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The Uber Experience

By: Kari Olstad

At a study trip to Silicon Valley and San Francisco we visited a lot of innovative companies and institutions, but the most lasting impression was riding around in other peoples’ cars. And a simple app.

Uber is called a “technology for sharing economy”. And I finally understand why Uber is a good metaphor for disruption in general.

As a passenger I found the Uber experience superior to the ordinary taxicab. Because the drivers need to get good ratings the cars are clean and the drivers polite and considerate. With the app I could pre-approve the car, the driver and the price. Uber mitigates the financial transactions, so no need for taking out the card and no tipping. And the price is lower than in a taxicab. In the San Francisco area the car would arrive within a few minutes. Because there was no lack of cars. Being an Uber driver is an accessible job for people without education, it is a very flexible job for those who just want to earn a few bucks now and then, and drivers said they meet a lot of interesting people. The drivers also get the name of the passenger and can rate them, creating a sense of security which is the reason why so many Uber drivers are women.

What have the taxi companies done? Nothing, it seems. They could implement many of the features that Uber has, like mutual rating, set prices, pre-paid trips and live view of the car approaching. The popularity of Uber where available demonstrates that customers want this. (No, it is not just about the price.)

What can we learn from this in education? What if Uber shows us that people want cheap, simple, when-in-need products? What if people want to be in control in their role as consumers of services provided by other people?

The technology is already there. Some call YouTube the world’s greatest educational system. There are Uber-like platforms for connecting freelance teachers and students and mitigating the payments.

What if the recruitment ads no longer contain words like “bachelor” or “master” or “college”? Will the students still come to graduate at the established institutions? Is reading text books and sitting in on lectures so fulfilling that the graduation is just an insignificant detail? Or do we rely on young peoples’ need to just be together in a secure environment led by grown-ups all day?

MOOCs were supposed to be the big disruption wave of education. That did not happen, at least not yet, but disruption usually happens from below -not from above.

(Silicon Valley also provided me with some optimistic discoveries, but this time I go for scary.)

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