Uberfication of Education EDitorial EDUKWEST

The Uberfication of Education is about Phasing out Teachers

The terms “the Uberfication of Education” or “Uber for Tutors” are currently on top of my list when it comes to edtech buzzword bingo. While it surely sounds cool the problem is that most people simply don’t understand what a complete Uberfication would look like.

When people talk about Uberfication today they naturally have the current Uber service in mind: a cheap, freelance driven alternative to the yellow cab. What they don’t seem to notice is that today’s Uber service is just a MVP (minimum viable product), an early version of a service that will transform dramatically in the years to come.

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Picture by Thomas Hawk via Flickr

Kirsten Winkler is the founder and editor of EDUKWEST. She also writes about Social Media, Digital Society and Startups at KirstenWinkler.com.

  • Edgar Wilson

    The trouble with buzzwords, is that despite how much use they get, everyone has a slightly different definition.
    I don’t think of “Uberfication” just in terms of changing a service and moving to a post-human delivery method, but in terms of the overall shift we are experiencing toward a gig economy.
    Part of the power of Uber itself is the scalability–all you need is a smartphone and a car. But having those two key pieces doesn’t promise a full day’s worth of fares; it just provides access to a variety of gigs.
    If teachers and tutors are being Uberfied, it doesn’t mean they will be eliminated wholesale, but should mean their role is being shifted away from guaranteed hours in the classroom, and maybe more toward the product-as-a-service repackaging of education.
    I don’t think you can replace teachers without some help from the teachers themselves; likewise, you can’t program e-tutors and teachbots without some instructors and subject matter experts providing some input.
    Teaching and tutoring are going the way of the rest of the gig economy, which doesn’t mean we don’t still need instructors, but it does move learning well outside the traditional hours and walls of the school room.

    • andrew

      I think we’re all being a little naive. These platforms are being massively funded, at great loss (Uber lost 1 billion dollars last year) by the big Wall Street banks to “disrupt” the market (ie: kill competitors through cut-throat prices that no ordinary business could possibly sustain). It will take several years, thousands of taxi drivers, wno cant compete because they have to pay insurance, a licence, observe a number of safety regulations, etc…will end up on the scrapheap, a monopoly will be established and from then on Uber will apply the prices it wants, pay the drivers what it wants (ie : hardly enough to survive on) and reap massive profits for its investors. Its monopolistic position and its deep pockets will protect it from government interference. The end result will be escalating inequality, less and less regulated employment (ie a return to 19th century working conditions) and a service that will end up being far more expensive thzn it is today.
      The same gamble is taking place in many different areas, including education. Common Core, Standardised testing and grading, edumetrics, are the forerunners of an automated or scalable approach to education. Teachers will be fired and replaced by low paid minders. And the financers will become richer. Great teaching, which is neither scalable nor measurable, will be reserved for the exclusive colleges of the plutocrats who control the servers and the finance. Everyone else will learn on machines.
      If you believe that there is no such thing as great teaching, that automatic systems can replace human interaction, that inspiration, creativity, emotional intelligence, empathy, initiative, motivation, learning to interact with others etc are either not essential to education or can be automated using algorhythms, and if you have no problem with a society that mirrors that of Charles Dickens, then fine and dandy.
      If you don’t, it’s time to start really thinking about the consequences of our choices. And perhaps making wiser ones.
      The question is : Who own the Future?

  • Kevin

    Thanks for the interesting article! However, I really think you go too far when you say that we’re talking about “education without teachers”. That’s just not true. There will always be teachers. And there will always be taxi drivers. Even if Uber brings self-driving cars to the marketplace. It’s about choice and quality. Not all taxi drivers are equal, and neither are all teachers. Some people will move out of the sector, sure. That’s the nature of business. Just as there are a variety of transportation options available, so too will there different ways of obtaining an education. AI tutors are not going to magically satisfy the needs of all people. There will still be traditional schools and universities. And there will always be a place for the those who provide a quality product. 3 euro an hour tutors from the Philippines may have some difficulty, but they’ll find some other business to enter. Don’t worry about them. In the meantime, remember that education isn’t JUST a business. We’re talking about something that ideally would cost as little as possible and be as accessible as possible. The more educated people, the better. In my opinion, as an English teacher, AI has the potential to really improve the industry by raising the bar in terms of quality standards and access.

  • Brendan

    We also have to consider the uniquely human ability to care for another. A teacher is able to offer the empathy, understanding, and insight into another human’s needs that I don’t believe any AI will ever be capable of. See Nel Noddings, Caring.