Why I don’t like the idea of “Netflix for Education”

So many companies seem to be selling themselves as the “Netflix for Education” — perhaps most notably, Pearson in a recent article. It’s an idea I find depressing.

It’s easy to see why, on first glance, this is such an appealing elevator pitch.

For the learner and teacher, education as:

  • personalised;
  • drawing on a huge range of materials which are often of very high production values;
  • allowing you to go at your own pace;
  • hugely enjoyable.

For the investor, a business which is:

  • clearly scaleable across the world;
  • reusing content with light localisation;
  • using AI to reinforce its network effect;
  • deploying a subscription business model with recurring revenues.

What’s not to like?

Well…

Unlike Netflix, the complicated business of teaching and learning is:

  • collaborative (between teachers and students, students and students, teachers and teachers, and more, in multiple complex ways…) — whether this is just learning algebra in a classroom or practising key twenty-first century skills such as working in teams, empathy or critical thinking;
  • deeply contextual: teachers judge what’s best to do next in a given moment using a wide range of very human inputs, many of which computers won’t be able accurately to assess any time soon. It’s not just about what has been chosen in the past —it’s about things like has it been hot today? or did that child eat breakfast this morning? or Jill is upset after that row in the playground;
  • active not passive — to coin an old phrase comparing the internet and television, “lean forward” not “lean back”;
  • sometimes inevitable, grinding hard work (however hard we try, learning Mandarin characters and sounds is just difficult and dull);
  • often profoundly un-digital, involving practical messy work with the hands, or outdoor investigations, or physical activity like sport, drama or music.

I guess I feel the whole idea diminishes what I feel education is really about. And, incidentally, the scope of how Pearson and others might deliver impact, revenue and profit. A shame.

Photo credit: “South Carolina First Steps 4K students recite the alphabet in class at the Child Development Center at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., May 31, 2018. The children learned through play, structured lessons and social interactions in preparation for further schooling. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)”

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