The project "Policy Rationals in the Shift to Digital Platform Economy" run by Aalto University studies the impacts of digital platform economy to the business and competitiveness of firms and the current state of Finnish innovation funding.
How to accelerate the platform economy in the education sector?
This policy brief focuses on the challenges of innovation and growth in the platform economy in the education sector. By the education sector, we refer to early childhood education and care, pre-primary education, basic education, secondary education, higher education and liberal adult education. We make recommendations related to innovation policy aiming to accelerate the development and growth of the platform economy in the education sector. The key themes of the recommendations are cooperation, common rules and openness. To ensure the favourable development of platform-based solutions, significant changes will be needed in the roles and operating models of private and public actors in the production of teaching content and learning tools. The challenges and recommendations are derived from the results of the Policy Rationales in the Shift to Digital Platform Economy research project funded by Business Finland.
The platform economy challenges traditional operating models, innovation activities, and competitiveness in the field of education. Digital platforms enable individual and customised learning solutions and service models as well as resource-efficient, optimised and safe learning and learning data and teaching material use. Platform solutions can significantly reduce production and publishing costs (Qiu & Zhang, 2012). Digitalisation and platforms diversify and modify teaching methods, creating new opportunities for interaction between teachers and pupils or students. The student can progress at their own pace, the progress of learning can be supported, tailored and monitored in real time, and learning challenges can be intervened in as they arise.
On digital platforms, a wide range of actors can also participate in innovating and producing the best possible solutions. Digitalisation and platforms also provide the prerequisites for realising the educational and cultural rights associated with education services defined in the Constitution of Finland. Digitalisation and platforms offer new ways to fulfil the obligation of ensuring public access to teaching and the realisation of the principle of equality, for example through open online courses. The production and scaling of language versions can be enhanced with digital platform-based solutions. In fact, education sector actors have developed a wide range of open content solutions, such as opetus.tv, freed.com, and the recently established aoe.fi. In addition, a great deal of open learning material (YouTube videos, etc.) has been developed by teachers, but these resources have not yet been scaled to extensive use.
Digitalisation and platforms bring new challenges to the production of teaching services, particularly in municipalities. The right to basic education free of charge provided for in the Constitution of Finland is a challenge for municipalities in terms of continuously developing digital education services and the increasing need for digital resources. Consequently, the digital development of learning services has been launched in broader groups of actors, including the DigiOne project led by the City of Vantaa.
The platform economy also challenges traditional publishers of learning materials by facilitating access to the field for new digital service providers, including Studeo, FourFerries, Freed and Edute, and by disrupting the traditional form and use of learning materials (textbooks and exercises) (Bailey et al., 2014; Qiu and Zhang, 2012). Despite this, learning material publishers have maintained their established position as producers and distributors of these materials. Their established position has been achieved through long-term cooperation with teachers, publishers and official teaching bodies (Tavia, 2020). Cooperation between these parties has ensured that the content is pedagogically correct and compatible with the curriculum (Sewall, 2005). Large publishers have had sufficient resources to ensure the quality and versatility of their content. The market position of teaching material publishers is difficult to challenge in the current situation, in which publishers have also rapidly developed their own digital learning services for schools and teachers.
Only few platforms are created in the field of education
Schools, teachers, and small actors lack incentives and resources for participating in and developing open, platform-based learning solutions.
Undeveloped and incomplete data markets
No well-functioning data market has emerged in the field of education.
Little sharable digital teaching and learning goods are created
Public actors in the education sector and the current market do not generate sufficiently open or shared digital goods.
The platform economy challenges the current operating models and roles within the education sector. In this report, we present three policy recommendations that can contribute to the favourable development of the platform economy in the education sector through innovation policy, while supporting the principles of equality and fairness in education and industrial policy. Our recommendations aim to meet the challenges of the platform economy in the field of education from the viewpoints of the growth threshold of platforms, data markets and digital commodities. The key themes of the recommendations are cooperation, common rules and openness.
Finland’s innovation policy should tackle the challenges and grasp the opportunities of the platform economy with increasing determination and precision. Innovation policy measures should, in particular, focus on measures that promote open commodities and innovation which seeks to establish rules for public and private actors. A precondition for the favourable development of platform-based solutions in the field of education is significant change to the models of producing (1) existing learning materials, (2) pedagogical solutions, (3) learning and (4) teaching. The Finnish government should reassess the role of private and public actors in these four areas and strive to develop their regulation. The regulation should promote co-developed and open platform-type solutions, the development of sharable digital goods in the education sector, and conditions for competition that would support data-based and platform-based innovations. Predictability is important in the implementation of policy measures. It should also be ensured that all education providers have the capabilities for digitally assisted operation and delivering pedagogy in which digitalisation is appropriate regarding the objectives of learning.
A more in-depth examination of these topics would require broad-based discussions with education sector actors. The topics covered in such discussions should include identifying which digital goods are subject to competition and which are open, and how they should be managed. Additional research is also needed to understand the potential uses and benefits of data in the education sector. The prerequisites for promoting the platform economy in the education sector are consistent policy planning and close cooperation between innovation policy funders, the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Finnish National Agency for Education and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment aiming to implement the recommendations. In addition, the funding providers for innovation policy and the Ministry of Education and Culture should work together to promote the standardisation and regulation of the platform and data economy in the education sector actively and ambitiously, ensuring that the development work results in lasting improvements in learning and teaching.
Material and methods
This report is based on the results of the Policy Rationales in the Shift to Digital Platform Economy research project funded by Business Finland. The innovation and growth challenges for the platform economy identified in the report are based on a synthesis of a comprehensive literature analysis of over 100 research articles, books and policy reports (Aalto, Gustafsson & Lipiäinen, 2020). The challenges and recommendations identified in the field of education were derived from the results of an expert workshop on the education sector. A preliminary survey was conducted for the workshop, and a background document analysing the challenges was produced. The workshop included representatives of Finland’s leading experts in the areas of platform economy, digital learning solutions and education in the private and public sectors.
Associate Professor Robin Gustafsson
Aalto University, Department of Industrial Engineering and Management
P.O. Box 15500, 00076 AALTO
Tel. +358 50 31 60 981
Researcher Niko Lipiäinen
Aalto University, Department of Industrial Engineering and Management
P.O. Box 15500, 00076 AALTO
Tel. +358 50 33 12 189
Aalto, E., Gustafsson, R., & Lipiäinen, N. (2020). Alustatalouden innovoinnin ja kasvun haasteet. Aalto University. https://aaltodoc.aalto.fi:443/handle/123456789/44215
Bailey, A., Davis, P., & Henry, T. (2014). The Digital Disruption of Education Publishing: How Online Learning Is Reshaping the Industry’s Ecosystem. In :. Boston Consulting Group.
Qiu, C., & Zhang, J. (2012). The impact of digital technology on the value chain structure of publishing industry. In 2012 International Conference on Information Management, Innovation Management and Industrial Engineering (Vol. 3, pp. 278-280). IEEE.
Sewall, G. T. (2005). ‘Textbook Publishing’, Phi Delta Kappan, 86, pp. 498–502.
Tavia, J. M. (2020). Platformization of educational publishing: Examining the viability for platformization of high school educational publishing in Finland.