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The digital era eradicates education as we know it


There is no business as usual left for education institutions or authorities to cling to. Digital technologies will all but eradicate the classroom as we know it.

With it will go Industrial Era-style approaches in which the teacher and institution are seen as primary custodians of knowledge. In fact, ‘learning facts and retaining them’ as a priority will fall by the wayside. Instead, teachers and institutions will be judged by their ability to enable students to think.

Because information is universally and freely accessible online, educators will have to move from teaching to curating the education experience. Actually, not just a single experience per student, but multiple education opportunities per student, as every person who is employed will have to change careers repeatedly throughout his or her working life.

Organisations will have to continuously and relentlessly refine their offerings to stay relevant in a world of work in which traditional job categories are evaporating and new job types are proliferating at an exponential speed.

Exemplars of digital potential

In order to achieve all this, educational institutions will have to exemplify the higher-order thinking and collaborative, problem-solving capabilities they need to instil in the students they will be preparing to contribute ongoing creativity and innovation in the workplace.

So, a complete re-strategising of the way any conventional educational institution functions is unavoidable. It’s not good enough simply to tack on to the dreaming spires of academe a few bits of e-learning technology. For the most part, e-learning is only ‘paper under glass’; an electronic extension of Industrial Era education and thinking. It’s too passive for digital natives, who expect a fully digital education experience – with all of the implied anywhere, anytime, self-paced ease of consumption and ease of contribution.

Educational institutions must therefore become systems-wide digital institutions. They must think in digital terms. This doesn’t mean a focus on technology, but rather the leveraging of technology to provide stakeholder value. They need to shift focus from products (degree or diploma courses, for example) to putting the needs of their customers (students) first.

This goes far beyond customer-centricity. It’s about building your entire organisation around the learning analytics you can gather about each student and designing an education experience to suit each and every one.

The future is already here

An example is Coursera, which in four years has grown into a multi-million dollar aggregator of short courses from more than 500 universities world-wide. It has millions of students at any given time. As a consequence, the mass of data it can collect about each student’s preferences, all the way down to the colours they like in online text, enables it to adjust its offerings – and those of its partners – all the time. Coursera can, should it choose, see where a student is struggling and how to help him.

In other words, Coursera can personalise education to an unprecedented degree. Specifically, it can automate the mass personalisation of education. It enables its partners to do the same. So, there are no limits to the size of the student base for any participant in its ecosystem and, therefore, to its revenue generation capacity.

A whole new cradle to grave

Education designed in this way is exponential, without traditional constrains and scarcity. For instance, Coursera’s big data capabilities enable it to potentially match student qualifications very precisely to employment opportunities. This could give it powerful recruitment capabilities, spawning yet another revenue stream. More importantly, perhaps, it boosts the organisation’s real-world value and brand as an educator.

Coursera and other digital education front-runners are a snapshot of the future for every educational institution.

It is, however, a future that cannot be achieved without help. You have to have an active, vibrant ecosystem of partners and suppliers. The ecosystem must be global. And, it must consist of higher-order thinkers and doers.

To support and enable this thinking the institution’s technology partner must be an innovator in and of itself. The technology partner must be focused on and capable of accelerating not just its particular customers’ innovation but the innovation capabilities of the entire ecosystem.

That’s a tall order. Very few technology organisations providing services to education institutions today fit the bill. However, the technology strategy under-pinning the digital education strategy must itself be exponential.

Read more on how to reinvent yourself as a digital educational institution.

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