The Market Direction Is Clear

The Market Direction Is Clear

It's no secret that we value lifelong education at LearningLeaders. It's also no secret that most parents and students prioritize tests and grades over 'SuZhi JiaoYu' (Character/Holistic Education). So are we fighting an unwinnable war?

No, we're not.

I won't try to claim that the market for public speaking and debating is as large as test prep. It’s not. Yet. But in our lifetime you will see it become an order of magnitude larger. What was once considered a purely liberal arts luxury will become a mainstay of educational programs and practices. In fact, it used to be this way. We're actually not actually going to see a massive change, but more so a reversion to the historical mean!

While the magnitude of the change is unknown, the direction of the change is clear.

There is undoubtedly more focus on learning beyond tests than there was five years ago. There will undoubtedly be more focus on learning beyond tests five years hence. We are in the right space. We must resist temptation to change course and pander to transient or shrinking market demands, even if it feels like easy money. Let's keep our focus far into the future and play into a growing opportunity.

There have been more visible commitments from key gatekeepers to this effect. Universities doing away with SAT/ACT requirements and even the President of the United States declaring that for government jobs, skills are of more importance compared to specific educational background – for all of the crazy things this guy has done, I can’t help but agree with him on that one. Google has removed a four-year college degree as a suggested requirement for applying to a position there. Other companies are taking note and following suit.

Similarly in China, educational reform for schools announced at the Two Sessions meeting in Beijing back in May reinforced a shift away from needless homework and into giving students more flexibility and time to pursue their other activities. ‘Test-driven equality of opportunity’ is still firmly rooted in thousands of years of civil service examination history and won’t disappear any time soon, but the winds of change are blowing.

There have also been more subtle changes reflecting the need for communications training at a younger age, as we repeatedly see from LinkedIn data on missing skills for entry-level workers, a growing understanding that skills-based competencies are more effective predictors of career success, increasing numbers of 'bootcamp' style programs for professional skills development, and empirically through conversations with parents of young students here in Shanghai. Rarely do people dispute the importance of communication skills, though we are still competing for time against a variety of other activities here in China.

It is difficult to generalize the changing nature of values in society – precisely because society is a confusing amalgam of countless personalities, goals, and archetypes. Painting with broad brush strokes here, what we see in the West is a slow but steady progression from ‘education to skills,’ ‘money to independence,’ and ‘status to autonomy.’ There are those who hold onto educational qualifications as gatekeepers, money as a life goal, and status as a measurement of success. But the numbers of youth who see skills, independence, and autonomy as superior to the former dictates the true zeitgeist.

Most vividly, the recent Black Lives Matter protests are a clear manifestation of a generation rejecting ideologies often encapsulated in that of formal schooling, shareholder capitalism, and prototypical ‘ladder-climbing’ careers. At its core, these protests are clearly about something more sinister.  But the calls for change are directly targeted at educational and financial policies, among others.  A new generation are yearning for a new set of measuring sticks: skills, independence, and autonomy.

Here's the thing: these people are our customers in 5-10 years.

The movement towards holistic education and learning supports and is supported by all of these larger trends - Emerson's ideals of 'Self-Reliance' have in many ways come full circle and taken on a new meaning for many twenty-first century students and young professionals. This is already bleeding into the culture of Chinese young professionals and perhaps is best exemplified in the fervor and disagreement over the ‘HouLang’ advertisement on BiliBili in early May.

Pulling threads together here – a movement towards holistic education inherently means a movement towards education of asymmetries (Which, in another musing, we might explore how this is fundamentally opposed to key demands of today's education reformists).

One student prefers X over Y, so they pursue it. From this small but critical act of choice comes the kernel of self-expression. There can be no self-expression without choice. Right now, the people want choice. And they want self-expression. In the next decade the cries will only grow. It will be messy. There may even turn out to be an all-out war on freedom of speech all across the world. Through it all, self-expression (regardless of the opacity of boundaries and whether or not they are even agreed to!) will be seen as the crucial skill.

For LearningLeaders, this is a truly meaningful opportunity for our communities and for our business. As you have probably heard me say before, "Clear communication never goes out of style."

Neither will a desire for increased confidence or persuasive abilities. Communication skills development as the cornerstone of our business will prove to be resilient in the face of the unexpected circumstances of 2020.

I cannot imagine a world in which the value of effective communication drops.  It will only increase.  The delta is unclear, but the vector is certain.

And we have a generational opportunity to be the supply curve.