The Slow and Organic Evolution of the Education Ecosystem

Sloth
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Being close to the edtech startup scene, I often share the impatience of founders in our space who often ask questions like, Why on earth does it take so long? Isn’t it obvious that there are already better ways to handle education today and we just need to implement them? Why do we have to waste our time with sales cycles? The list goes on. Sloth

It’s probably one of the hardest nuts to crack for new players in the field, especially if you compare the education market to the consumer market where innovation seems to happen on a daily basis and the acceptance of new products and services among users is generally pretty high.

But the education market cannot be compared with the consumer market; it’s much closer to the corporate market. In an interview I had with Mehdi Maghsoodnia, CEO of Rafter, he explained why he thinks that the education space will eventually transform into something better but why it will probably take more time than most people hope.

“It’s not a homogenous evolution. It’s a very organic and slow evolution in a very large ecosystem.”

Maghsoodnia predicts change will happen in five to 10 years. In the meantime we will see different sorts of technologies and services existing side by side. Some on their way out, some on their way in and some offering ways to connect both during this time of transition. Rafter itself is a good example for a platform that works as a centerpiece during and beyond the transition phase as it is content and service agnostic.

This change is often happening at the level of an individual professor and then spreads out to other faculty members, but it’s hard to predict how long it will take. So when is the right time to either introduce the next new thing or shut down a product or service that is supposedly outdated?

Getting back to the corporate space, it was pretty interesting to learn that Microsoft XP dipped below 50% market share just about a year ago and it still holds 42.5% today. This is a operating system that is over 10 years old by now yet a huge group is still using it on a daily basis. There is no doubt that modern OS like Windows 7 are far superior but people are now so used to the system and different applications they use on a daily basis that they don’t see a need to change.

The same is probably true for a lot of faculty members. Mantras like “Don’t fix it if it’s not broken” or “Never change a winning team” are often cited when it comes to discussions about new systems.

And there is a truth to it. Who can tell which startup or new technology will still exist one or two years from now? It takes a lot of effort and resources to switch an entire campus to a new service. What if the new, shiny LMS goes belly-up because no one else adopted it on campus?

That’s why we see more and more universities and colleges not going all in, but instead experimenting with new services and platforms in parallel. For example, most of the universities that joined 2U and its Semester Online consortium also experiment with MOOC platforms like Udacity or Coursera. The approaches are the exact opposite (small groups and paid vs. scalable and free) yet no one can tell which approach might show to be successful in terms of learning outcome and sustainability.

Therefore, while we are going to see new and exciting approaches to change education in 2013 we cannot expect to see a landslide in terms of adoption.

discussion


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