either white collar or blue collar businesses to facilitate internships or apprenticeships which could provide role-models.  The school simply tries to force him down the same path he has decided is not for him.

The value of non-core subject areas and technical programs is not to distract students; it is to keep students engaged and to offer alternative outlets where a student can find confidence in themselves and their work.  If a student remains engaged in a non-core program, they are likely to remain in school.  If a school can then use that time to effectively remediate (tastefully) in the core areas while facilitating real world relationships with community members in both white and blue collar sectors to show demonstrable value of an education, the kid would likely stay on to graduate.

Content Knowledge is Dead

I heard Susan Jacoby, author of “The Age of American Unreason,” on the radio the other day using meaningless statistics about teenagers (and adults) ignorant of basic bits of content knowledge. Sure, it’s a little offensive that people can’t point out Iraq on a map when we’ve talked about it for six years. But, I think calling alarm to content ignorance is missing the whole point. In fact, it’s the problem.

The emphasis on content knowledge IS the problem. Students have always thought content knowledge was irrelevant a la Mark Twain. Why? Because we forget. Because there is no point other than that the teacher makes us. Because, especially nowadays, I can just go look it up when I need it.

We don’t need content emphasis revival. For example, I can’t identify the President of Australia. I just made a request for that information and got it in less than 8 seconds (PM John Howard followed by Kevin Rudd), 7.9 of those seconds were filled with me going to my browser and carelessly misspelling the word Australia. In technology, we worry a lot about how fast our servers respond to requests. There is a more than significant portion of the world’s smartest people trying to get bits of information in front of everyone’s face, upon their request, faster than ever before. Let me make a bold statement that the educational community will not internalize for another 50 years: Content Knowledge is Dead.

Yet, states everywhere are mandating a mind numbing sequence of content standards in what some call the accountability movement. Politicians hear alarms going off, like 80% of 16 year olds believe the War of 1812 was in 1898; their reaction is to demand that teachers teach every bit of content that anyone might think is important for any reason. One problem – teaching all of that is impossible. Another problem – even if you succeeded the students would forget most of it.

So, if content knowledge is irrelevant, why does everyone think education is so important? Because the side effect of schooling is that a minority of students along the way manage to develop an internal schema for information discovery, processing, communication, application and evaluation. A minority of those students manage to pick up some processes and methodologies for taking creations and delivering them to entities that might pay for them. And, who knows, they might pick up some useful tips on filing their taxes and voting.

My point is that if content knowledge is dead, the emphasis should be on teaching those side effects that have come to be called Procedural Knowledge. When students can generate questions and identify problems at point A and make end products using standard (or innovative) procedures that contribute value to others at point B, and they know all the steps in between for the core disciplines, students will be little content knowledge processing machines and all the more inspired while they are doing it. Who knows? They might even remember how long the Hundred Years War lasted.

Get Your Fetus Ready For College.

 I made this post at CollegeRedi

 I found the No Excuses University Network, which is a set of schools at the K-8 levels determined to help students get ready for college.  That’s right, there are elementary schools that are a part of this.  This stems from the culture that’s been created in the wake of the reports like “College Readiness Begins in Middle School,” by the ACT. 

These policy/professional development movements are based in some reality: students who start thinking about college early as well as have accesses to resources for and encouragement to plan and execute a program of rigorous coursework through late middle and early high school are more likely to get admitted to competitive programs and succeed in them.    

Unfortunately, what’s happened in education has been to turn this into a policy of trumpeting the virtues of college to younger and younger audiences who have no possible way to take on a curriculum that would get them prepared for college.  You can hum college to a fetus all you want, but that’s not going to get them doing full on research projects with multivariate regression.

True college readiness lies not in the planning and the number of AP exams, but in the rigor of the output of the classes they do take, particularly at ages 16 and 17 when the brain has started coping with bodily hormones and the social labyrinth enough to start internalizing process schema for intellectually rigorous work. 

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