Education in the post-COVID era will not be the same

digital transformation, future, future of work, artificial intelligence, ai,

Professor Scott Galloway of the Stern School of Business does not mince his words: “I’m good”, he says, “maybe even great, at what I do. But on Zoom people are going to discover I was never worth $100,000 per class — what kids pay to hear me rant…” Galloway is referring to about the future of education in the post-COVID era.

I have been writing a series of columns in this publication on how the pandemic and its lockdowns have spurred ‘a great decentralisation’ in many industries; education seems to be another candidate. Work-from-Home, actually Work-from-Anywhere, has been one major effect; Study-from-Home seems to be the other one. As schools and colleges across the world have shut down physical classes, they have all resorted to online ones. K12 students are perched in front of their computers, and many cases in front of their mobile phones, straining to follow their teachers. The Indian School of Business has started its 2020 MBA program by onboarding hundreds of students online. The University of Cambridge has declared that most of its classes will be online till early next year, prompting a rash of similar announcements by leading universities across the globe.

Galloway has a different take on it. He claims that higher education will actually become more centralized – “there will be a flight to quality and concentration of power among a small number of brands”. He foresees a culling among universities, and hundreds of them might not even open after COVID. The Harvards, Stanfords, and Oxfords will become larger and even more powerful.

But even they will have to change. He presents a very intriguing case for universities and technology companies to join hands: “MIT/Google could offer a two-year degree in STEM. The myth/magic of campuses and geography is no longer a constraining factor — most programs will be hybrid soon, dramatically increasing enrollments among the best brands. MIT/Google could enroll 100,000 kids at $100,000 in tuition (a bargain), yielding $5 billion a year (two-year program)..”

I believe that COVID will be a tidal wave that will sweep education off its current moorings, in the following ways:

  1. Education is actually a series of events strung together, with each class being an event. We know what Covid has stopped the event industry in its tracks. This ‘event model’ of education will change. There will be smaller socially-distant classes at a premium, which will be broadcast to thousands of online students at a much lower rate. A hybrid model, where you pay a premium for the ‘campus experience’, but can choose to be educated online for lesser money
  2. One of the key tenets of the Future of Work is lifelong education, and this will be accelerated.  It will no longer be sufficient to have your graduate and post graduate degree, you have to learn till you die. So, perhaps a fifty-year subscription model, where you pay a yearly subscription to Harvard to learn something new every year, till you are seventy years old. This will keep individuals current and continuously skilled. The COVID effect on jobs will lead to this model. Prof Galloway seems to agree: “More kids will not attend school right away, and more adults in their thirties and forties will return”, he says.
  3. Much like work, the future is an online-offline hybrid, not one of either. Ed-tech startups will get more funding, much better technology will be built to make you feel as if you are in a campus or in a classroom, and blur your offline and online experience. I have discovered some amazing platforms like Virbela, which use some virtual reality tech to create fantastic experiences. In fact, virtual education could become the biggest use case for Extended Reality (XR) – virtual, augmented, mixed.
  4. Business houses and tech companies will see education (along with healthcare) as the next big opportunity, and even in India I see some great possibilities of corporate houses, tech firms and education institutions working much more closely together – this, if it happens, will be a very big positive effect.
  5. A negative fallout will be that the digital divide will get more pronounced – poor students with less access to devices, connectivity and private space will suffer greatly.

I have always maintained that COVID has slowed down the world, yet accelerated change; and we will see this accelerated change in the $10 trillion education industry.

(This article was published as an oped in Mint)

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