Michele Daoud is a Principal at Monk’s Hill Ventures and was previously a Director at Udemy, the largest global online education marketplace based in San Francisco.
Technology has had a profound impact on every aspect of our life, and education is no exception. With the commoditization of information and the rise of AI, our methods of education are obsolete. Though at the root of the problem, technology can help accelerate the progress in education. Innovation in edtech should help drive better learning outcomes, stay relevant, and make education more accessible.
Adaptability, Rather than Knowledge, is the Competitive Advantage of Tomorrow
This won’t be news to you: we live in a deeply interconnected and overstimulated world. As of 2017, over half of the population is on the internet, and the pace at which information is created has no precedent in history. There have been deep changes in how we access and retain knowledge. Today, information overload is a common condition. Attention spans are short. Memorization is old-fashioned - just ask any millenial to recite a poem!
In addition, AI and automation are being widely adopted throughout the world and across industries, leading to large pockets of skills becoming vastly obsolete. While AI is primarily automating jobs involving well-defined repetitive tasks for the time being, its increasing sophistication will gradually allow it to conquer more complex tasks, pushing larger number of people out of their jobs. Don’t get AI enthusiasts started about the coming of Singularity! Some call it fiction while others call it inevitable, but everyone acknowledges that the skills needed tomorrow will be vastly different than those needed today.
Already, employers complain that they can’t find talent despite open learning platforms making education more accessible. There is a mismatch between skills available and skills needed, and access to information does not equate to skills development. Similarly, taking classroom content and publishing it online will not do. So how do we educate for the required skills of tomorrow in an increasingly fast-changing environment?
What was appropriate in the age of industrialization and information scarcity, with emphasis on content accumulation and standardization, is no longer suitable. Asia in particular should move away from hypercompetitive examination systems, which often foster conformance over innovation and critical thinking. Culturally, education has always been of unequivocal importance, perceived as an investment rather than a cost. Some of the stats around spending are mind-blowing: 15% of income going to supplemental education in Asia vs. 2% in the US, according to financier Michael Milken. The vast majority of secondary-school students have tutors, particularly in Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea. South Korea is especially notorious for after-hour tutoring centers, or cram schools, so much so that the government had to impose curfew to ensure kids were going back home! But investing in education is not enough when learning outcomes are measured against tests rather than their relevance in the market. This is particularly true for fast-growing economies at the risk of getting stuck in the middle income trap.
Technology as the Solution to the Problem it Created
The good news is that rapid changes in technology also mean that technology is now more affordable and more advanced. Wide adoption in education is critical but the education sector is falling behind in terms of using data to make smarter decisions and attain better results in learning outcomes. In addition, users have come to expect personalized and modern user-experience across different facets of their lives, and those expectations include education. With Asia fostering the largest market of K-12 and college students, many solutions should be incubated locally, by local entrepreneurs, at local cost structures and with deep local context.
Technology should be used to drive better results in learning outcomes. The ability to collect and use data can help evolve our understanding of the pedagogy of learning and of instructional methodology. Tech can enable a growing focus on measuring learning, trimming the long feedback cycle that is still a challenge in the industry. Solutions should focus on redesigning the learning environment and learning spaces to accommodate for active rather than passive learning, with the user at the center. Adaptive solutions can help personalize the experience, acknowledging the unique characteristics of the learner and feeding those into domain and pedagogical models.
Technology should be used to help workers stay relevant. Tech environments are nimble and can reinvent themselves frequently, keeping up with the rapid pace of change in skills required. Data can give directionality, spotting changing needs early on and informing solutions to anticipate and manage skill obsolescence. Tech can enable simulations of low-risk environments for specialized training, and can help learners stay more connected, creating virtual collaborative environments.
Technology should be used to reach more people. Tech-enabled solutions can have vastly deeper penetration and push beyond the physical boundaries of their brick-and-mortar counterparts; penetration should be on-par with that of mobile. Scale enables those solutions to be more affordable, with cost efficiencies further enhanced by using technology to streamline operations and improve effectiveness of education. Users can learn with flexible schedules and environments, more accommodating to their daily needs and commitments, encouraging more people to learn continuously. Ironically, access to tech-enabled learning solutions implies digital literacy, which has become as critical as reading and writing.
To mitigate the potentially devastating impact of leaving entire communities behind in the digital divide, I look to EdTech entrepreneurs and innovators to push the boundaries. They should provide educators with the tools and instruments needed to help upskill and reskill as needed, in an effective, affordable and scalable way.