I just read a great editorial from Jonathan Nalder on the Australian MacTalk blog titled Is Education the cartel that technology like the iPad will break next? After attending the SXSWedu event a couple of weeks ago, his article was perfectly timed to get my brain storming about what it means to be in this time of rapid technology innovation combined with the school reform rhetoric that has been brewing over the past few years.
I encourage you to read his editorial before you go much further, but the gist is whether a tool like the iPad will break educational system cartel much like technology like the Internet, the iPod and iTunes broke the music cartel. He also makes the point that technology can have a similar impact on other cartels, such as journalism and newspapers.
In my head I replaced the word cartel with system. We have several industrial systems in place across the world and technology is certainly being disruptive in many of them. For example, the energy industry is seeing rapid advancement in energy sources. We seem to be reaching a point where, much like music, we may soon be able to pick and choose our sources of energy. You soon could have affordable alternatives to traditional electrical production such as solar, wind, gas, etc. The dominance of the existing electrical system, particularly in the U.S., has great influence over how much choice consumers have and they can control the energy market. But the big question is when and what will the technological breakthrough be that will give the consumer a viable alternative. As with the music industry, a single announcement from a single company can disrupt and forever change and shape our electrical system.
The educational system has its own, very unique challenge that other industries will never face: a seven year old child. I choose the seven year old child as a prime example of where a person is in a very critical time in their development. By the time a person is seven years old they have been in the educational system a couple of years, they understand learning, they are still eager, they absorb knowledge and skills like a sponge. But, at the same time, they are naive, dependent on adults for survival, and lacking the experience and intelligence needed to grow intellectually without some real assistance.
These seven year old children, and there are millions of them in the U.S., are really holding up the educational market place. This market place really wants access to that seven year old as a consumer and the educational system is not really budging. Why?
In the future, education will be more about process than about access and content. Access and content have become almost free in the last couple of years. As more and more smart mobile devices get in the hands of parents and students, the sky is the limit for access and content.
Content is practically free for educational systems. There is hardly any content that you cannot find, for free, to learn. With unlimited capacity, the Internet has proven to be the greatest storehouse of information the world will ever know.
Access is where the money is being made. The Web, software, apps, online learning, tablets, laptops, desktops, smartphones, and who knows what else are the doors to the student consumer. They allow the student to get access to all that content. Entrepreneurs know that if they can build the right tool, then they get access to the consumer.
The real issue then becomes more about the process of delivery. There are very practical issues that have to be addressed. For example, modern western culture does not have a place for millions of seven year olds to spend their day while the parents go to their work. While the workplace is transforming, will it ever reach a place where all parents will have the time to be with their children during the day?
Also, while my 11-year old boy has the ability to learn anything he wants, what is the guide and motivation to learn what he needs? For that matter, what our society needs him to learn?
So, the content is in place. The access is almost in place. But we have not delivered on the process. I don't think anyone is really close to figuring that out. I think it is one of the reasons the traditional classroom and school has such a strong hold. It is a process and delivery method that has a proven track record to guarantee results. The track record and results may not be what we need now but no one has really delivered a real and present alternative to the existing system.