IT Infrastructure & Management Opinion

Meekerpalooza 2012: How shifts in Internet usage will transform the education landscape

By Tom Segal — December 18, 2012 5 min read
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This month marked the annual release of one of the tech industry’s true temperature takers: Mary Meeker’s report on global Internet trends. Mary is a partner at Kleiner Perkins, one of the elite venture capital firms in the world, and her insights on web developments are generally as respected as they come. Since 1995, her report on Internet trends has been the gold standard in gauging real world tech development (and cutting through the fluff of opinion and theory), leading some to even call it the “virtual bible for investors and CEOs alike.”

Once upon a time, data of this sort was indeed considered valuable to this small group (not a huge amount of the population fits into the category of “investors” or “CEOs”) but not too many others. The world is a vastly different place today. In the era of blogs, Twitter, and Apple, where reading TechCrunch has become about as mainstream as reading Sports Illustrated (remember magazines??), trends in web-development (and increasingly in mobile, as we will see) are now relevant to a much grander population. With the rise of ed-tech, the report has taken on a far greater significance to those in the education world.

The following represent some of the interesting tidbits (some fairly obvious, some much less so) of the report that have a significant impact on the learning world:

1.1 Billion Smartphone Subscribers worldwide, 42% growth year-over-year

Anyone that has followed the Facebook growth story (or turned on a television in the past six months) is surely aware of the growing power of mobile. The smartphone has remarkably creating an entire new sector of global industry in just a handful of years: the App store. Smartphones are on their way to quite literally powering the world... and yet they remain a serious conundrum in the education space. The prevailing wisdom of administrators and school districts when it comes to these incredibly powerful and captivating machines is as follows: ban them. Some students even pay money just to store their mobile devices while in the classroom. The debate over personal devices in the classroom is something my partner Matt Greenfield has covered in the past.

The amazing thing is that, for the most part, growth in smartphone adoption across the world is fairly consistent, with most developed nations comfortably sitting within 30-50% annual growth. If that isn’t a sign of the importance of mobile in the day-to-day life of being a functioning human in society, I don’t know what is. Furthermore, with five billion mobile phone users worldwide (and growing) there is still significant upside in the world of the smartphone. With 13% of all Internet traffic coming through mobile (over triple the rate of just two years ago), it is becoming increasingly obvious that learning on-the-go is quickly morphing into mainstream practice. In fact, this past May saw an amazing transformation in this regard: mobile Internet traffic in India surpassed that of desktop Internet usage.

iPad adoption rate “Leaves ‘Siblings’ in Dust”

Remember when the iPod came out? It seems like decades ago. The iPod revolutionized the way we think about content ownership, portability, and storage. It was a massive success. Then came the iPhone, which somehow managed to blow its predecessor device out of the water. Ten quarters after launch, the iPod had shipped a few million units, while the iPhone shipped closer to 40 million. Well, the iPad recently reached its ten quarter mark: 100 million shipments--a staggering figure. For better or worse, the iPad has become a hot topic when it comes to the K-12 experience, with the term “1:1 adoption” becoming a leading buzzword of the day. With these adoption rates, it appears the iPad isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The point here is roughly this: anti-reformers are likely better off spending their time working to figure out the best methods of implementing these technologies into the classroom than combating their existence. The iPad is here to stay (or at least until Steve Jobs rises from the grave and launches the next iProduct to tickle our fancy).

Mobile Monetization growing 67% annually for Apps

As mentioned above, the smartphone has astonishingly launched an entire new business sector in just a handful of years. Of course, this sector is only as valuable as its ability to monetize, otherwise it would be extremely difficult to recruit the tech talent necessary to create revolutionary products. Fortunately, the people are speaking with their credit cards: mobile Apps now represent a $19 billion market, up over 20000% in just four years. With this sort of acceleration, we are likely to see an abundance of high quality applications entering the education space in the coming months and years.

Encyclopedia Britannica went out of print in 2012

Not a stat per se, but the implications here are obvious. What was once the go-to source of knowledge and information just a few years ago now no longer even exists. We have officially entered the age of open-sourced knowledge (game: Wales). The textbook industry is on high alert...

The report goes on to showcase many things that have been “Re-Imagined” in 2012 (hey, that’s the name of this blog!), including such areas as “Content Organization/Aspiration” (think Pinterest), “Idea Building/Funding” (think KickStarter), “Education” (interactive/online/anywhere/anytime), and the far-reaching term “Learning.” Meeker then dives into the fascinating discussion of the “asset-heavy” vs. “asset-light” generations (light is now the king). As it relates to education, this “asset-light” generation has kicked the idea of ownership (not to mention paper) to the curb. Textbook rental, subscription content models, and anytime access are quickly becoming the standard (though I would still argue that content must be owned to a certain extent by the student, even in today’s age, as one surely does not remember the ins and outs of, say, Organic Chemistry simply by going through the text once... but the point is taken).

Overall, the report confirms many of the ideas floating around the blogosphere as it comes to reform and technology: we want access to anything and everything, we want to share, we want our content to be both dynamic and social, and we have the technology to pull it off. The transition to a mobile world is a difficult pill to swallow for the brick and mortar traditions of K-12 education, but as the world quickly morphs into on-the-go ubiquity, our classrooms really have little choice but to follow suit. What sense does it make to prep our young students for a world that they do not live in, and one that with each passing year is becoming increasingly a relic of the past?

Thanks for the insight, Mary!

The opinions expressed in Reimagining K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.