Finding Business Opportunities Amidst Social Change

Our world is changing rapidly. Technological advances have changed the way we communicate with one another and educate ourselves. Our society functions very differently than it did twenty years ago, and new market opportunities are opening up as a result of this social change.

The Tip of the Iceberg

In January 2010, I began my Master of Educational Technology (MET) degree with an interest in virtual schooling. My oldest son was three years old and I was considering the feasibility of homeschooling for my family. As a former teacher, who chose to resign from teaching to be at home with my children, the idea of working from home for an online school appealed to me. I envisioned richer homeschool experiences as a result of the increasing levels of digital connectivity and wanted to learn more. I had no idea I would discover one simple insight, in the first few months of my studies, which would completely change the direction of my studies.

In my first course, ETEC 500, I wrote a literature review on the topic of Home-Based Learning and Technology. The following excerpt of my essay summarizes an article that showed me that the potential for creating enriched homeschooling experiences through digital technologies indicated that deeper driving forces were changing our society, and creating numerous unprecedented opportunities relative to information sharing and education.

According to Facer and Sandford (2010) there are numerous ways the future might unfold, each way presenting challenges that need to be considered with regard to current educational practices. They conclude that the next twenty-five years may bring significant change to education due to the social change that is occurring alongside technological advances. Furthermore, they recommend concentrating research on education that occurs outside of formal institutions since the future may bring de-centralization of education as the capacity to remain in perpetual contact increases. Also, Facer and Sandford (2010) propose a shift in focus from pedagogy to curriculum due to a potential polarization of the workforce: making high-level careers difficult to obtain and creating a greater need for workers in previously undervalued, face-to-face jobs. This study is significant since foreshadowing future challenges is essential for shaping education today. (Christen, 2010)

One Simple Insight That Changed Everything

Disruption creates opportunity.

As I reflected upon the arguments made by Facer and Sandford (2010), I realized the power that digital media holds in terms of educating people in unconventional ways. I became aware of the ways in which I was using technology to gain knowledge as a parent: through online forum discussions, through information posted on parenting websites, and through the sharing of information and stories on social media channels. I began comprehending that the concept of online education went far beyond virtual schooling and formal online classes. Much of what we, as adults, do online on a daily basis focusses on educating ourselves in informal and self-directed ways. A passion for entrepreneurship sprang up from my newfound awareness of the endless number of learning needs that could be met through digital media.

Informal Adult Learning and Market Opportunity

Much more human learning goes on outside organizational structures than within them, through informal education. (Coombs & Ahmed, 1974, p. 173)

Andragogy, a term proposed by Malcolm Knowles, refers to the notion that adults learn differently than children (Smith, 2002). While this applies to formal learning situations, such as post-secondary education, much of the learning undertaken by adults is informal (Coombs & Ahmed, 1974; Tough, 1979; Tough, 1999). Informal learning is self-directed: the learner organizes the learning experience according to their personal needs. In most instances, a person’s need and motivation is situated around the desire to better their performance of a specific action or task, or to solve community problems (Platt, 1973; Tough, 1979; Tough 1999). According to Tough (1999), people prefer to exercise control over their own learning experiences: they want to learn in a way that is self-structured, self-paced, flexible, and suited to their personal style of learning. At the same time, people tend to seek an element of social interaction and peer assistance as they aim to gather new knowledge and apply it to practical situations (Coombs & Ahmed, 1974; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Tough, 1979; Tough, 1999). The Faure Report: A turning point in educational planning by Platt (1973) speaks to the value of encouraging adults in their life-long learning pursuits. Life-long learning is an important mechanism for inspiring action that has the potential to benefit society and the environment (Platt, 1973).

Our current state of technological advance, combined with the tendency of adults to seek out informal means of learning, opens the door for numerous non-traditional learning ventures. At the mid-way point in my MET degree, I had the opportunity to pursue an independent research study on the disruptive state of the post-secondary educational marketplace and the underlying factors driving this disruption. According to the results of my research, a tipping point in the educational economy has occurred (Christen, 2014). Although the desire for learner-directed educational experiences that meet specific needs has existed for decades, a technological infrastructure that is strong enough to accommodate this want has only recently emerged. Technology offers numerous was to meet specific learner needs, thus creating a market full of possibility.

The Result of My Revelation

In May 2010, I launched my own business and plunged into the waters to explore the entire iceberg of digital media strategy using an educative lens. As I continued through the MET program, I discovered the intricacies of our networked society, the relevance of learning theory to digital media strategy, and the power of online communities of practice. At the same time, I developed my business acumen through coursework on educational ventures and through practical experience launching my own entrepreneurial ventures. Going forward, as I graduate from the MET program, I intend to continue to explore the theory and research surrounding informal adult learning and the applicability of digital media in facilitating these learning experiences.

As a final tangential note (to satisfy inquiring minds), after adding two more children to the two who had already joined my family by 2010 (for a grand total of four kids), I opted not to homeschool after all.

References

Christen, N. (2010). Home-based learning and technology. Unpublished manuscript, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.

Christen, N. (2014). Open online learning: This changes everything. Unpublished manuscript, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.

Coombs, P. H., & Ahmed, M. (1974). Attacking Rural Poverty: How Nonformal Education Can Help. A Research Report for the World Bank Prepared by the International Council for Educational Development. Retrieved from http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/WDSContentServer/WDSP/IB/2000/02/18/000178830_98101911003374/Rendered/PDF/multi_page.pdf

Facer, K., & Sandford, R. (2010). The next 25 years?: Future scenarios and future directions for education and technology. Journal of Assisted Learning, 26(1), 74-93. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2729.2009.00337.x

Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. New York: University of Cambridge Press.

Platt, W. J. (1973, June). The Faure report: A turning point in educational planning. Paper presented at the Science and Man in the Americas. Technical Symposium Educational Planning, Mexico City.

Smith, M. K. (2002). Malcolm Knowles, informal adult education, self-direction, and andragogy. The Encyclopedia of Informal Education. Retrieved from http://www.infed.org/thinkers/et-knowl.htm

Tough, A. (1979). Choosing to learn. In Healy, G. M. & Ziegler, W. L. (Eds.), The learning stance: Essays in celebration of human learning. Washington, D. C.: National Institute of Education.

Tough, A. (1999, February). Reflections on the study of adult learning. Brief talk at the New Approaches to Lifelong Learning (NALL) Conference, Toronto, ON.