Online courses don’t work, but education can still be disrupted

The labour force is changing at a rapid pace. Technology is generating entirely new industries and jobs, while eradicating antiquated ones. Some may feel uneasy with these shifts, attempting to come to terms with how to survive, but others see them as an opportunity. In 2018 we will see the arrival of Homo adaptus – the newest class of worker.

Homo adaptus understands that it needs to be in a state of constant evolution. Rather than resisting technological developments, it seeks to use them as a tool in order to thrive. As stated in the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report, the most valuable skills are critical thinking, problem-solving and creativity. However, they are not gained solely through academia, but through experiential forms of learning.

Until recently, a professional had two options: continued education, managed by conventional educational institutions; or online education. The former doesn’t fit Homo adaptus’s lifestyle and requires a major investment of time and money. Conversely, online education, which is accessible, affordable and relevant, hasn’t lived up to its promise. The rate of completion for those who sign up for an online course is only five to ten per cent. Sitting by oneself to watch a video course with Gmail and Facebook appearing in neighbouring tabs is a challenge, even for the most focused students.

The US National Academies of Sciences published a report in 2017 called Where Are We and Where Do We Go from Here? It stated: “The education system will need to adapt to prepare individuals for the changing labour market. At the same time, recent IT advances offer potentially more accessible education.”

Alternative educational platforms have emerged to bridge the gap between what professionals know they need and what they can access. The altMBA is an educational programme founded by marketing guru Seth Godin. “It is part of a new era of non-video-based online learning,” Godin says. “Instead of mimicking school or creating infotainment, it is cohort-based, project-oriented and transformative.”

The altMBA takes place over the course of one month, during which participants are put through a rigorous curriculum of intensive study and work. Through teamwork, coaching, and tri-weekly online group sessions, each participant has to complete 13 projects in four weeks. The programme emphasises the belief that participants learn most effectively through creating and critiquing one another, rather than by passively attending lectures.

San Francisco-based startup Jolt is creating micro-campuses in venues such as co-working spaces and function rooms. This is designed to give local people access to high-quality education without the need for new infrastructure. Participants receive unlimited access to classes and programmes such as Product Management or Hacking Freelance.

Jolt’s plan to mix online and offline worlds involves a live-video session with a world-class practitioner. Twelve students sit around the table, watching and conversing online with an expert who may be located anywhere in the world. After the class, the participants go on and mingle, creating valuable connections with similar-minded professionals.

“We found the ultimate learning experience is conversational and experiential,” says Roei Deutsch, Jolt’s CEO. “Knowledge is no longer owned by an institution, but shared in the minds of practitioners.” The educators are put through intensive vetting, which includes training for effective content creation, workshops and peer reviews of each discussion that they prepare.

Both examples are new education systems that are built with the Homo adaptus in mind. To make a real difference, though, they’ll need to be quick to adapt themselves.