Zoom is the proverbial steel railway of the online education market, and I’m hard-pressed to find many successful ed-tech companies that aren’t using it in some way to educate their student population. It’s now the default for most human to human instructional purposes, and much like what YouTube was for pre-recorded video, Zoom is for this next generation of ed-tech.
What are seemingly simple feature improvements to standard video conferencing (stability, recording, remote screen control & whiteboards) are to many instructors a feature-rich tool and the low cost has enabled system-level changes in the ability to scale quality instruction.
Prior to 2014 at least, video conferencing was simply an unreliable portal to another person’s face, and using online video conferencing felt like teaching with handcuffs. At the time, most online classrooms based on video conferencing tended to feel more like tech support with grandma than anything resembling a rich learning environment.
But Zoom’s reliability and broad feature set are a much needed boon for instructors who need a platform to effectively interact, and not simply present, to students online. Zoom has therefore enabled new and diverse instructional methodologies that were previously difficult to deliver.
Improving the Quality of a Process
“I know it sounds crazy to gush over whiteboards, but ask yourself: what would Khan Academy be without whiteboarding?”
For many educators, Zoom is the go-to tool for teaching and working with students online. Previously mentioned features like recording sessions allow a student to rewatch key points, breakout rooms enable instructors to group students for projects or 1:1 coaching, and the ability to remotely take control of a student’s system is a massive improvement over the previous generation of just telling someone to “click there, no near the red circle..” that I dare near fainted when I saw it.
Even simple things like built-in whiteboards are huge. I know it sounds crazy to gush over whiteboards, but ask yourself: what would Khan Academy be without whiteboarding?
Often I’ve recognized that by drastically improving the output or quality of some important processes you can generate system-level improvements. Think of what customer support did for Zappos, or what the George Foreman grill did for my popularity freshman year.
My favorite example of an improved process overhaul actually occurred during the second Industrial Revolution when we moved from iron to steel railways. Steel lasted longer than iron, and allowed trains to carry far heavier loads, which lead to a positive feedback loop where trains were able to carry more rails and more workers to build more railways to more places.
Zoom has lowered the cost (both in dollars and time) to access a quality instructor and broadened its feature set to include tools that now allow instructors to do the majority of what was previously only possible in a classroom. If more tasks that were once “classroom only” can now be done online, this means more students can access better teachers in a rich learning environment than ever before.
The Creator / Passion Economy
The creator/passion economy is leveraging Zoom along with a suite of tools such as Teachable, Podia, Slack and Zapier to create personal academies. These creators are using Zoom to hold the wide variety of educational experiences mentioned above as well as provide 1:1 coaching on top of their curriculum.
For instance, Tiago Forte leads a movement of what he calls “Building a Second Brain” and he uses Zoom to maintain contact with his students and hold coaching sessions with groups to ensure that they’re following the methodology correctly.
This new ability is very important. A student can now instantly tap someone else to get an explanation, help and just emotional support. And teachers like Tiago are taking full advantage of it to hold discussions, seminars, and give 1:1 assistance ON TOP OF a video course on Teachable.
That’s a drastic increase in value to all of his learners.
These new capabilities have also been an obvious boon to bootcamps, as they augment or completely move their physical campuses to online. Most current bootcamps currently have a student size that exceeds those of last generation, and they’re scaling by piggybacking on Zoom’s features.
And new types of online educational experiences are also popping up on Zoom. In the last month, I’ve attended multiple live virtual lectures with subject matter experts, online seminars with breakout rooms for different discussions, and a whole mini-conference.
Welcome “Consultative Instructors” a.k.a Coaches.
However, what I’m most excited about is that stable, cheap and feature-rich conferencing provides a unique opening for a different type of instructor to enter the market: the explainers. Folks who are good at “consultative instruction''.
The difference here in instructional style is subtle, but it would be akin to what I imagine is true of priests (you know, those robed and/or cassocked fellows). Some priests are (probably) better preachers than others; inspiring you from the lectern to new thoughts and regaling you with relatable stories. Others are better in the confessional, helping you with your personal struggles. The same is true of teachers.
And this is my big hope for the next phase on online learning: access to cheap, personalized instruction while sitting on my couch. Loneliness gone. The cost is reasonable. I can move at my own pace, guided by another human who is actively involved in my educational process.