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Year-end thoughts and predictions for 2022 - 2 of 2
Microlearning and Communities
This is the second thoughts and predictions post - if you missed last week’s post, I encourage you to read it here. I have one more post that will come between Christmas and New Year’s with an update on my 2022 plans and then I’ll pick the news back up on January 16.
I didn’t get much pushback last week, so am going to try and amp up the spice level this week : )
On to the roundup!
Stop trying to make Microlearning a thing Gretchen
There is a saying, coined by Henry Bohn, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I bring this up to question the trend towards shorter and shorter units content, a fairly broad definition of “Microlearning”, for both child and adult learners.
The rationale for embracing Microlearning, is usually one of two things:
Attention spans are getting shorter and learners just can’t focus long enough to complete longer courses/programs
There is too much to be done, we just don’t have the time to get through a full course of study
I’ve heard variations of these positions across age and ability levels - they are not unreasonable arguments! This is what goes through my head when I hear people make them:
It is a pain in the a** to make learning content engaging enough to compete with Netflix/Roblox/BAYC (Bored Ape Yacht Club)
Concept mastery/skill acquisition is nice, but not the top priority
Learning, inherently, requires friction. That is why the things you learn stick in your head.1 It is hard for me to square how a Microlearning unit, explicitly designed to be completed quickly and easily, drives mastery of anything.
Now, there are ways to weave Microlearning principles into larger learning goals. Duolingo, the leader of the space, uses time as its leverage point to make learning gains - one day on Duolingo achieves almost nothing, but a long streak can drive skill acquisition on par with university-level language courses.2
The Quantic School of Business uses Microlearning modules to introduce concepts asynchronously before reinforcing them in longer-form group collaboration sessions. Introducing the concept before the session accelerates the learning curve for students and allows for greater focus in a reduced number of live sessions as compared to a traditional business school.
I am not hostile towards Microlearning, I just don’t believe it is a panacea. I have a recurring nightmare where I am in the field, being asked, by increasingly senior client representatives, “can you make it shorter and/or more modular?”3
It is, generally, not that hard technically to split content into more chunks and answer “Yes.”
I urge folks who receive this question to think critically about why/how this action could be additive to the student experience rather than rationalizing one of the first two statements above. Your product and pedagogy teams will thank you ; )
When individuals band together
What happens when you lock a crypto-anarchist and a socialist alone in a room to talk about the “future of work?” You get a DAO!4
In all seriousness, there is a trend here. Since unionization peaked in 1954, there has been a steady march away from groups, public and private, that support individual workers maximizing their potential. The crypto space, cleverly rebranded as Web3, provides an avenue for workers to start marching back. A few examples of how is happening:
Communities investing in their future: Web3 projects and companies are usually led by “communities.” Each community works hard to keep its members engaged, building goodwill and camaraderie. But, the root of a community’s power is in the financial alignment of every member towards a positive economic outcome for the group, often in the form of a token
Transparency in pay and labor: Web3 communities are typically structured around achievements related to work tasks and participation. Achievements are laid out transparently, often with an earning component directly attached to them
Long-term economic benefits: Community members continue to accrue value for their service, even after they’ve stopped directly contributing. This is an assumption, often taken as fact, that relies on continued good stewardship of the community
If you squint, Web3 communities sound awfully similar to labor union movements! Except they ride on digitally-native financial rails that allow a greater freedom of movement between them, allowing speculation on the communities that perform best over time.
Both our socialist (more labor unions!) and our crypto-anarchist (speculation! freedom of movement!) are excited about Web3, but why should EdTech care?
Web3 is a chance to re-structure education around economic potential. In today’s educational model, most institutions are incentivized based on throughput - how many butts in seats (or eyeballs) can the institution adequately manage. While there are well-meaning employees focused on outcomes at virtually all institutions, there is no actual incentive to make sure this happens.
In a Web3 community, the incentive is to maximize the long-term value of its members. Assuming that long-term value is a function of future production value, this means communities are directly incentivized to seek out the absolute best learners for their niche.
There is an inexhaustible amount of content produced about the connection between education and employment, or lack thereof. To me, Web3 communities are the most promising macro trend towards bridging this gap.
A few more ideas
There are a number of other areas I would like to write about, but my opinion is not fully baked in. I would love to see someone else take them on!
Bounceback of the bootcamp
We are learning that growing an individual bootcamp brand is hard - with decade+ timelines on par with building a new degree-granting university. But the market is now big enough for infrastructure specialists to emerge with great businesses in lead generation, franchising, financing, and other verticals.
What are “college” sports?
So what happens now? Are we going to admit that college athletes are professionals and allow the system to bifurcate - where Alabama the football team is independent from Alabama the school?
I am not predicting anything specific in this realm, only that we will continue to see chaos everywhere.
The intersection of physical and virtual learning
It seems most people are not totally satisfied with either 100% virtual or 100% in-person learning. The natural inclination is to say this means the future is “hybrid.” That is fine, but it glosses over whether our current physical spaces are sufficient to support a hybrid environment.
It would be better if Duolingo’s studies were done by third-parties, but I think it is fair to say that some gains are made given enough time on the platform
Suffice to say this nightmare did not mysteriously appear from my imagination
DAO = Decentralized autonomous organization. If you are unfamiliar with this term, feel free to email me for holiday reading recommendations. Or don’t! Go skiing and enjoy nature instead : )