The basic thrust of the article is that “good enough” is beating out “really good” or “perfect” in the marketplace, and that “accessibility” and “ease of use” is trumping “power” and “number of features”. So I want to look at our current school system in relation to both the online and hybrid alternatives that already exist or soon will, in the context of what is the “value add” of our current face-to-face system.
Now, this gets tricky when talking about education versus talking about a “product.” Yes, in the end education is a product (or at least a combination of a product and a service), but I still hold onto the idea that it’s still fundamentally different, and therefore the metrics we use to measure “success” have to be different. Having said that, however, I think there are enough similarities to explore this idea.
With that caveat in mind, let’s look at a few quotes from the article.
So what happened? Well, in short, technology happened. The world has sped up, become more connected and a whole lot busier. As a result, what consumers want from the products and services they buy is fundamentally changing. We now favor flexibility over high fidelity, convenience over features, quick and dirty over slow and polished. Having it here and now is more important than having it perfect. These changes run so deep and wide, they're actually altering what we mean when we describe a product as "high-quality."“What consumers want . . . is fundamentally changing.” Is this true in education? I would say yes, to a certain extent. People want to learn when they want to learn. They increasingly don’t want to work around somebody else’s schedule, they want the goods and services at the time, place and pace that works for them. If I want to learn something I don’t necessarily want to wait until 7:21 am the next day to learn it (7:21 is when our first period starts).
I could have a great learning experience at 7:21 am, or a good experience at 9:30 pm the night before when I want to have it. Would I rather have the great experience? Yes, I would. But at what point does the ability to have a good experience whenever I want it start to overtake the possibility of a having a great experience on somebody else’s schedule? At what point is it no longer “great” if I have to do it on somebody else’s timetable?
Are we actually changing what we mean when we say “a high quality” education? This one is tough for me, because when I think about education, I always want high quality for our students, not just “good enough.” But I think the point is still an important one – our very definitions of quality are changing based on factors like flexibility and accessibility. I don’t think we can afford the mindset of “we’re the only game in town, so they have to come to us and learn what we say they should learn, on our schedule.” We have to adapt to a much more flexible and accessible time, and make our teaching and learning much more personal, while still trying to bring the high quality that we’ve always valued.
Suddenly what seemed perfect is anything but, and products that appear mediocre at first glance are often the perfect fit.So is a mediocre online learning experience better than a perfect face-to-face one? I would say no, but the problem is that’s asking the wrong question. Rightly or wrongly, most folks view our current face-to-face schooling experiences as pretty mediocre. Even when they’re better than that, I think all of us would agree that they rarely approach perfect. And while many online learning experiences (I’m talking about formal, accredited learning experiences at the moment) are mediocre, they are increasingly getting better (and certainly informal online learning experiences are already pretty darn good in a lot of cases.)
So I think I would rephrase the question as, “What is it about our face-to-face learning experiences that provides a vastly superior learning opportunity as compared to what students can get online? What’s the value add? Why should they come to us?” And before you have a gut reaction to those questions, really think about them. Really think about how you might provide many of your initial responses in an online/hybrid environment, and whether our current environment really provides those things for all students anyway.
What record labels and retailers failed to recognize was that although MP3 provided relatively low audio quality, it had a number of offsetting positive qualities.How about we change that slightly?
What public schools failed to recognize was that although online and hybrid classes provided relatively low quality, they had a number of offsetting positive qualities.At what point does the “relatively low quality” get good enough that the “offsetting positive qualities” outweigh it? When does the ability to learn what you want, when you want to learn it, in a location you want to learn in, outweigh the (current) advantages of face-to-face? When does a changing workplace, which is allowing more and more folks to work from home, remove the daycare factor which, right now, is perhaps the biggest obstacle in the way of this disruptive innovation?
Jonathan Berger, a professor of music at Stanford University, recently completed a six-year study of his students. Every year he asked new arrivals in his class to listen to the same musical excerpts played in a variety of digital formats—from standard MP3s to high-fidelity uncompressed files—and rate their preferences. Every year, he reports, more and more students preferred the sound of MP3s, particularly for rock music. They've grown accustomed to what Berger calls the percussive sizzle—aka distortion—found in compressed music. To them, that's what music is supposed to sound like.At what point will online/hybrid classes be what education is “supposed to look like?” We can wring our hands all we want about how education is different, and about how we shouldn’t cater to the lowest common denominator, and that there is a higher purpose to education (and believe me, I wring my hands as much as the next person), but what if our definition of what it means to be educated changes?
If you were designing an education system right now, in today’s world, with today’s technology, and access to most of the world’s information at your fingertips, and the ability to communicate and collaborate on a global basis both synchronously and asynchronously, would you design our current K-12 system? If we tossed all of our preconceived notions of what “school” is supposed to look like, could we come up with an online or hybrid system that actually provides a better education than what we currently do? Not just a more convenient education, but also actually achieves all those nobler aspects we all value?
I’m not sure exactly what this would look like, but I’m positive of one thing: it would not look like our current system. So, if we can agree on at least that point, doesn’t that pretty much require that we figure out what it does look like, and then implement it? Because if we don’t, somebody else will, and we may not like what it looks like.
The attributes that now matter most all fall under the rubric of accessibility. Thanks to the speed and connectivity of the digital age, we've stopped fussing over pixel counts, sample rates, and feature lists. Instead, we're now focused on three things: ease of use, continuous availability, and low price.How about:
We’ve stopped fussing over accreditation, graduation rates and test scores. Instead, we’re now focused on three things: accessibility to all, meeting individual student’s needs, and demonstrated proficiency in authentic contexts.What if instead of using proxies for quality as our metrics, we actually used quality?
Simply put, elawyering makes certain legal services more accessible.I think what face-to-face has (right now, or at least it can) is more “richness,” a more high-fidelity experience. But for how much longer will that be true? And at what point can an online or hybrid class match the vast majority of what we do and we’re reduced to a niche role in education? Could this rephrasing be accurate?
There are trade-offs, of course. "The relationship has less richness than what you'd get from sitting in a lawyer's office," Granat says. "And if you have an issue that's more complex, then you still need to see a lawyer face-to-face." In other words, it's a lower-fidelity experience.
. . . "Elawyering will be mainstream in three years," Granat says. "I predict that in five years, if you're a small firm and don't offer this kind of Web service, you're not going to make it."
I predict that in ten years, if you’re an education institution and you don’t offer this kind of service, you’re not going to make it.I don’t know, but how convenient. Ten years would be 2019, right about the time that the research Christensen cites predicts that more than 50% of high school classes will be taught online.
What they found is that the system performed very well. Two doctors working out of a microclinic could meet 80 percent of a typical patient's needs. With a hi-def video conferencing add-on, members could even link to a nearby hospital for a quick consult with a specialist. Patients would still need to travel to a full-size facility for major trauma, surgery, or access to expensive diagnostic equipment, but those are situations that arise infrequently.This relates back to my previous point – if an online or hybrid education can meet 80% of what students need (and I think we’re not that far from that happening) – then when does the tipping point occur? When does a critical mass of the public vote with their feet and decide to flip the current situation, and they decide to get their primary education services online and “supplement” with face-to-face?
If that 80 percent number rings a bell, it's because of the famous Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule. And it happens to be a recurring theme in Good Enough products. You can think of it this way: 20 percent of the effort, features, or investment often delivers 80 percent of the value to consumers. That means you can drastically simplify a product or service in order to make it more accessible and still keep 80 percent of what users want—making it Good Enough—which is exactly what Kaiser did.
Look, I’m still an advocate for schools. Schools where face-to-face still plays a huge part. But articles like this one, combined with many of the things I’m seeing done in schools today, make me worry. They make me worry that we’re going to dismiss online and hybrid schools as “low-fidelity” alternatives to what we do and therefore we can’t be bothered with them. But when does that “low-fidelity, good enough” education actually surpass the quality that we’re providing now in the eyes of our stakeholders? In our dismissiveness and our hubris, are we going to collectively miss the opportunity to shape what future schools look like?