Teachers and schools everywhere are in uncharted waters of digital learning objects constructed much like the most engaging games, ones that use increasingly sophisticated machine learning within their inner workings, sporting algorithms that are exceedingly precise at customizing the views to the learner.

I first gave a talk about “Surviving the Consumerization of Learning” to three hundred K-12 school administrators and educators at Monmouth University in New Jersey on May 20, 2016. I presented the idea that schools would eventually level-up to join the rest of corporate America in the experience economy.

About a dozen people came up to me after I spoke and were very grateful for the insights, but a couple of them said some things that struck me as very odd. They voiced their concern that the idea of consumerization of learning “needed to be stopped,” or “That’s horrible what you talked about. What are we going to do?”

At first I thought to myself, “Whoa, that person somehow got what I said all twisted up and backwards.” But that wasn’t it, really, because I had staff come up to me and say that they’d heard the same sort of things from various other educators who had been in attendance. “Curiouser and curiouser,” I thought, with a finger on my chin.

Then I realized, I’d just presented an idea that schools are being potentially competitively overwhelmed by something outside of themselves, namely the consumers of learning and commercial markets who are bypassing schools with various digital learning objects, like apps, what is known as “courseware” or digital lesson software, eBooks, various learning games, and online courses of study, such as those found at Khan Academy, Udemy, Fuel Education, and thousands of others.

I came to understand this is a sort of horror to schools, and many conversations since that point have proved more and more that, just mentioning this possibility, is akin to asking for a fight.

During that speech in New Jersey, I told all those present that the reason schools don’t properly confront and shift to adopt the consumerization trend for learning is because they didn’t experience any part of it when they were in school. It’s an interesting exercise that leaders and administrators must be able to do—step into the shoes of their users—the digital natives.

Personally, I think schools are not doing it at levels of appropriate response one would expect because they have been distracted, and perhaps purposefully. They are consumed with testing and standards, devices and networks, constant negative bashing from the outside – all things that distract and suppress attention on the real change of learning consumerization. It is just so surprising that few people see it when it is so plainly evident. 

The world has changed.

What I find so interesting in this is that my observations about the consumerization of learning is that it is an inevitability, not mere musings. Inevitable because consumer demand, industry marketing, and uninhibited access through the Internet are creating an unstoppable force. The fact is that as I write this, consumerized learning is a reality that is already here. I am imploring schools and teachers to see this train coming, to do what is in their power, to shift.

The worry by some about any software learning being a dehumanizing force, lessoning human interaction, is only because all they have ever seen is a tech incursion bringing mass confusion. In this they are entirely right. We should be ashamed of how the tech transition in the education sector has largely been mismanaged through lack of visionary leadership from inside the tech reality. But, luckily, leaders are shifting fast and city by city, we are seeing brilliant moves, more analogous to corporate branding strategy mixed in with sharp service/product development.

1-to-1 device “initiatives” and pilots are turning into full blown implementations from K-12. Schools are seeing that students do best with a device they can access anytime, anywhere not just a device handed out when in class or on campus. Huge districts such as Houston ISD, Mobile County Public Schools in Alabama and Virginia Beach City Public Schools are restructuring administration, knocking down silos and combining tech and academics with armies of Instructional Technology Specialists who were tech savvy teachers and who are now teacher coaches. Digital curriculum publishers, by the thousands, are really beginning to look at what administrations, teachers and students need and customize, test and redeploy at faster and faster rates to support the change.

Education is making epic moves along their road to “Expo Education.”