Signing off: Intask to Education
A mini-series on the relationship between last-mile education and work
I’m REALLY delayed in publishing this — I finished writing this back in April 2018 as a part of an undergraduate thesis, but my interests pivoted to exploring entrepreneurial education. Better late than never. :)
I started a company that connected education and work, and it piqued my curiosity about education.
A year and a half later, I’ve researched the fundamentals of education, dove into the factors transforming it, and glimpsed into where we’re headed.
Here are some of the most significant findings.
Educational content will originate from fewer institutions
It’s easier than ever to start a company. According to Paul Singh, a prolific angel investor and venture capitalist, $5,000 today is roughly the equivalent of $5,000,000 in 1995 when it comes to starting a business. However, Singh remarked on Twitter, it also means it’s more expensive than ever to grow a company.
Similar to starting a company, it’s also easier than ever to create educational content and MOOC courses due to the availability of technology, but it’s harder than ever to compete by producing original content because the world’s best universities are making their best-in-class content readily available. Consequently, the increased competition in the education market will likely lead to the private industry’s consolidation.
Following suit, smaller educational institutions with fewer resources will lose their incentives to produce original research and scholarly content while the most reputable institutions will experience a more significant snowball effect, attracting the best researchers, receiving the most public funding, and commanding the highest tuition.
Institutionalized education will facilitate knowledge, not distribute it
As educational content becomes a commodity and production of original educational content consolidates, smaller educational institutions with fewer resources will likely pivot to providing a better overall educational experience or face dropping enrollment numbers and be forced to shut down.
Some bootcamps and colleges have already closed their doors. Many of these institutions created their own curriculum from experts to be delivered to a relatively small cohort of individuals — an unsustainable business model that’s often difficult to execute.
Depending on the institution, core competencies in last-mile education institutions will move towards better, personalized information facilitation, better alumni networks, clearer routes to jobs, and more affordable tuition.
The cycle between education and work will shorten
As technology changes society faster than ever, so will the “cycle time” between education and work.
The majority of bootcamps’ students were already in the workforce and had six years of work experience, and I forecast we’ll likely see that figure decline with the “half-life of jobs”. In other words, as the useful life of particular skills decreases due to technology, workers will more frequently return to institutionalized education and jump between the role of student and member of the workforce.
For-profit institutions will invest more in employee education
The human resources company Adecco Group’s recent acquisition of General Assembly for $413 million shows that businesses and other for-profit institutions will recognize the efficiencies of internalizing education and making it a function of human resources. Investments in continued employee education will likely rise in the form of investments in outside educational institutions or internal educational resources.
Non-profit institutions will struggle for talent
Both private and public last-mile education institutions optimize their education paths to return the most “profit”. For some universities, that means optimizing education paths for high employment placement, high starting salaries, and high alumni engagement in order to increase donations. For other universities, that means optimizing education paths to best position the school for public grants.
Consequently, preparing students for jobs that don’t contribute to these goals, such as low-paying jobs that have positive societal externalities, such as careers in the non-profit sector, won’t be the priority of most institutions. As a result, non-profits will continue to struggle for qualified talent.
The changing relationship between education and work creates new industries
As in any rapidly changing industry, the last-mile education landscape is an exciting place for businesses.
The educational content and course market will likely mature and consolidate. It’ll be hard for newcomers to enter as titans such as Udacity, Udemy, and Coursera already compete at a high level and with non-profit and open-source institutions such as EdX.
The practice and industry of bringing students into the workforce earlier in their education will likely continue. Gig-economy platforms such as Parker Dewey will rise to provide businesses and students opportunities to test working relationships before students enter the workforce, and integrated internship and apprenticeship experiences will become the norm, following examples such as the University of Waterloo’s cooperative learning model.
The market for blended education, upskilling, and recruiting platforms will also continue to grow, as demonstrated by General Assembly’s recent $400 million acquisition.
Businesses must adopt innovative recruiting practices to compete
Companies will continue to loosen strict accreditation requirements and consider broad portfolios of experience for more jobs as they discover that individuals without university credentials are an under-tapped talent pool.
Additionally, successful organizations will continue to turn to experiential, gig-economy practices to source their employees to decrease the cost of recruiting as more technologies empower potential employees and their employers to test potential working relationships.
Institutionalized education shouldn’t just be a function of society’s economic needs
Last-mile institutionalized education implies a focus is on the economic needs of society, but we must remember that the purpose of education itself is not just to fulfill the requirements of our economic system. If that were the case, we’d quickly fall into a dystopian education system where the names of our universities would be the same as the list of Fortune 500 companies.
As I wrote earlier, society’s economic demands inherently react the quickest to real-time market dynamics. In the midst of the most profound market change in humanity’s history, I predict that society will struggle to diversity education outside of just a function of its economic needs. In that sense, we need support for pure, unadulterated higher education more than ever.
Wes Wagner is a self-described optimist, technologist, remote work native, writer, community-builder, experimenter, data nerd, and family man.
He enjoys spending time thinking (and writing) about startups, Medellín, Indianapolis, the future of education and work, technology’s impact on incentives, intentionality, urbanism, and coffee.
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