Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

3 June 2015

Disrupting Education

Clark @ 6:01 AM

The following was prompted by a discussion on how education has the potential to be disrupted.  And I don’t disagree, but I don’t see the disruptive forces marshaling that I think it will take.  Some thoughts I lobbed in another forum (lightly edited):

Mark Warschauer, in his great book Learning in the Cloud (which has nothing to do with ‘the cloud’), pointed out that there are only 3 things wrong with public education: the curricula, the pedagogy, and the way they use tech; other than that they’re fine. Ahem. And much of what I’ve read about disruption seems flawed in substantial ways.

I’ve seen the for-profits institutions, and they’re flawed because even if they did understand learning (and they don’t seem to), they’re handicapped: they have to dance to the ridiculous requirements of accrediting bodies. Those bodies don’t understand why SMEs aren’t a good source of objectives, so the learning goals are not useful to the workplace. It’s not the profit requirement per se, because you could do good learning, but you have to start with good objectives, and then understand the nuances that make learning effective. WGU is at least being somewhat disruptive on the objectives.

MOOCs don’t yet have a clear business model; right now they’re subsidized by either the public institutions, or biz experiments.  And the pedagogy doesn’t really scale well: their objectives also tend to be knowledge based, and to have a meaningful outcome they’d need to be application based, and you can’t really evaluate that at scale (unless you get *really* nuanced about peer review, but even then you need some scrutiny that just doesn’t scale.). For example, just because you learn to do AI programming doesn’t mean you’re ready to be an AI programmer.  That’s the xMOOCs, the cMOOCs have their own problems with expectations around self-learning skills.  Lovely dream, but it’s not the world I live in, at least yet.

As for things like the Khan Academy, well, it’s a nice learning adjunct, and they’re moving to a more complete learning experience, but they’re still largely tied to the existing curricula (e.g. doing what Jonassen railed against: the problems we give kids in schools bear no relation to the problems they’ll face in the real world).

The totally missed opportunity across all of this is the possibility of layering 21C skills across this in a systematic and developable way. If we could get a better curricula, focused on developing applicable skills and meta-skills, with a powerful pedagogy, in a pragmatically deliverable way…

Lots of room for disruption, but it’s really a bigger effort than I’ve yet seen someone willing to take. And yet, if you did it right, you’d have an essentially unassailable barrier to entry: real learning done at scale. However, I’m inclined to think that it’s more plausible in the countries who increasingly ‘get’ that higher ed is an investment in the future of a country, and are making it free, and make it a ‘man on the moon’ program. I’m willing, even eager to be wrong on this, so please let me know what you think!


  1. For heaven’s sake, quit saying “free”!

    1. It devalues the product to the consumer.
    2. It hides the fact that SOMEONE (you and I) are actually paying for it.
    3. It tends to eliminate the concepts of accountability, value, and measurement.

    Education is never “free”, if it is meaningful. There is sweat and tears from the learner, effort from the instructor, effort from the (ahem!) Curriculum Designer, and financial support from whoever pays for the location, the pipe, and the measurement.

    Comment by Dick Carlson — 3 June 2015 @ 6:48 AM

  2. Clark,

    As always, great insight.
    The area of true disruption in education is media consumption and creation.

    We are entering a golden age of video content creation. In the last two years I have seen the rise of interactive video, corporate YouTube, and now micro-video. Mary Meeker’s latest presentation on the state of the internet described vertical video as nine times more likely to be consumed than horizontal video. That destroys all conventional wisdom we have on video consumption patterns. The medium is being pushed and experimented with like never before.

    Your description of learning done at scale will become a reality when live coaching, and other forms of bi-directional communication are used shore up existing issues with MOOCs and existing learning platforms.

    The key will be a combination of advanced video usage with sound instructional strategy.

    Good times ahead!

    – Josh

    Comment by Josh Cavalier — 3 June 2015 @ 7:25 AM

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