Take this job and fill it! Education and Employment in the EU

Last month, global consulting firm McKinsey & Co. published a report on unemployment among young people in the European Union. The report’s authors – Mona Mourshed, Jigar Patel, and Katrin Suder – found that, while unemployment among young people remains persistently high, employers in the EU struggle to find workers with the right skills.

EU, Europe, young people, unemployment

Young people in the EU struggle for work. Employers struggle to find good workers.

In fact, one third of the employers they surveyed said that the lack of skills is causing major problems for them in terms of cost, quality, or time. Twenty seven percent said that they had left a position open in the past year because they couldn’t find an applicant with the right skills. Ironically, the problem was worse in countries with higher unemployment.

The study’s authors make several recommendations on improving the situation. One, in particular, stood out for me: “Innovate with design, course delivery, and financing to make education more affordable and accessible.” These principles have guided Rukuku’s development from the beginning, and it is exciting to see McKinsey highlighting them in this report.

Also, one possible solution recommended in the report involves breaking up degree or vocational programs into smaller modules, giving more flexibility for students to structure their educational tracks around their schedules, budgets, and personal goals. Again, this is a big part of Rukuku’s approach, breaking down our classes into modules to increase flexibility. We hope to help students around the world develop the skills necessary to fill more positions.

To see McKinsey’s executive summary and/or download the full report, click here.

The State of the Union — brought to you by our sponsors…

Education was big in Obama’s annual State of the Union address. In fact, he opened the speech by praising the work of teachers and boasting about the graduation rate, now at its highest level in decades. He then went on to discuss several education-related issues, ranging from pre-K to student debt to skills training to broadband access.

SOTU, Obama, Education

Obama chooses corporate support over congressional gridlock

None of it was new really, but the good thing about having a congress that doesn’t pass anything is that you don’t need so many new ideas, just push a little harder on the old ones. For supporters of those ideas, Obama’s continued commitment comes as good news, even if it’s not new news.

For me, two statements in particular stood out.  First, Obama repeated a 2013 pledge to connect 99% of students to broadband internet in the next four years. As an education internet start-up, we obviously liked that news. To accomplish that, the administration plans to work with the FCC and companies like Apple, Microsoft, Sprint, and Verizon, he said.

Second, Obama mentioned plans for the US Treasury and Education Departments to team up with accounting software company Intuit to better educate students and recent grads on how loan repayments work and what options they have. We’ve written quite a bit about student debt in this blog and are all about young adults getting some help on that front.

I was happy to hear about both of these proposals, but that’s not why they stood out to me. I found them interesting because, in both cases, Obama navigated around Congress by seeking out support from the private sector. In 2013, Congress had its least productive year in recent history. With that in mind, it seems reasonable for Obama to explore other options.

Still, the approach warrants some scrutiny. As appealing as these two ideas are, I do wonder if we are opening up another avenue for corporate sponsorship. If so, does it matter? What would a presidential shout-out in an advertisement-free, State of the Union address be worth?

I don’t mean to be overly critical. I think it’s cool that these companies are helping out and that the administration can move forward on this without adding anything to the deficit and without struggling through Congress. The relationships between corporations and governments are made of powerful stuff, though, and we should be conscious of that power, even when it’s contributing to worthy causes.

Discussing Disruption and the Future of Edtech with Michael Horn, Part 2

Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute and serves as the executive director of its education program. In 2008, he co-authored the award-winning book, Disrupting Class: How Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns.

edtech, disruption, Michael Horn

Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute and serves as the executive director of its education program.

Q: Looking at all the various levels of education, including corporate training, higher education, secondary and primary education, where do you see the most disruptive changes taking place?

R: In many ways the corporate training market had its first wave of disruption in the late 90’s and early 2000’s during the first dot com boom. We are now to the point where we are seeing a version 2.0 of that disruption in corporate learning markets with folks like Rukuku helping people create online courses quickly, take many courses, meet training needs internally, find employees or whatever it might be. Secondarily we are seeing activity in a lot of informal spaces, like the skill-based companies that are popping up. So, I think we are starting to see a second disruption take place in the corporate learning world.

Massive disruption is definitely happening in higher education, less in respect to MOOCS at this point and more from places like Southern New Hampshire University that has introduced competency-based online learning program. University Now has one of my favorite competency-based online learning programs, as well as Western Governor’s University. Players like that are creating a wave 2.0 of disruption in the higher ed space. In K12, a lot is going on but it is more at the classroom level and less at the whole school level. I don’t see a lot that leads me to believe that schools are going to get disrupted anytime soon.

Q: Personalization is a big selling point for Edtech. Each student can learn at his or her own pace. How does that fit with traditional idea of the classroom environment?

R:  I think the traditional classroom environment is going to struggle quite a bit.  It was built to batch up students, lecture to them in the same way at the same pace and so forth, and therefore it is inherently not suited for this personalizing learning world. Traditional institutions are adopting some of these innovations and layering them over the traditional classroom. I think we are going to struggle to see the dramatic leaps in personalization that we might from online learning simply because it’s not what those schools and colleges are trying to do or were built to do.

Q: Do we sacrifice anything in terms of social education, the general getting along with people sort of stuff?

R: In the K-12 arena and primary schools in particular, the majority of the growth in online learning is happening in blended learning environments. The reasons for that are straight-forward as opposed to higher education. Students at that age really need a safe place to go and learn. That’s a large part of the reason we are seeing this current blend of learning.

One of the surprises as I walk into blended learning schools is the amount of socialization taking place. Students might be working individually at their computers but they are constantly bouncing up to peer tutor each other and answer questions. It frees up the teacher to spend more time setting up projects with small group instructions for students to work on with each other.

In many ways, the traditional education system does the socialization job pretty poorly because if you remember back to the experiences a lot of us had in middle school, at least for me, a lot of the social stuff that was going on was pretty negative in nature, such as passing notes around, trying to get out of the lecture with other students, and destructive things like that. What I have been stunned by is how much the interactions I have seen in these blended learning environments are really positive social ones structured around learning. I think it’s enormously more productive.

Q; You’ve written much about the difficulties for universities to manage both research and teaching. Do you anticipate these two functions diverging?

R: Outside of the elite universities, I think that is correct. Those functions will really get unbundled and people will realize that the best researching places are not in fact the best teaching places. Activities can be done differently because information doesn’t have to be centralized and so closely bundled with research anymore.

It’s an open question on what will happen in the elite universities. The major question that people are not talking about as traditional institutions change is about research. What is the right model to incentivize really good research in a sustainable fashion going forward? It’s not clear to me that the current university model is right one. It’s a very serious question for the world because so many great advances come out of the basic research done in these places. How can we make that even better?

Q: Would that have implications for intellectual property rights?

R: Yes, absolutely. People have not given deep thought to what parts of university research should be able to be monetized. It is property that you really create and intellectual ownership gives great incentives. Other research may not rise to that level or may be in such an early stage that actually having a more open source look at it would be more useful.

Q: What people or profession do you see being most radically changed by technological changes?

R: I think it’s going to be difficult, to be candid. There will be lots of roles for teachers. In fact, the number of teachers may even increase. But as we have traditionally defined them, the mid-level professors that are really focused on research and view teaching as a convoluted part of the job, often having to make these weird tradeoffs between the two. That function may go away in the years ahead and I think it will be a difficult transition.

Q: What can students and parents do to take advantage of some of the opportunities offered by online learning?

R: It’s a huge opportunity for parents right now to really be able to drive their children’s education, to navigate all the low cost opportunities and be able to expose their children to so many opportunities that previously were limited by their zip codes.

My colleague Heather Staker has written a fair amount about this and about how parents can opt out of some of the traditional ways of doing education and think about this in much more expansive and exciting ways. I think it’s an unbridled opportunity for enterprising parents.

For students who are trying to excel in schools, MOOCs could be interesting also. For example, if I am a high school student, I suspect passing MIT physics would look more impressive to a college than getting a five on the AP exam. So, thinking about how to harness those opportunities is quite interesting.

Q:  Any other interesting trends that you feel like deserve more attention?

R:  I would add that, in K12, we are seeing tremendous growth in blended learning. The question is, how do we help districts manage this growth in smarter ways to incentivize a focus on student outcomes? At the higher ed levels I think lot of the oxygen has been taken out by what’s going to happen to traditional institutions or MOOCs that have been affiliated with traditional institutions. An interesting question is: how do we shed more light on what some of these alternative mechanisms are for creating programs that are useful for students? And lastly, how do we help people understand that in a lot of these contexts, employers really are the end customers? A lot of the work, like Rukuku does, in connecting those nodes is something that has been overlooked somewhat in the dialogue.

Free your mind – The push for cheaper textbooks

As anyone who reads this blog knows, the cost of education is an important topic for us. One of our goals is to expand the number of education options for everyone in the entire world. Lots of people are trying to do similar things, especially those in the movement to have more open source educational material.

Textbooks, Senate, Cost of Education

Senators propose public funding for free textbook creation.

Those folks are getting some support from two US senators. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois and Senator Al Franken of Minnesota have proposed a bill to offer public funding for the creation of education textbooks on the condition that the material then be offered free of charge.

Here’s what Senator Franken said about the bill.  “I’m proud to introduce this bill because it will help provide cheaper alternatives to traditional textbooks and keep more money in students’ pockets, where it belongs.” Here is what Al Franken said when he used to be an actor on Saturday Night Live. I bet he’s proud of that, too.

Textbook costs are more significant than one might think. The average student at a four year public university spends about $1200 per year on textbooks, according to the College Board. Since 1978, the cost of textbooks has risen 812%, according to this analysis from Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute. That is higher than the growth rate for healthcare, real estate, and general consumer prices.

The high costs translate into big business for education publishers as well as textbook renters and re-sellers. They are reluctant to cede that market to the open source movement. That does not mean they are not preparing. The three largest publishers, London-based Pearson, New York-based McGraw-Hill, and Boston-based HoughtonMifflin Harcourt, are all working on digital content strategies. Check out more about that in this great article by Michelle Davis at Education Week.

In terms of the Senate bill to fund textbook creation, I can see a potential problem. I am no hardcore capitalist or anything, but if the funding comes without regard to how often the textbooks are used, then the authors lose some incentive for making engaging, high quality content. They don’t need to be as competitive. That may or may not be a problem. Time will tell.

On the positive side, the increasing use of electronic formats for e-readers and laptops could reduce textbook costs further and expand the reach of free educational content. The benefits could easily overflow the borders of the US, helping students around the world.

At Rukuku, we’ve done our best to make content creation as painless as possible. Our Composer feature allows teachers to simply cut and paste text, graphics, and video into class worksheets.

The trend, regardless of whether this bill passes or not, is toward open resources. Composer can help teachers organize those free resources into class materials. Those materials can then be shared, or possibly even sold, on Rukuku’s Marketplace.

Rock Enroll: Fewer people enroll in post-secondary education

College costs are going up. Everybody’s talking about it, including us. The tricky thing is, if prices are going up, and enrollments are going up, then shouldn’t that be a sign that college is not overpriced. I mean, people are still willing to pay for it. Just simple economics, right?

College, University Enrollment, Students

Enrollment in Post-Secondary Education Falls

It is actually not simple economics, as there are all sorts of arguments on the societal benefits of having a well-educated population as well as arguments that education is not your typical consumer good. I’m not going to get into those in this particular post.

Instead, I am going to highlight an interesting stat released by the US Census Bureau a few weeks back. After more than a decade of rapid growth, college enrollments are going down. In 2012, the total number of students enrolled in college fell by half a million from the year before, according to their figures.

Why did that happen? I don’t know but that’s not going to stop me from pointing out some possibilities.  The most obvious of those is price. As we’ve pointed out before, educational costs grew by 165% from 1993 to 2011, faster than general inflation and medical costs. The pace of increase is slowing, luckily, with prices at public four year universities up only 2.9% in 2012, according to the College Boards.

On the other side of that same coin is the job market. Job prospects are dim and have been for many years. A college degree will make that job search easier, but high school kids are likely shaken by the uncertainty, especially when looking at college price tags and average debt loads.

The prospect of being young and jobless is scary. The prospect of being young and jobless and tens of thousands of dollars in debt is terrifying. The average graduating senior this year was in seventh grade when the economy tanked. That’s a lot of years to let the idea of a crappy job market sink in.

Students over 25 are even more sensitive. In that that group of older students, 419,000 fewer people enrolled in post-secondary education in 2012 than in the year before, accounting for almost 90% of the total decrease in enrollment.

Luckily the continuing conversation over college costs has brought more awareness to the issue. Already, rankings on affordability are becoming more prominent, and colleges are marketing their financial value to prospective students as well as their academic rigor.

Meanwhile, companies like Rukuku are utilizing technology to bring more affordable options to students. This will put even more pressure on the colleges to justify their prices tags.