The Uber of Education Is a Horrible Idea

Recently I read about MealSurfers. Essentially it’s a service where you can order meals from anyone, not just restaurants but people in their home who want to dabble in the food industry. Currently, the start up is working out legal issues around selling food created in non-commercial kitchens but they feel they will be able to overcome this barrier.

Like Uber, AirBnb, every industry is looking to find the next big thing that will transform and disrupt the status quo. The idea that the world’s biggest taxi company and accommodation company own no cars or real estate is something that 10 years ago would have seemed absurd. At its core, Uber, AirBnB, and others have capitalised on the idea of surplus and digitised it for huge profit. Anyone with a car or spare room can replace traditional services often for less money and perhaps even a better experience.

It’s been a few years since I read Disrupting Class. The essence of the book talked about how technology was primely positioned to disrupt education. The book is now 8 years old and I’m not sure how much of the predictions or possibilities shared in the book are actually being realized. The idea that blended and personalized learning would become the norm is not yet here to the degree the book would have suggested.

Recently I was having a conversation with some Superintendents and we wondered, is there an “uber for education”? I hope the answer is never because it’s horrible idea.

When you look at Uber, AirBnb and MealSurfers, they all thrive to some degree on Clay Shirky’s idea of surplus. Not cognitive, in this case, but people’s surplus time and possessions.
Uber is largely about convenience. The app allowed you to find a driver, estimate your fare and arrange a pick up without having to wave down a taxi. The ride ends with you leaving the car without a transaction because it’s taken care of within the app. Uber takes a sometimes unpleasant but necessary experience and makes it better.

Many of the current education pundits do see our system with similar problems. How do we take an unpleasant task and make it better and cheaper? This is where your Spidey sense should kick in. The idea that learning is somehow an unpleasant task is troublesome. Certainly, the school experience is not always pleasant and that’s what we need to address. But that’s not what many of the Uber for Education ideas consider.

Many of those interested in an Uber idea focus on a personalized model where technology is the primary focus and driver. Efficiency becomes the goal. Learning would be facilitated and mediated through technology and happen without the confines of a brick and mortar building. While getting learning to be more student-centered and focus is desirable, the danger lies in ignoring the value and purpose of working and learning in community. Others think Uber’s story is about disruption and wonder if there’s something that could disrupt education. Technology is not the answer. The best educational models likely existed before public education was devised. Learning through mentorships and apprenticeships are the very best ways to learn. In addition, learning in community with diverse learners is something that schools can add to that experience. A “teacher/tutor” on demand idea ignores the value of community. Yes, technology affords us many things and it’s potential to amplify and even transform learning is real. However, this transformation is not a financial problem to be solved. Those looking to use technology to save money or even create greater efficiencies are dealing with very minor issues.

What Uber did for taxis is not something I want to see for education. Education at its core is about relationships and experiences. At its best, it involves caring adults designing and guiding learners through rich learning tasks. This basic model is not scalable or in need of revamping. We just need to fulfill our promise. Technology will help us, but it won’t save us.

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