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3 Reasons to Retain Digital Learning Colleagues


I have some answers for Matt Reid request for ideas on the recruitment of teachers in in-demand fields.

I have three arguments that I make to my digital learning colleagues (my non-faculty teachers) who are planning to move into edtech, OPM, publishing, consulting, service, or other companies. Maybe Matt can use these points.

Let’s get a few things straight. There are many advantages to working at a for-profit educational company over a non-profit university.

Working for a company can give focused and ambitious educators the opportunity to scale their impact. You work with many universities, not just one.

Things can move quickly in an educational company. Decisions are made not by consensus, but by company managers. Company strategies are (unfortunately) more often driven by data than by academia.

Companies, on average and in my experience, are much more meritocratic (for staff) than universities. If you are good and work in a company, you will be promoted much faster than in a university.

Oh…and you make more money.

But, but, but…

Argument #1 – Volatility:

The downside of reach, speed, and relatively fast career growth is volatility.

The good news is that things are about to change in the for-profit business. The bad news is that things are about to change. And often, unpredictably.

Five years from now, I expect to be doing something similar at my institution to what I am doing now. I expect that in five years none of the people I work with in companies will be around.

Scratch that. Give it a year, maybe two, and everyone I’ve built relationships with in companies will have moved on to different roles. Such a rapid turnover of people makes it very difficult for higher education institutions working with companies.

When you’re transitioning from university to company, be sure to walk into your new gig with your eyes wide open. You probably won’t spend your career at the same company.

What’s more, what you do in the company – and even what the company does – is likely to change. Colleges and universities have time horizons that are measured in decades. Companies operate on time horizons that are measured in years (what the CEO says) or months (reality).

If you are comfortable with change and want to boost your metabolism by rethinking your career, then you are a good fit for the company.

Argument #2 – Collegiality:

The best thing about working in grad school is the people. People at your school. And people in every other school.

Academia does not have a monopoly on intelligent people. I know some smart people from education companies.

Higher education has a culture that encourages (even requires) the sharing of information between organizations. People who work at colleges and universities talk to people who work at other colleges and universities. We share what we know.

Yes, schools compete with each other. We compete for students and status, research and faculty dollars, ranking places and teaching dollars, and many other things. But we compete by cooperating.

The big idea that scientists live by is that we are here to create possibilities. We believe in making the pie bigger, not fighting for a fixed pool of anything.

If you work in a school, you can be much more transparent about how you do your work than if you work in a company. Universities never (or almost never) force people we work with to sign NDAs. Often our closest colleagues are peers from other institutions.

It would be unacceptable for the company to share everything that happens with competitors.

Argument #3 – Autonomy:

The argument I want to make is that you will have more autonomy as a higher education employee than as an employee of a for-profit education company.

Is this argument correct?

The troubling truth is that privilege and autonomy are closely related.

The higher your institutional status, the more freely you can make your own way as a part-time employee.

That said…I think most university cultures are more amenable to employee autonomy than most corporate cultures.

What do I think of when I think of autonomy? Here I mean the opportunity for employees to publicly express their opinions and thoughts.

It would be a good research project to compare the tweets (nobody blogs anymore) of university faculty and non-faculty company faculty. Which group is more bold in advocating critical viewpoints?

Universities are almost always less hierarchical in nature than companies. To get things done at the university, it is necessary to form a coalition.

The rewards and incentives of academic life are intrinsic and mission-driven (even for staff), as opposed to transactional. We do not receive stock options or bonuses.

The most successful people who work in educational companies fully embody the values ​​and style of the organization in which they work.

The most successful university people I know are often critical of their institutions and even the higher education sector as a whole.

No one way of working is better than another. You can benefit greatly by working for the company. Just remember that if you want to be critical of the role of for-profit players in higher education, maybe working for a for-profit education company isn’t your best bet.

Or maybe I’m wrong. There are perhaps excellent examples of education company critics who have made successful, impactful and driven careers from within the companies. If you are one of those people, please get in touch.

Are you one of those colleagues who moved from university to the company? What am I getting wrong and right? How are you doing?

Are any of your digital learning academic colleagues considering moving to an education company?

Matt, are these arguments at all helpful to you in your faculty recruitment efforts?

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