The more I read about the transformations happening in the business world the more I realize how everything is driven by economics, education included. If you are in business, you try to make a profit but almost more importantly, you have to make sure the amount of money going out is less than the amount of money coming in. If not, you are going to go out of business (or you are the government). When these two forces are not aligned there are only two options, raise revenues or cut costs. With the depressed economy dragging on raising revenues has been very difficult but technology allows cost cutting on a scale never before possible.
Businesses are using technology to automate processes and to increase their employee’s productivity. This last part is significant. Labor costs are increasing greatly largely due to health costs increasing greatly. Companies are now being very careful who they hire and doing without people when they can. (See Implications for College If Employment Doesn’t Improve)
To be most efficient, a company wants to have just enough people to do the amount of work they currently have. However, because of the natural ebb and flow of economics, the amount of work tends to vary over time. Ideally a company could vary the number of employees to match the workload. More and more companies are in fact doing this with contract workers or temp workers. The days of working your whole life for a company and retiring with a pension are over. About the only place you can still find that is in government (and that is changing too).
This concept of matching workers to work is not a new one. It goes back to something called Fractional Ownership. This is where several people share a resource. For example, there are groups of companies and people who own pieces of business jets and share usage (and costs). A time share is another example. Because the Internet allows direct connection between people at very low cost it was only a matter of time before it was used to match businesses with workers to do very small tasks.
I read about this company called Gigwalk. (H/T Techcrunch) This company allows you to hire people to do simple tasks.Let’s say a restaurant needs somebody to secretly test their staff. They can hire somebody to come in and eat, then file a short report. The company doesn’t need to keep people on staff to do it, they can just hire somebody for that one job and that is it. Apparently GigWalk has a pool of 220,000 people so it seems to be taking off.
Here’s a video explaining how it works.
It’s a cool idea but note this is only possible because the overhead costs are almost zero.
So here is the question, can this apply to education? I’ll delve into that tomorrow.