What is the “Uber” or “Airbnb” Future of Schools?

What is the “Uber” or “Airbnb” Future of Schools?

A dozen years ago just a tiny fraction of schools had started to transform in response to the realities of a rapidly changing world.  Five years ago, we started to see powerful conversations and intentional, significant change at a much wider range of schools.  Today we may be approaching the tipping point, at least in terms of the recognition that stasis will not work.

But are we “sneaking and tweaking”?  Or are we imagining the real magnitude of change that will be needed in the next very few years?  What are the lessons we have learned from the really big, disruptive, industry-busting innovations that have mutated entire business models in the last five years?  How should those inform and provoke school leaders today?

Let’s take just three of the most disruptive transformations in the non-education world:

  • Taxis to ride sharing
  • Hotels to Airbnb
  • Malls to online shopping

Each of these have turned major commercial sectors upside down in a very short period of time.  What do they have in common that should be ringing in the minds of every school leader?

  • Bypass Infrastructure:  each of these mutations has blown apart an industry that was based on centralized physical locations or assets.  The value and ROI of those assets have dropped dramatically because they are just not as necessary as they were even a very few years ago.
  • Decentralized decisions: Large, centralized providers told us what to buy and use. We stayed at night where hotel chains decided we should stay and accepted the monopoly of one taxi company at the airport or throughout downtown.  We bought what stores put on the shelf.  All of those decisions have now been widely distributed throughout a much deeper system of producers, providers, and consumers.
  • Individual connections: People, not large organizations, now connect directly with each other.  The web of commercial connections is vastly more complex, yet vastly less stratified, than it was a decade ago.  Middle men are disappearing. People connect with people where they find mutual benefit, sometimes with a financial transaction and often without.

We can think of an example from the natural world.  The human “hive” is decreasingly reliant on the queen bee. The power has shifted to the “worker bees” who, we know, are the ones who actually know where the honey is.  These new connectivity pathways allow many or all of us to find “honey”, and communicate or transact that value directly to others.

Is your strategic team thinking about learning that may bypass infrastructure, empower decision-making without a team of educators at the center, and rely on massively connected networks of individuals?  If not, do you have a good reason, or is it just inertia and the complexity of the problem?

School leaders who still think that “innovation” or “transformation” of their schools is about a new classroom technology, maker spaces, 3D printers, getting rid of Advanced Placement courses, or shifting to Singapore Math, are not seeing the world as it really is beyond their walls and campuses.  In just the last week I have talked with a major district that is planning to decentralize high schools by embedding smaller mini-campuses throughout the community to allow students to follow interest-based learning opportunities with business and non-profits; a district that is calculating and providing pathway options for students and families that take into account future debt loads and the ROI of different education and career choices; a school in Canada that is designing an urban micro-campus; and one in Connecticut that is blowing apart their outdated class, department, assessment and time structures.

Each of these is an example of a school community that sees the difference between “building a better hotel” and embracing “Airbnb world”.  They are learning the lessons of the evolving cognitosphere where flat, distributed, direct connections provide consumers with equal or greater value at lower cost. There is no reason to think that this trend will reverse, and many reasons to think that it will accelerate.  These are “third horizon” changes, and there is every reason to believe that education is already in the early stages of this radical evolution.


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