This post also available on the AIIM Social Business Expert Blog.
I’m in the middle of a series of posts on my own blog about how enterprise content management (ECM) is going to transform a variety of key industries, from financial services and insurance, to mining, consumer products groups, health-payers, and beyond. My post this week is about for-profit education providers—a booming market these days.
And although this isn’t directly an ECM blog, Enterprise 2.0 capabilities are central to the future of for-profit education providers, so I thought I’d talk a little bit in this venue about why.
A whole new world
Led by firms like Apollo and Kaplan, for-profit ed has been transforming the face of higher education in the U.S. and around the globe. But its success has been enabled in part by fundamental shifts in the landscape of higher ed in the U.S.
- The profile of the typical college student has changed radically. Graduating from high school and immediately spending the next four years living on campus taking classes full-time is no longer the norm—not even close to it. Most students balance work and school (full-time work, not a work-study job in the library ten hours a week), family responsibilities and school, or both.
- The pool of those aspiring to go to college has changed radically. It used to be that a G.E.D. was your ticket to a good job; now a B.A. seems to be the minimum bar, and many employers are looking for post-graduate work on top of it for what used to be fairly straightforward white-collar jobs. This has driven a huge spike in the sheer number of folks looking to go to colleges and universities—with the result that you likely couldn’t get into the school you once went to: as the number of applicants increase, so too does the bar to enter.
- The cost structure of the traditional college/university is not sustainable over the long term. It’s no secret that the cost of a college education has risen out of all proportion to what anyone could have ever expected. As the father of a four-year-old, I don’t even want to guess what the current rate of tuition increases might make college costs look like for her. And although no one really has a solution, what is clear to everyone is that this can’t continue, either for consumers or for universities.
- The market dynamics for community colleges and regional liberal arts schools has changed radically. Given the intense pressure to raise costs in conjunction with the changes in student profile, many smaller, regional colleges are at risk of outright failing—which will further intensify the pressure on remaining institutions to service the ever-expanding pool of aspiring college and university students.
For-profit education providers have flourished in response to these shifts, but with that success come some substantial challenges. While ECM can help these firms meet many of these challenges, it can’t meet all of them—and that’s where E2.0 comes in.
The biggest challenge for-profit ed providers face is the balance of formal and informal learning they provide for their students.
- Formal Learning – takes place in the traditional classroom setting; e.g. lectures, quizzes, tests, discussions
- Informal Learning – takes place outside the traditional classroom setting; e.g. discussions in the library stacks, over a coffee or beer, in dorm rooms
Although there are folks out there who have thought this through way more than I have, suffice it to say that both are important to the educational process—just think back to your own experience in college or high-school and how much of what you learned came from each mode.
Making sure students get a good mix of the two kinds of learning isn’t so much of a problem for traditional colleges and universities because the majority of their students are full-time, living on (or near) campus—so there are ample opportunities to engage in informal learning activities.
For-profit ed providers, in contrast, struggle with this. On the one hand, they tend not to have full-time students living on a contained campus. Their students are commuting to campus, have families or full-time jobs (or both), and tend to be older than the 18-to-21-year-olds of traditional institutions.
On the other hand, they provide a great deal of distance ed—and so students never even sit in the same room for formal learning, let alone informal.
In addition, they face the same formal-versus-informal challenge with regard to their distance ed faculty, who may never meet face to face, and therefore never build the collegial bonds that their brick-and-mortar colleagues do.
There are other challenges facing for-profit ed providers, but these are less E2.0 and more straight-up-the-middle ECM, so I’ll leave those for my other blog.
Let’s turn now to the ways that E2.0 can help for-profit ed providers overcome these challenges.
A social education
Given the nature of the formal-versus-informal challenges for-profit ed providers face, the connection to E2.0 capabilities is pretty direct. Communities, microblogging, wikis, blogs, content sharing, folksonomy—all of these (and more) have allowed consumer tools like Facebook and LinkedIn to enable informal socializing among geographically dispersed people for years now. It’s clear, then, that these same capabilities will be part and parcel of how for-profit ed providers enable informal learning.
And there’s lots of tools out there that are aimed at doing precisely this, from two-person shops in a garage in the Bay area, to major vendors like IBM— and everything in between.
But as they say, the devil’s in the details, because getting these tools to do behind your firewall what Facebook and LinkedIn do on the Internet is easier said than done.
I do a lot of work out in the field with Fortune 500 organizations, many of them in financial services, insurance, banking, and healthcare, and even these cutting-edge, global organizations are struggling to succeed in this space; it’s just very early in the maturity lifecycle of social media for the enterprise. So you can imagine where education providers would be relative to these folks.
How social do you need to be?
Despite the relative immaturity of social media for the enterprise space, the key consideration that for-profit ed providers should keep in mind when evaluating E2.0 capabilities for their organizations is how social they need to be.
They need to think about whether they want to enable informal learning directly connected to courses and curriculum events, or whether they want to enable it in general among their students— i.e. is this going to be more like a discussion during the breaks in a seminar, or more like a Sunday conversation in the cafeteria?
How they answer this question will have a direct impact on the technology they select to provide their E2.0 capabilities: They can deliver all their E2.0 capabilities from within a social learning management system (LMS), or they can deliver them within a larger E2.0 ecosystem (of which their LMS is but one part), or they can bolt on social capabilities to their existing LMS—or they can have some combination of these.
The final word
As you can tell from the length of this post, the issue of E2.0 for higher ed (and for-profit ed providers in particular) is a sprawling one. And as much as I’ve had to skim the surface here, hopefully this gives you all something to think about—whether as E2.0 practitioners or as potential consumers of these new modes of education (or both).
If you want to delve deeper, here are two good articles to get you started. As you can imagine, there’s a wealth of info out there on this subject:
And as usual, I’d love to hear from you all out there—share your thoughts, experiences, criticisms, and questions. Jump in and get the conversation started!