Thomas Waite and I first contacted the question: what is an electric car, the equivalent of educational technology? We wondered if Tesla could so thoroughly destroy the automotive industry, whether there is an organization (school, company, non-profit organization) that could do the same for higher education?
In most ways Thomas can answer these questions better than I can. First, he does own Tesla. I only have electric bikes and a battery powered snow blower. More importantly, Thomas (who holds a Ph.D. in Higher Education Management) is the co-founder and CEO of ed-tech K16 Solutions.
Thomas graciously agreed to reflect with me on the relationship between the transition from gas to electricity in our cars and that this change could teach us about the future of higher education.
Q: Thomas, let’s prepare a stage for everyone. For those readers who don’t know K16 Solutions, what services does your company provide for colleges and universities?
A: Thanks, Josh. I enjoy any opportunity to talk to you on important topics, especially on technology and education. We provide LMS migration with speed and accuracy never before implemented – dare I say like a horse and bugs to Tesla. We also archive student data as soon as the institution leaves its old LMS. The accessibility and affordability of moving and archiving data on our platform is powerful and easy.
We can also replace course content in the LMS, regardless of whether you update the links and codes for embedding or switch to the cloud offer. Our platform can find anything and replace anything in any of your courses. And maybe it’s a good time to offer a teaser of something special from our workshop this summer. It will be as transformative and destructive as our current unprecedented proposals.
Q: Let’s talk about electric cars and higher education. I. delivered the following set of equivalents:
- electric cars = online / blended learning
- autonomous management = inexpensive online scalable degrees
First, what do you think of these analogies?
A: I love analogies, and I enjoy the depth and creativity of finding the perfect analogies for our favorite higher edition, especially today. Electric cars and online learning are a fair and fun analogy. Both have existed much longer than people realize, and both have been mocked as contenders for tried and true conventional methods, in this case, transport and education.
Q: Do you think the higher education ecosystem will go online at the same rate as we are moving from gas cars to electric ones?
A: In my estimation, adoption has been moving slowly in both sectors, but I think education has been moving more slowly. I have been working with online systems for 22 years, and today many continue to deny the value of online and blended learning.
Viable electric cars, on any scale, have only been on the market for the last 10 years or less, and Tesla offered its first car in 2008. However, it took Tesla years to accelerate to any scale. Given the reality of COVID, the adoption of online and blended learning has accelerated similarly to how Tesla catapulted on a scale due to growing climate problems and pump prices. But of course it’s also just a great product.
With regard to education and COVID, we now have a new structure for distance learning workforce and family learning that depends on online and blended learning; thus, it is also scalable, but more out of regret of necessity than out of a desire for the product that drove Tesla.
Q: And as a dream of fully autonomous cars, is quality possible on a scale?
A: In this way, Tesla is finally achieving quality on a scale; so it can be done. The Internet and blended learning are expanding, but, in my view, are still compared to the potential of how people will produce, measure and consume education, given the fact that the speed of technology is doubling every 18 months.
I could go a step further and say that the excitement will come when we approach a singularity where technology (machinery, learning and production) blends with biology (humans) to anticipate and develop education delivery systems at the levels we are with ‘are currently unable to imagine. Sometimes quality comes instantly, but mostly it comes by accepting and learning from mistakes and iterations. This is certainly happening in Tesla labs and undoubtedly in education.
Q: One of the issues we talked about – apart from electric cars – is the need for higher education to solve the student crisis by making our education and certificates more accessible. Student debt can be the equivalent of higher greenhouse gas emissions from gas-powered vehicles. What role do you think your company plays in enabling colleges and universities to potentially use new technologies to increase access and reduce costs?
A: Thanks for the question, Josh. Interestingly, in most cases, technology improves costs for consumers. However, in many online and blended learning programs we see the same costs or higher costs compared to full-time delivery.
There are many ways to affect student debt, and that’s a question in itself, but a great place to start is interest rates on student loans. Harmful but controlled debt and educational bureaucracy are a fair analogy to also harmful but controlled greenhouse gases. For years, consumers have thought, “Shouldn’t this online modality be more accessible than a face-to-face meeting?” Of course, it is not up to me to answer this question, but it needs to be answered.
The role that my company plays in the positive impact on the institution’s budget can certainly be quantified. Our technology is designed to greatly improve the experience of students and staff with a variety of systems and data. For example, our LMS migration technology is well established to save time and resources. The transition from one LMS to another takes weeks, not years; as I mentioned, it’s like comparing Tesla to a horse and gods.
My co-founders and management team came from the academy, and our only goal has always been to improve costs, and now it’s become a reality. But, as you always remind us, it’s also quality, and our loyalty is as amazing as our speed.
The latest comment, Josh, is that technology is often seen as a threat, just as Tesla has been a threat to the way big automakers do business. But from my chair, the best educational technology that enhances the value of online and blended learning should never be seen as a threat. Instead, it’s a way to help administrators refocus resources for the benefit of the student.