Higher Ed: An Underutilized Ability Placement Network

Recently, I read Michael Horn’s Forbes article titled “Disruptive Innovation and Education” in which he writes that the current higher education system is patterned after the once prevailing factory employment model of the industrial age. It’s no surprise that higher education systems have and will continue to adapt to employment models.

Also recently, I listened to Brandon Busteed’s case for the “Educonomy”  in which he points out that the market clearly understands a college education as a pathway to get a “good job”. That should not come as a surprise either. After all, the learner’s (i.e. higher ed’s customer) greatest pain point is to find a best-fit opportunity to utilize what has been learned.

As a Global Career Development Facilitator and entrepreneur in the human services industry what is particularly interesting to me is that both authors can relate to the challenges facing higher ed today but each misses the deeper critical problem in the industry. Michael sheds light on innovation; that is online learning. Brandon sheds light on causation; that is the link between education and long-term success in life and work. However, each seems to miss the critical baked-in assumption in the higher ed business model; that learning quality should be the value proposition delivered to the mass market. In my view, it should not.

The following is my attempt at explaining why placement quality should replace learning quality as the value proposition in higher education.

First, using the job-to-be-done (JTBD) framework , the learner’s JTBD can be labeled as placement quality or as Busteed says “to get a good job”Education then is the learner’s related job-to-be-done (rJTBD) and can be labeled as learning quality in support of reducing/eliminating the learner’s greatest pain point; placement at best-fit.

Considering the long-tail of the market, if we design for learning quality as a key activity (rather than a value proposition) within a larger placement ecosystem THEN the seed for innovative disruption can be planted. I think that higher education disruption will come from an innovative business model utilizing #hrtech to better deliver a value proposition of placement quality and NOT #edtech to better deliver a value proposition of learning quality.

Today, higher education seems to be stuck in a legacy business model that stubbornly keeps learning quality as the JTBD. Therefore, leaders and academics continue to see it as the value proposition. However, the great recession dried up subsidies of an always nonviable value proposition and the error in the business model design is surfacing. As the idiom goes, “the chickens are coming home to roost”.

Let me be clear, learning quality in higher education IS NOT a viable value proposition to serve the masses, the long-tail, those “below-the-line” of elite. The time is now for placement quality to be the value proposition. It is highly monetizable and can subsidize learning quality better than any alternative.

In the coming “talent wars”, which will be fought in the long-tail of markets as well as in the short-head, we need business models that treat higher education institutions as aggregators with distribution-capable nodes in a much larger network; the placement ecosystem. Then and only then, in my opinion, will we be able to define learning quality that integrates purpose (vocational guidance and life-design) with competency (career education and mastery learning) for the masses. We can get back to the personalized academy experience before the industrial age and we can provide it for the masses but it’s going to take a distributed solution to solve what we are failing at–the distribution of dedicated personal assistance to develop and place ability at best-fit.

Again, learning quality unsurprisingly adapts to the prevailing employment model. In the future work will be performed by independent workers (freelancers, independent contractors, consultants and solopreneurs), highly distributed across communities and domains. In fact, independents represented 17.7 million workers in 2013 and are expected to reach 24 million in 2018, a 40% increase. Nearly 10 million households receive at least half of their income from independents today. Based on existing trends, there is expected to be 65 to 70 million independent workers (over 50% of the workforce) by 2022 in the U.S. alone.

As a result, you are starting to see the distribution of learning quality to the relevant edges of pedagogy. If higher ed leaders fail to adapt to a value proposition that is placement quality then, it is my view, they’ll go down as leaders of the most underutilized ability placement network ever created by man.