The Internet and the advent of cloud computing have ushered in a new model of business that has transformed many products that used to be goods in to services. This model, known as the “as-a-service” model has thus far made its biggest impact on enterprise software. Rather than having to purchase expensive software packages, along with servers to run them and employees to administer them, companies can now purchase cloud-based software-as-a-service, where they buy only the application modules they need and don’t have to worry about hosting or maintaining them. In effect, the software-as-a-service model has unbundled large software programs into smaller pieces.
The same thing is now happening in education, as the idea of education-as-a-service has led to a more unbundled, or à la carte, view of courses, programs, and training.
Practically since the beginning of formal educational systems, education has taken place in large pieces—six years of elementary school, six years of junior high and high school, two years for an associate’s degree, four years for a bachelor’s degree, and so on. Even workforce training programs come in large chunks—full-day seminars, week-long orientations.
But thanks to technology and the growing need for lifelong, rather than front-loaded, learning, this pattern is starting to change. Today, many education seekers don’t want (or can’t invest the time or the money in) two- or four-year programs. Instead, they want short, flexible courses and programs where they can learn specific knowledge and skills. Similarly, in workforce training and development, companies no longer want to dedicate 40 or 80 hours all at once to training new employees—instead, they want their employees to learn skills quickly and then get started on the job.
These new demands on the part of stakeholders are giving rise to a more service-based model of education, where students can pick and choose the courses they need based on the competencies they lack; complete those courses according to flexible, personalized learning pathways; and earn the credentials they need—from microcredits like digital badges to professional certificates, and even to full degrees.
The Emergence of Education-as-a-Service
We are already seeing this new pattern emerge in workforce training, as millions of students around the world are taking courses online via various online course marketplaces and through massive open online course (MOOCs) providers. We are also starting to see this in corporate training environments, as companies are increasingly turning to just-in-time, performance support-based training rather than traditional instructor-led models.
The higher education system has been slower to adjust to the new reality, but there are signs that it will move in this direction in the near future. In a recent article for Venture Beat, Ryan Craig of University Ventures suggests that education-as-a-service is coming to higher education, and he identifies five things colleges and universities can do to prepare:
1. Determine their business model. Student demographics are shifting as adults are going back to school to upgrade their skill sets. Colleges and universities need to determine what audience they want to serve and how to target members of that audience.
2. Instill a “customer for life” mindset. In the past, you went to school as a child and a young adult and were then set for life. This is no longer true, as the workforce is constantly demanding new skills.
3. Implement agile product development. Gone are the days when professors can design a course once and teach it that way for the remainder of their career. Our collective knowledge is changing rapidly, and courses must change along with it.
4. Focus on outcomes. Colleges and universities need to start focusing on student outcomes, in particular by helping students connect with employers.
5. Rethink governance for better, faster decision-making. Education has traditionally been slow to change, but that is no longer adequate. Higher education needs to respond more quickly to students’ needs.
Education technology vendors, from learning management system companies to online course marketplaces, are already leading the charge toward education-as-a-service. As technology improves and more learning moves online, it is expected that this field will continue to expand.
Author Bio: David Miller is an educational researcher who has vast experience in the field of teaching, Online testing and training. He is associated with prestigious universities and many leading educational research organizations. He’s also an ed-tech veteran, currently pursuing research in new eLearning developments, and is a contributing author with ProProfs.