You don’t have to search far to see the many frustrations with the efficacy or cost of our current educational system. While there are many possible reasons for this, I’d like to focus on particular dynamics of education.
Traditional education products and services are ‘sold’ to key decision makers who then force the decision onto end-users. It’s no surprise then, that the result of this process are products that are inferior in the eyes of end-users. The products may very well meet some checklist that is deemed important to a key decider, but this checklist is usually different from the needs and desires of the end-users, namely, the students. One example is the oft-maligned “standardized tests”, which benefits states and districts looking for singular comparison metrics, yet often fail students by limiting exploration, breadth, and teaching focus.
Slowing Innovation in IT
Another industry that long had similar structural and market dynamics was corporate IT (information technology).
Just ten to fifteen years ago, technological innovation was driven primarily by business needs. New products were sold into businesses and large corporations, and eventually trickled down into the consumers. Whether it was the fax machine, the copy machine, or even early personal computers. The same was true for software.
The problem with that model was that the ‘decider’ was usually a different person than the ultimate ‘end user’. Corporate CIOs would make buying decisions of software and hardware for 50,000 employees, who were then forced to toil in terrible user interfaces and inferior hardware. Innovation suffered.
The Consumerization of IT
Then something changed. Companies began focusing on end-users, and began delivering terrific products, from software like Basecamp from 37Signals, to the biggest tech success of this generation in Apple.
Apple is leading the biggest disruption in today’s IT world by being a consumer-first company. Apple kept their relationship with the end-user first and foremost, and was able to deliver great products, and ultimately great profits. This wave of innovation would not have happened had the business-first technology leaders continued to dominate.
Another great outcome of the consumerization of IT and other verticals is the empowerment of the end-user. This new-found decision making and interest in the product can lead to increased productivity, and is evidenced in droves of business users buying and bringing their own iPhones to work, eschewing the corporate issued Blackberry.
The Consumerization of Education
We are in a similar position in education. Innovation in education has stagnated because market forces don’t reward innovation. Market dynamics put very little power in the hands of students. Students cannot choose much today, other than where to go to school. There is tremendous opportunity to serve the needs of students directly, and use that relationship to drive significant and disruptive innovation.
Key elements to enable Consumerization
In order to really drive ‘consumerization’ of any industry or product, two ingredients are necessary:
1) a direct relationship to the end user
2) a desire to build amazing products
I believe strongly in both, which in education means focusing on the student first, and delivering a delightful learning experience, resulting in a more engaged and empowered consumer.
The next great wave of companies and platforms, especially in education, will be built with this ethos.