The Utopian or Dystopian Post-Pandemic Future of Education

A raft of recent articles and blog posts reveal how various pundits think the pandemic will forever alter the education industry’s story arc. Sources as varied as McKinsey on strategy and management consulting, David Perrell on writing for an online audience, and British journalist David Mattin on the future of work are weighing in this week on the topic. Common to all are predictions that education will become decentralized with:

  • Elite teachers commanding huge salaries and teaching to thousands via online platforms with high production value courses;
  • Skrinkage of the education field as weaker schools (from elementary through graduate schools) fold or merge;
  • New more specialized players will emerge to compete with Stanford, Princeton, Lawrenceville, and Collegiate; and
  • Multi-disciplinarity will rule as students have less interest in siloed studies and more in how to do complex things; and
  • Education will become cheaper, somehow.

We will leave commentary on the cheaper part for another post. But, after reading Perrell’s post, I am reminding myself that there have been predictions for at least 20 years that rock star-type educators will command huge amounts of pay and teach thousands or more online. Many thought that MOOCs were the vehicle whereby it would happen in higher education, but that proved not to be the case because of one factor (well, more than one, but one accounts for more “failure to disrupt” than all the others combined): the brand name of university means more at the undergrad level than the star quality of the professor. “Let’s see, do I want to have a degree from Harvard or be taught by an unmoored cadre of admittedly superstar teachers who unite on an unproven brand name web-based platform?” Many job interviewees have been asked where they got their degree(s), but none has ever been asked who taught their economics class.

There are hundred of millions of dollars, maybe billions, ready to develop an Uber-like platform for teachers who can attract an audience, but Udacity and Coursera and peers are tiny fish in a very big ocean. The money is sitting on the sidelines because of the above brand name problem. All bets are off when Yale becomes the platform, but don’t expect it soon as they have exactly zero incentive to do so. The same holds true for the private, independent K-12 sector. Rather than individual teachers, Brand name schools are universally seen by parents as the royal road into the world’s elite universities. I don’t see this changing anytime soon.

Also common to most prognostications about the future of education is the idea that things will be better–more available, higher quality, more equitable, and less costly. While I fear the future scenarios in Perrell’s and Mattin’s world could instead quickly become dystopian for teachers in a Blade Runner sort of way, I also think the private K-12 education world in particular has to find a way to disrupt itself from within to control (or at least guide) the story arc. Disruption from within seems better than having it done from outside the field. Figuring out how to do that without blowing everything up is the challenge.

Business and leadership, Governance, Strategy  |  permalink

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