The Slow Burn of Rome (Education)

Questioning the status quo of the education empire
LeiLani Cauthen, CEO & Publisher

Something is going on in the education market, and it’s not pretty.  Some of the largest districts are circling the wagons, defending old structure—namely jobs and bureaucracy. This is not the time to be doing that. 

Let me break it down for you.

Structure is the enemy now, not your friend. Change is your friend. Change helps you survive. Old structure is like being stuck knee-deep in concrete. Standing there, you think you still have a lot of movement, your arms are free, you’re waving your iPad and calling class attendance, it all seems relatively fine, but, truth be told, you can’t move. 

If you’re defending the status quo of teaching and learning as it was, all you’re doing is waving your arms.

Online learning alternatives to the traditional class-oriented, place-specific schooling, are eroding the edges of the old education empire. A district’s or school’s customers (parents and students) may not know exactly what they want yet, but the rumble of change can be heard at the proverbial walls, and its growing.

Consumerized learning, also known as adaptive curriculum, is already here.  It’s the expectancy now of the everyone-has-a-digital-device-world that the digital experience is, well, digital.  It’s not awkwardly just digitized, a mere document with black and white words only and no buttons to click or animation or graphically enhanced rendering.  The proof of this is that ABCMouse, one of the great consumer learning brands, has a market cap of $1 Billion. That’s in dollars, people.

Related Video: In the Eye of the Transition Storm

In the meantime, many of the old guard publishers are dropping like stones, slowly burning down. I’m not mentioning any names but you may have seen something in the news about a company that sounds like Fearson. They are also not really listening. In other words, they are not arriving on the present scene with a dramatic change in how they go to market, how they communicate. Being also in concrete in many ways, they do not react to change appropriately. There are a few exceptions in the big traditional publisher arena, but typically they are not that nimble. 

We are leaving the land of teacher-centricity. We are well on the way to teacher-as-travel-guide, social-emotional leader, mentor, coach, curator, showman and project facilitator for changed structure that is a highly experiential-oriented sometimes-place.  Developers with algorithms are taking the field. This is an organizational shift of the delivery mechanism of learning happening all across the nation as a response to obvious increasing outside pressure.

Some schools or districts are themselves slow to adapt. Well, it’s not intentional, really, there is just not a whole lot of looking at what is going on at their borders and in the context of the work-a-day world outside.  In the echo-chamber of schools and the general education market, voices of dissent and those that want to break traditional habits tend to be hushed and shunned. Just like in Rome, just before the end. 

Today’s Innovative Educators

In truth, Rome also decayed from the inside, and no one could say that is happening in education, right?  Well…let’s side with no.  I can say definitively, having met a large portion of the executives across the nation in districts and schools, that they are earnest, almost desperate to rise up and meet this change.  If they could just figure out exactly how, while still wearing concrete shoes.  They want to remain in place and augment what they have, but not transformatively “go digital.”  Many of these leaders, all good friends of mine, do not know how to run an institution like a software enterprise. They were not trained that way. Thus, the slow burn.

It is agonizing to watch this.  It is so acceptable to cheerlead for blending and flipping and augmenting and nifty stuff that often changes very little and may even be muddying the waters. It’s so acceptable to smile away the real truth.  The real truth is that the digital transition of education is going somewhere else than it has been in the past.  The somewhere else is not a tweaking, it’s a new structure.  That has been the real truth for every other industry, and it’s time to join the movement as to where education is going.

The New Structure

Leaders lead new structure. They can’t expect it to be the troops only doing the leading in the trenches. The breaking down of old-fashioned class and grade models needs to make way to a creative reimagining of schedule – the structure of time in delivering learning. Teachers want to know how to be in the current scenarios. They struggle with this because using a lot of screen learning doesn’t quite jive with age-old teacher driven learning time dictates to students.  This is why leadership needs to dig in. The professional development teachers need should be fitting them for a new reality.  It should be more about time management and schedule, and secondly about student experience. My good friend, Michelle Murphy, the CTO at Coachella Valley USD talked about this and how to personalize teacher PD at the recent TCEA Convention in Austin, TX.


The new structure is most probably one that levels up to the Experience Age where the rest of the economy has evolved to, with extraordinary laser-focus on well-designed user interface and experience. Just imagine how much technology can do for that in education– and how much teachers can create around and above technology learning assets to deliver a greater magnificence to being human. 

After the Fall of Rome the Dark Ages arrived. There was in fact a few pluses to this. Slavery started to be frowned upon for one thing, first by an Irishman amazingly enough, which by itself was an avalanche-starting moment for all of mankind.  Also, there was way less loss of life in general compared to the hundreds of thousands Rome would throw at other lands to conquer them.  The immediate aftermath of the Fall had some big gains, I’m just saying.

Then came the Renaissance, a way cooler time of enlightenment.  Let’s have some of that now, willingly going thru a dark age holding the hands of fearless leaders, to a learning reality of great enlightenment for all.                                           

Shall we go? 

LeiLani is well versed in the digital content universe, software development, the adoption process, school coverage models, and helping define this century’s real change to teaching and learning. She is the author of the newly released book, The Consumerization of Learning.

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