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The "Education Tsunami" and How "weDevelop"

Tanya Gupta's picture

Why is this generation experiencing a “tsunami” in higher education? (as coined by President of Stanford, John L. Hennessy and then popularized by writer David Brooks) We think it may be because (thanks to technology) there has been an elemental shift in power from the education providers to the beneficiaries.  An empowered user has the ability to demand how education is delivered and even change the traditional model of education.  Students are far more empowered now as there is an excess of information available, faculty are no longer indispensable founts of knowledge. Students are looking for an outcome-oriented education (e.g. that result in skills or a job).  Education can be delivered to thousands using broadband networks and home computing technology.  As the economy weakens, non-traditional students are demanding education that is flexible in terms of timing, payment, knowledge and skills.  Tech savvy students want technology intensive education delivered in bits and not necessarily a semester long course.  This has created a situation where an empowered beneficiary (of education) is setting the terms, demanding flexibility and along with education start-ups/newcomers are helping create new modes of education delivery and educational content.

What has essentially changed in academia is that technology has disrupted existing business models.  Online education can be offered by anyone, anywhere, anytime for a low price.  Educational resources are fast becoming open, and can be shared across the world. At the same time, the cost of college education is prohibitive for most people and many question the effectiveness of a college education.  For instance, Stephen Wolfram, one of the thought leaders of our time, and the chief designer of the Mathematica software application and the Wolfram Alpha computational knowledge engine, raises the very important question of relevance.  "You have to ask, what's the point of universities today?" he wonders.  “Technology has usurped many of their previous roles, such as access to knowledge, and the social aspects.One of the challenges of the 21st century is working out what is even worth teaching”.

This education tsunami has led to the door being kicked wide open, to many different models of education.  For example many top flight universities (along with other types of entities) who have the advantage of both financial resources and name recognition are gearing up to offer massively online open courses (MOOCs).  MOOCs are courses that are hyped as “democratizing education” and are offered online to hundreds of thousands of students, either with some credentials or without any. Another example is the emergence of educational entities like Udacity, Udemy and Khan Academy.  Yet another are the online Ivy league programs such as MITx and edX.  Educational startups like Coursera that offer their own learning management service (LMS) platform to partner with universities to educate, are instrumental in influencing both education, as well as pedagogy and delivery modes.

Technology is also shifting things around in the world of development (although the change is much more striking and imminent in academia).  How are the two similar ? Is the change in the education world a precursor to what we will see in the development world ?  If so, what are some lessons we the development professionals can learn from this experience?  How can we be better prepared? Let’s take a look.

There are some interesting similarities between the two domains.  Both are essentially non-profit. In both, the beneficiaries are not the ones that provide the funding.  For instance in development donor countries provide the main funding, while the beneficiaries are the developing countries.  In education, the parents of students (and trustees) provide the funding, while the beneficiaries are the students.  Both the development community and educators aspire to a higher goal (poverty reduction  and an educated society respectively), yet are tied inextricably to market forces. 

This empowered beneficiary/stakeholder driven transformation is starting to change the educational landscape.  However traditional models still dominate the world of development.  What would a similar shift mean for development? And how would it affect those of us working in development?  We have spoken of this before but the education parallel provides fresh perspective to this question.  It would mean that connected individuals could collectively drive bottom-up development, supported by horizontal and vertical connectivity tools, and powered by open data.  More importantly, and similar to what is beginning to happen in education, it could mean the creation of ad-hoc development networks that are created spontaneously through empowered clients/stakeholders.   To give the readers a sense of what is possible, we created a multimedia summary of this individual driven networked development - we coined the term “weDevelop” to describe it. 

This transformative development, will be one where all actors engage to shape a new form of networked, technology-driven development, in a way that is both transparent and empowering.  The technology that is needed to make this happen is already out there and we think that it is only a matter of time before we see this actually happen.

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