What might dynamic pairings of people and learning content do for education? This is the question I am posing as I gather my thoughts and the material for my new book. 

As your mind conflates the concepts you relate with schools with the concepts of on-demand drivers using geo-location in a fleeting transaction that is individualized and convenient, your thoughts may potentially go in these directions:

  • This is just another initiative, without merit like all the other trendy things educators have to calmly wait out and ignore.
  • Isn’t this just a pretty wrapping for courses online being on-demand with chat-bot distance teachers?  Been-there, done-that, and it hasn’t really changed much of the present scene so far. 
  • The proposed destruction of school as we know it by a mobile App.
  • Some sort of platform with content made automatic for students. Also, yawn.
  • Sounds like teachers will no longer be needed.

None of those are what can or will most probably happen as the true benefits of uber-level thinking arrive in education. First, what does “uberization” mean?

Uberization is a term for highly network-enabled enterprise to provide highly economical, convenient and efficient services. Uberization seeks to capture under-utilized capacity of existing assets or human resources with peer-to-peer transactions. Uberization bypasses the physical central planning office in favor of a central digital engine using really big data sets like the addresses of everywhere in the entire world. In the case of taxis, the central office dispatcher is dispatched right out of the picture upon the arrival of Uber service. The ownership of the cabs themselves was dispatched in favor of leveraging all drivers anywhere who already had cars. The number of sub-companies and enterprises servicing the vast taxi industry witnessed an immediate and almost total wipe-out, including big unions. 

Those all sound scary if you think the same thing would happen if education were uberized. Yet, the upside could be so much better for teachers and administrators that millions of them would fully engage to make it happen. For one thing, most teachers are overwhelmed with trying to teach in a traditional setting while using all kinds of tech, running the classroom, and attempting to personalize learning for every student on every subject. For learners and actual learning, the change could be majestic.

Uber’s App created an artificial central mind for operations and leveraged far more human assets for smaller and more defined roles. The human assets have enormous freedom of interaction, as do the users of the service. Humans still come together, sharing physical presence for the journey du jour. The upsides for the drivers tend to outweigh the downsides like no union (Note, I’ve suggested to many Uber and Lyft drivers in my travels to start a Guild, which is what movie and television actors do to form bargaining power. Not that a union is always a great thing, because for part-time drivers who have other jobs, unions would mostly be a waste of dues money.)

What if the real digital transition for education is this same set of miracles of more freedom of interaction and options in roles? That is part of the premise of my upcoming book. 

The rest of the premise lies in the true benefits of uber-level thinking applied against the present scene in stages of change that lead to dramatic efficiencies, economies and most of all, extreme personalization. The change wouldn’t be easy and will require logistics along the level of airline algorithms and some hard work. With the great and heavy battleship that is today’s American education system, turning while experiencing gale-force winds in high seas (current failures and epic attrition) will be no small feat. Of course, this does not deter my thinking. 

The enormously weighty “system” of education is already being fought by everyone inside and outside it. All the fixes offered so far do not tackle structure or provide gains except within the assumed guard rails. Alternative schools and choice are still largely the same sort of structure.

Any real solution to an overly complicated industry should be devastatingly simple.

Stay tuned!


About the Author


LeiLani Cauthen is CEO of the Learning Counsel, and author of The Consumerization of Learning.