Jobs to be Done

A cloud of words connecting education to career success

Clayton Christensen’s milkshake marketing “jobs-to-be-done” concept (that people “hire” products and services to do a job) placed a substantial puzzle piece in place for me as I wrestled with why there are such differing views about how well education is living up to expectations.

Here at SNHU, President Paul LeBlanc has expanded on the “jobs-to-be-done” idea in a number of presentations, noting that students are buying education to do different things. Military schools, religious schools, research universities and community colleges all provide an education, but with different student experiences. There are nuances even in the broad categories. For example, I wanted a coming-of-age experience and earned my first degree from Morehouse, an HBCU that provided a very specific coming-of-age experience for African-American males.

A Challenge for Educators
Acclimatizing to the concept that education could accomplish many different “jobs” based on what the student is hiring it to do rather than what the faculty and others believe they are selling remains a key challenge for the community of educators.

And yet, this is only part of the challenge. The jobs-to-be-done concept addresses some fundamental issues about means and ends. But it does not fully explore the differences between the various means, whether fundamentally different means can achieve the same end and, if that is true, what among the differences in those means might be relevant to the end.

Christensen points out that the ends might be multifaceted even for seemingly simple actions. While a banana, a doughnut and a milkshake may all fulfill the goal of keeping a free hand occupied, they don’t equally satisfy or provide sustenance for a long drive to work.

Similarly, if your goal is “transportation,” other elements are critical to what you “hire” to transport you. If going across town is your goal, a car — any car — will get you there. But no car will drive you from Boston to the Bahamas. The ultimate outcome remains the same — you need to get from here to there — but the experience and tools will differ.

Outdated Assumptions about Online Education
When referring to education as the job to be done, similar complexities are evident. At the core of education is the transformational process by which a person increases knowledge or skills. Beyond that broad definition, our perceptions about education are woefully outdated, particularly in a society where three out of four students in postsecondary education do not fit the traditional IPEDS classifications well.

Arthur Levine of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation recently referred to this as the difference between a “just-in-case” education concept where students are taught knowledge clusters or skill sets just in case they may be needed and a “just-in-time” concept where students are taught based upon relevance to their goals. Such a distinction subsequently raises questions about what each modality values, who is equipped to instruct in each and which modality is appropriate for which audience.

When trying to reconcile online education with face-to-face (F2F) models, most of those in education have operated with some basic assumptions for at least a quarter century. Among them are (1) the face-to-face model is the gold standard that all students would prefer, and (2) online education should emulate the F2F model as much as possible.

As a result, online instruction has striven to insert discussion boards “because we need to take attendance and make sure they answer basic stuff” or to create learning communities “because students love connecting with one another.”

In its earliest iterations this was understandable, as colleges wrestled with new technologies and required new instructional skills from faculty, but online education has matured, becoming a unique and independent experience of its own.  The audience, the instrumentation, the guides are as different from the F2F category as a car is from a plane; they may both be forms of transportation, but neither can fulfill the role of the other and should not be wholly judged by the same criteria.

Going Beyond the Basics in Online Education
One of the primary purposes of this blog is to explore online education as it has matured and to join the conversation about when it is the ideal hire for the job, even in cases when the F2F model is available. What types of students, instructors, learning resources, assessments and so much more are best served by this education model, and under what circumstances might it not be appropriate, even if other options are not available?

Engaging that question means we must explore issues that extend beyond the basic nature of online education to some of the broader questions being discussed about the online experience. Those questions include:

  • What does an online general education model look like for adults who are already acculturated to a broader world and already have come of age?
  • How does the online first-year experience compare to that of a face-to-face experience?
  • What are the rookie pitfalls to avoid in launching a scalable online model?
  • What opportunities for quality assurance are available in online models that may not be as available or digestible in F2F traditional models?
  • What changes for faculty and subject-matter experts in an online environment?

Online Education: All Grown Up
All parents experience that moment in time when, for better or worse, they must acknowledge that their offspring is no longer a child and must stand on his or her own feet and be judged on his or her own merits. Likewise, every child reaches that point when he/she recognizes that his or her parents are fellow human beings — not all-knowing or perfect, but capable of moments of greatness and weakness.

For traditional higher education and online education, that time has arrived. Both can look with pride on the accomplishments of the other. Both, working together, will do more than either working separately could accomplish. But there is no ignoring the fact that both have a right to sit at the adult table, have their voices heard, and play their unique, individual roles in the next phase of higher education.

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