Meekerpalooza 2017: How shifts in Internet usage continue to transform the education landscape

May 31st marked the annual release of one of the tech industry’s true temperature takers: Mary Meeker’s report on global Internet trends (this year’s presentation checks in at a robust 355 pages). Mary is a partner at Kleiner Perkins, one of the most elite venture capital firms in the world, and her insights on web developments are generally as respected as they come. Since 1995, her report on Internet trends has been the gold standard in gauging real world tech development (and cutting through the fluff of opinion and theory), leading some to even call it the “virtual bible for investors and CEOs alike.”

In 2012, I took a dive into the implications of some of the trends in the report on the world of education. Some of the highlights included figures like “1.1 Billion Smartphone Subscribers Worldwide” (note: in the five years since the 2012 report, I have personally gone through approximately 1.1 billion iPhones all by myself!) and “Mobile Monetization growing 67% annually for Apps” (safe to say we no longer need confirmation of the App Store business model).

The 2012 report was chock full of data reiterating the growth of infrastructure: hardware adoption rates, growing acceptance of on-demand data consumption and sharing, digitization of previous brick-and-mortar practices. Now, in 2017, the report echoes a period not of adoption, but instead of fine tuning. The highway has been paved — adoption can only grow so much when every corporation, government, and customer has bought in — and we now find ourselves in a period of improving the speed, efficiency, and dynamism of the traffic.

What follows are some takeaways from the report as they relate to the digital world’s impact on education:

Apple was once the king of the operating system, especially in EDU. But as we see in Slide 7, iOS units have remained relatively flat even as smartphone shipments continue to grow (albeit at decelerating velocity). It’s an Android world, we are all just living in it.

One clear theme indicated early in the presentation: we have reached a point of mass proliferation. Internet and smartphone usage is no longer a growing phenomenon: it has permeated the globe from Silicon Valley to the outskirts of Nairobi. We are here, the infrastructure of connectivity has been laid like a vast digital railroad track — now, how can we better leverage this existing network for intellectual development and knowledge sharing?

We are finally learning how to successfully advertise to the connected digital world. 2017 will see gross internet advertising eclipse that of television for the first time (Slide 14).

This is a good thing. We faced a dangerous proposition for several years when the kings of connectivity (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, and more) ran on major losses but garnered high valuations due to the presumed potential of their user base. That potential increasingly seems to be reality. If we can make digital connection profitable, we can actually realize sustainability. Given that much of the value of these social networks is derived from pattern recognition and volume usage, the element of time is even more crucial. Each click from a user provides further clarity to data. Advertising models are crucial to achieving the volume necessary for true breakthroughs. And since much of this advertising awakening has come through mobile (Slide 12), which has much higher rates of permeation for internet usage in the developing world, we can increasingly reach an audience in need of greater support. True impact.

Of course, with Google and Facebook accounting for an 85% (and rising) share of this advertising spend, these two companies (alongside Amazon as a procurement outlet) are increasingly becoming synonymous with the Internet itself. As such, common sense would dictate that these two companies, each of whom has dabbled in direct EDU efforts without really diving in too dramatically, will continue to play a greater role in the education of the masses, both institutionally through K-12/Higher Ed and more informally through lifelong learning and skills development.

Speaking of Amazon, Meeker specifically praises their subscription hub as “A New Kind of Store.” As we continue to see the unbundling of content that no longer fits into an “ownership model” (something very much at the forefront of the 2012 report), subscription models are the new king for everything from music to movies to data storage to news, and of course education (Slide 77 specifically mentions The Princeton Review Homework Help as a service now managed by the central Hub for subscriptions on Amazon).

While content itself may no longer be a statically managed entity, the tools to manage these myriad access points to new content present a significant opportunity, one that Amazon is already keen on managing, much like their direct foray into cloud storage.

One of the major breakthroughs in the smartphone sphere has been in geo-targeted local advertising, which has yielded 5x year-over-year growth in terms of brick-and-mortar store visits driven (Slide 25).

One of the obvious theoretical upsides of mobile connectivity has always been leveraging geolocation in conjunction with internet consumption: real-time understanding of time and place within the context of learning and communication. Meeker further highlights the powerful dynamic of geolocation by presenting examples of “hyperlocal targeting” (Slide 29) that often take the shape of in-app recommendations.

We are seeing this concept permeate the advertising world in a way that actually enhances the offline procurement world. Digital can enhance the experience of real world. The powers of geolocation are myriad in the context of education. If mobile has real upside in the context of learning, I believe it resides in the space of seamless geolocation connectivity and automated data provision.

Pokemon Go showed the world just how influential geolocation can be in terms of providing experiential learning (yes, chasing a Pikachu across the street was something of a trojan horse to get you to learn about the architecture and historical landmarks existing all around you!). In fact, Meeker specifically mentions the dynamic of gaming culture inherent in the millennial experience that can “optimize learning and engagement” (Slide 87).

She points to several disciplines gleaned by this generation of on-the-go gamers that are decidedly beneficial to the learning experience; disciplines that she deems “foundational for Internet Services,” including: repetition, dynamic difficulty adjustment, solving puzzles, planning workflows, completing projects, leveling up (language learning app Duolingo is specifically highlighted), competing, exploring / discovering, following rules, collaborating, observing, interacting with / analyzing data, self optimizing, and creative storytelling. One of the pillars of this world of bridging gaming and learning is Minecraft, whose educational sandbox was worth $2.5 Billion to Microsoft.

Throughout the report, Meeker proposes that video games offer significant learning experience through the power of simulation. Fields like military training, pilot training, healthcare training, and athletics are increasingly relying on simulation as a mechanism to practice and grow through failure in a digital space devoid of negative consequence. The famous footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Slide 124) is quoted from his autobiography as saying: “I could go ten hours at a stretch [playing soccer video games] and I’d often spot solutions in the games that I parlayed into real life.” If that isn’t a successful learning experience, I’m not sure what is.

Furthering the idea of geolocation as a tool for efficiency in content, Meeker focuses specifically on the concept of “Right Ad @ Right Place / Time,” but the very same construct could seamlessly be applied to learning objectives, i.e. serving up the “right content” or “right exercise” at the right “place / time.” I would expect geolocation-enhancing learning apps to continue to become the norm in independent lifelong and continuing education, with the institutions following behind in adoption of these practices.

Another phenomenon with massive implications highlighted in the report is the idea of brands and corporations leveraging user generated content to further engagement, particularly through social media (Slide 38).

This too presents a parallel to the education world, where the slow death of content ownership (i.e. the static textbook and other relics of 20th Century EDU practices) will continue to lose power in the face of dynamic, decentralized content creation and adoption. Even in the traditionally slow-moving world of K-12, outlets like TeachersPayTeachers have gained a stronghold as resource marketplaces that can bypass the corporate publishers in fostering engaging learning experiences, and often represent a more thoroughly critiqued user experience at a granular level. In the digital world of 2017, individuals can create and share valuable bits of content that can be assessed in real-time by an array of qualified power users, and the best of this cream can and will rise to the top.

Further growing digital trends include the accelerated evolution of technologies like image and voice recognition, whose applications to education have the potential to be so vast and powerful that it is fairly pointless to even begin to hypothesize. Then again, I myself have been a bit guilty of getting ahead of my proverbial ski tips when it comes to such technology integration into the institutional world of education…

These are just some of the digital trends from Mary Meeker’s latest report that have strong ties to EDU. What more do you think might be worth discussing or analyzing?