While we are all familiar with the cloud offering a platform for Software as a Service, Internet as a Service, and a host of other ways of supporting continuous and scalable operations, an interesting idea has cropped up lately, and that is School as a Service. What if digital learning was unencumbered by being in a physical place in time, and was “on demand”, learn what you need to learn or want to learn when you need to or want to?
We have already seen glimmerings on this theme with the hundreds of online colleges that dot the landscape. This has been shown to be a highly successful model for delivering education in an online environment. But online education is still hampered by the time and place problem. You go through a program lock step, stuck to a 5, 10 or 16 week format. While you can “login anytime” you are sitting through courses that may or may not apply to your current field of interest. Want to learn to program a method for scaling ruby and failover, good luck finding a class that is just like that, that you will not sit through weeks of stuff just to get to the point where you need to be now.
The Huffington post yesterday ran an interesting article on School as a Service, and groups like the Kahn Academy have shown that individualized learning is amazingly successful. Run in the cloud for people anywhere at any time for a very low or no cost, school has gone into the cloud. Welcome to 21rst century learning, now we need to check out the quality issues.
Traditional education has a series of checks and balances, accreditation in general, specialized accreditation standards like ABET or ACBSP depending on the school. We have systems that generate teachers via traditional college, but the focus is on learning methods not the technology to teach students. Most teachers I know are in many ways technologically ignorant, I have sat through more than one educational PowerPoint where the presenter had problems even starting PowerPoint.
School as a Service requires a high level of technological functioning on the part of the instructor, and like a recent report on what kind of technology students, parents, and instructors would like to have, shows that anywhere any time access to data is critical for everyone. This is an eye opening survey over on Read Write Web.
While many of us know that education has to change, we have been running in circles as a younger generation of users is running circles around the instructors in the classroom in terms of technology knowledge. Students need to be prepared for what is coming next, but our school systems are hampered by increasingly outdated modes of learning that have severe limitations with some instructors not knowing the technology or comfortable with the technology that is in the classroom.
School as a Service has to be something that is taught by people who are on the same comfort level with technology as the students themselves. School as a Service has to have no limitations or boundaries, one item must lead into another item building on a baseline of knowledge. Dull and boring subjects must be updated to be a live concepts that have practical applicability to what students are doing in the here and now. There are a lot of hurdles on this, and some of the hurdles are how to develop and create courses that live and breath. We are not used to this, no one in the system is used to this idea. Rather than facts, we need to show real people doing amazing things all the way through the process.
It would be interesting to have experts in the field record a video on physics, much like Michio Kaku does with the Science Channel. He is engaging and real, he is fun, he makes physics interesting. We need more people like this in our education system, and this would be one of the most interesting ways of approaching School as a Service.
This violates many of the rules of education, like all systems we have built up bureaucratic processes around education that have their downside, and there upside to make sure we are teaching people. Our drop out rates in K-12, and our graduation rates in colleges tell us a story too. It tells us of a system under stress where we are not universally meeting our system wide goals. The further reduction in paying for education will leave a generation of students not able to compete in the digital world.
School as a Service could help address many of these issues. We already see online high schools working with students who simply cannot sit in traditional classes. We see this as a way of reaching students who are not thriving in the traditional environments, and they are working.
But what if you could get specific skills to accomplish a task. What if all you needed to do was build a communications plan for a team. Rather than sitting through hours of Project Management courses at work or at school, wouldn’t it be cool if you could take a quick 1 hour course on how to build a communications plan, then go build it? What if you needed to understand the basics of data validation using regular expressions, and they showed you how to do this in an afternoon? School as a Service has this potential to help students and employees plug into specific skills they need now for free or very low cost. Learning what you need when you need to know it, and then being able to navigate a program of similar skills that would be helpful as well.
The potential of School as a Service if taken to the atomic skill level has amazing implications for education. While it will be impossible for something like this to be accredited in the traditional system, if the School as a Service system pays attention and delivers high quality information just when you need it, accreditation will be moot. People vote with their wallet, and this is the next frontier in education, regardless of accreditation. It will be very interesting to see what people come up with in this process, and I might just join into this debate. Our educational systems have problems, maybe now is a good time to try out some new ideas.