Will Traditional Higher Ed Be Disrupted by Pragmatic Tech Training?

I think the author overstates the prevalence and significance of the phenomenon he points to (the rise of ALPs – accelerated learning programs), but he’s right that there’s a trend and lots of folks in higher education don’t see it.  The last two years or so have seen the emergence of lots and lots of (many for profit) organizations that promise to teach people actually employable skills and to do so in relatively short order.

Traditional colleges and universities that traffic in “education” with a capital E should at least be aware that this phenomenon makes their business look a little bit like the one that specifically does NOT teach you things that represent employability.

from the TechCrunch blog…

A Wave Crests: Silicon Valley, Postsecondary Education And A Half-Trillion Dollarsby Shawn Drost (@shawndrost)

It’s easy to forget that these are early days for the Internet. We still have different ideas on what it is or how it should work. The web is governed by an iterative improvement process that moves faster than any other invention in human history. Ed tech is no exception. 

I’d like to direct your attention to an interesting phenomenon: since 2012, most ed-tech companies have quietly rewritten their product promise from unbridled learning for learning’s sake to a path to a job or career goal — website copy now essentially says “jobs, jobs, careers, jobs.” 

That transition may be related to another 2012 development: the rise of accelerated learning programs (ALPs), including General Assembly and Dev Bootcamp. ALPs explicitly measure student employment outcomes, including placement rate and average salary, and they work. The ALP phenomenon has helped influence this product pivot in the ed-tech sector. When one of my students gets a job, I get a giant bear hug and the credit for getting them there, and other educational tools are sidelined. 

It’s not a coincidence that 2012 brought both the beginning of the end of the MOOC and the start of the ALP: the zeitgeist had latched on to the connection between jobs and education. Postsecondary education has been off-balance from decades of seismic change, and 2012 kicked off three back-to-back State of the Union addresses pushing universities to reduce student debt and take accountability for student employment outcomes. 

This chronology sets the stage for an interesting future. Postsecondary students have unambiguously stated their priorities: jobs, jobs, careers, jobs. But the incumbent university system is hesitant to adopt this new focus as paramount. Silicon Valley has cottoned on to this imbalance, and has its eye on the postsecondary education market — worth a half-trillion dollars every year. Read on for a sneak preview of the next few years, and an exploration of trends surrounding the 2012 transition. But first: a historical primer on college.