The Uber Harbinger: Higher Education as Location and Context

Motion and Learning – Part III of III

Image: Uber 2015

“Get uber it,

we’re going somewhere else.”

Uber is the most successful location-based company and has completely transformed the taxi services industry within a short period of time. Its market capitalization now surpasses that of FedEx, and at over $51 billion Uber has achieved this staggering capitalization in only five years what took Facebook seven years.

The answer to its success: location-based disintermediation of an entire industry for an essential daily service – transportation. Their strategy and business model relies upon a simple interface that connects transportation services demand with supply using the ubiquitous, GPS-enabled smartphone. It also demolishes the old taxi model with its excessive overhead: dispatchers, underutilized fleets, and unnecessary facilities for parking, maintenance, drivers, and dispatchers.

In the same way that Uber has emerged as an undisputed leader in connecting transportation services seekers with transportation services providers, a savvy and innovative player in the massive online open course (MOOC) market and/or assessment services sectors will inevitably reinvent the higher education market. Such an innovator will connect instructors with learners using context-rich learning frameworks that rely upon simple content interfaces on mobile devices, while validating learning with verifiable assessments and evaluations.

Online learning is the attempt to extend the university or college across time and space – with tuition-based, degree-based asynchronous and synchronous learning available wherever there is broadband access. MOOCs are the inevitable outcome of our disruptive networking technologies and the emergence of online learning as an extension of the campus. As online learning technologies grow outside the control of the institution and the “learning management system” (LMS) extends its virtual walls to the wider world, the possibilities for expanded markets are enormous. Yet MOOCs and their global LMS platform have not been a potent force to replace institution-based online learning programs. Why? Because it is not yet possible to verify learning — and therefore offer the equivalent of a degree.

But that is changing. Already we see the emergence of online learning standards and metrics, including the rise of the Quality Matters framework and rubrics representing a first sincere effort across institutions to standardize quality metrics of online instruction. We also see the impressive rise of Civitas Learning — an Austin-based learning analytics company that recently received a $60 million cash infusion from Warburg Pincus. Together with MOOCs, it is only a matter of time before such consistent metrics and continuous improvement analytics frameworks will be integrated into successful MOOCs and MOOC providers toward offering quality online instruction that truly harnesses powerful and ubiquitous location-based, GPS-equipped smartphones for improved learning — leveraging rich, place-based context together with the ability to verify assessment-related data and learner deliverables (outcomes).

Like the Uber business model, higher education’s sustainable success depends upon a high quality, consistent interface across space and location – whether on campus or online. Yet higher education has failed largely to provide a consistent, high-quality learning interface. There are two overarching reasons for this: the fact that each course in a traditional higher education institution remains by and large the exclusive domain of the faculty instructor, and the erroneous higher education wholesale buy-in to the university CIO and IT department obsession with “security” rather than the ability of digital technology to serve the institution and its customers.

Those higher learning institutions that recognize this reality will thrive in the decades ahead. To achieve such success, it is important to actively and deliberately move away from a solely tenure-based institution or tenure at all, and to embrace a non-research instructor workforce that is solely motivated to teach well while adhering to relatively strict and consistent quality standards and rubrics. It is also essential to see what industry is saying about CIOs and to start focusing on institutional core competencies like teaching, research, and leadership – and most certainly not IT provisioning for higher education.

If these two structural shifts happen and we move away from a course-based environment and toward an interdisciplinary, programmatic curriculum while purposely diminishing the role and scope (and budget!) of IT departments and the CIO role by replacing these with third parties that in fact do have a core competency in IT provisioning – notably, campus and mobile networks and an array of rapidly changing software applications – then it will become very obvious that motion and learning are closely connected. Why? Because without the distorted filter of today’s incumbent-based and dysfunctional higher education system, groups such as the New Media Consortium, EDUCAUSE, AERA, AECT and others will no longer be the sad cogs that consistently respond to the artificially constrained market forces of instructional technologies and services in higher learning. Instead, these groups along with the institutions that offer education will seek to support measurable and verifiable instances of optimal learning and superior learning value.

Because we are unquestionably and without a doubt mind and body, and every piece of data points to the human need for daily life motion to improve health, happiness, attention, and yes, learning – once such inter-institutional structures and attendant metrics become operational, we will most certainly observe significant shifts in the curriculum and learning to support contextualized learning that includes bodily motion and meaningful place-based activities.

There is no doubt.