Imagine how frightening the world would be if politics was behest to companies and their whims. Policies would be dictated by profits rather than the needs of a society. Oh sorry, that time has already arrived. Imagine a world then where medicine, a central tenet of a successful society, is driven not by doctors but by pharmaceutical and insurance companies, where patients are given unnecessary drugs or worse, not given treatment because they can’t afford it. Oh sorry, that time has already arrived too. Well imagine then how frightening the world would be if education was dictated to by edtech companies. Where pedagogy and educational policies and thus the futures of millions of students became shaped by and subservient to the interests of companies out to make money first. Oh, sorry that world is also very much here too, or is it?
Content marketing has taken over our online learning spaces, a deceitful scheme where edtech companies ostensibly care about the progression of education by posting advice, but in reality are simply racking up leads for sales.
The scariest part though is that the deception is not even the worst issue: it’s the risk of the companies leading in educational discussions, and taking up valuable time and space of those whose desire to see education improve is genuine. Luckily at present most posts are tootlhless, vacuous politically correct generalities careful not to get on the wrong side of a potential customer. Of course some companies successfully further the debate on certain topics, as they are indeed expert in that section of education. But what concerns me is the significant increase in topics straying from the core solution of a platform. The other day I saw lesson plans available from a homework platform, as well as advice on how teachers can effectively save time (the irony of being taken to a page that didn’t have the advice, but only an ‘add details to get the advice’ section totally lost on the company). Or take a cooperative learning platform offering blogs about emotions in the classroom, or if you can believe, inquiry into metacognition. This type of thing is now ubiquitous, and getting worse.
Why does it exist? Consult any marketing company and they will tell you that content marketing is the way to go. Get customers connected to your site, get them engaged in conversations about anything, just as long as your brand is on their mind. This rationale has now bled over from articles and blogs into everyday conversations on social media, especially Twitter. The most obvious conflict of interest is getting involved in ed chats, targeting specific chats where your market resides, blatantly flaunting the company logo as though a participant and thus ignoring requests for no advertising, and responding to as many contributors as possible, not in the interest of furthering learning, but simply to keep the brand on the player’s mind.
To me it smacks of arrogance that an edtech company would desire that trained experienced teachers could only further their professional development by engaging with them. Unfortunately though, through the inexorable determination of companies and the shear quantity of posts, these messages are getting taken on and interacted with, perhaps by inexperienced teachers mostly looking for quick solutions, but nonetheless, teachers with students in their charge. The real concern is that eventually it won’t just be the inexperienced teachers who have to go through these channels. Like any business, monopoly is the ultimate goal, and maybe soon we will all be faced with the situation where the amount of discourse is reduced to those with the ability to pay for the airtime. This is how it begins. We’ve seen how it ends with politics and medicine (and climate). Are we going to get to the point when these companies become so powerful they dominate discussions about policy, and influence it to satisfy their business models?
All over the learning space I see posts about high expectations in students. Well let’s apply that to our own professional development, and leave it to people with relevant pedagogical knowledge, and perhaps more importantly genuine interest in the development of students and learning in general, and not profit. Of course the fashionable catch phrase of edtech companies is that they are created by teachers for teachers, but let’s face it, these companies are created by teachers turned businessmen, for profit – because without profit they can’t exist. I’m not against that, but let’s stop pretending that it’s anything different. Edtech companies, we need you, but please stick to what you know, and leave the pedagogy to us.