05/21/2013 02:13 pm ET Updated Jul 21, 2013

Can Consumerization Save Education?

Education, as an institution, is at a crossroads. This is a good thing.

Issues abound at all levels, and they are not--as some public policy makers sometimes maintain--always the result of low student motivation, lack of inspirational educators or parental disinterest. The fact is, the broader system isn't listening to, nor addressing student needs. Majority of educational products lack a student focused design approach and focus primarily on the buyer's experience, which in this case would be either the administrators or technology office or policy makers. The results are clear:

• More than 1 million eligible high school students do not graduate during any given year
• 70 percent of students entering community colleges do not graduate
• 75 percent of graduating high school students aren't adequately prepared for college as reflected (among other examples) by the fact that of the 600,000 college freshmen taking calculus, 250,000 fail. (Source: American Revolution 2.0)

Also noteworthy, student demographics are steadily and dramatically shifting. As recently as 30 years ago, the sight of an "older" college student over 30 or 40 was very much a rarity. Today, nearly 40 percent of college students are over 25, a figure expected to increase almost another 25 percent by 2019.

The upshot is that the traditional way of delivering education to students of "a certain age" isn't necessarily as effective for older students, if it truly ever was for anyone. The issues are not necessarily related only to what some consider an antiquated higher educational system. The biggest single consideration involves students themselves, specifically their preferences and lifestyle and, most importantly, their future.

So what's being done to address this? Can anything be done?

Sig Behrens, President of Blackboard, had this to say in his recent blog posts on US News titled "The Education-Technology Revolution Is Coming"

"If we're really going to engage active learners, I believe that education needs to become much more open, mobile, social, and analytical."

Question is: Who will drive the change?

Institutional change, by its nature, comes slowly. And we cannot afford to wait until the traditional educational institutions build momentum behind this change. The good news is that technological innovation and technology itself is empowering students to seek their own educational products and solutions. This trend has already driven systematic shifts in other industries including: media distribution (YouTube), restaurant rating (Yelp) and doctor appointments (Zocdoc). Artists do not have to rely on movie studios to distribute their films; one doesn't have to wait for the annual restaurant-rating magazine to discover new food joints.

Specifically in education, services and apps are emerging that are empowering students to look beyond - teacher- and administrator-mandated curricula and methodologies to learn their own lessons via computers and smartphones. These services have so quickly become commonplace, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that these and other consumer-focused-services are beginning to disrupt the classroom inside out.

Today, students rely on Khan Academy and for homework help. These services are skipping the school/educator workflow and are helping students with clearer and better explanations of specific content, which they can sometimes struggle with in class.

Also, students hung up on a concept or two no longer must wait until the next class to get help as sites such as provide remote class- and major-specific tutors with the information they need. Using services like Unigo, students can even obtain counseling on how best to manage majors rather than strictly relying on school counselors.

The implications of these alternative learning sources are, to put it mildly, positively disruptive and profound as they are focused squarely on the student, not the educator or others in the traditional education chain. Their business models are not reliant on the slow-moving institutional sales process. They provide an experience that is optimized for today's student; not the administrator or the policy maker.

Not long ago considered far-off pipedreams, open-formatted Open Educational Resources (OER) and direct-to-consumer Learning Management Systems (LMS) in this rapidly changing landscape are becoming a fully legitimate option for teaching, learning, educational assessment and research.

In five years, higher Ed will look much different than it does today with a complete revamp of "fundamental norms." Students will be able to choose their own sources of content, effectively doing away with prescribed textbooks. And talking about revolution, student data will move with them, rather than remaining lodged in a school's file system. Peer-to-peer learning will become as important and effective, possibly more effective than classroom instruction.

Most importantly, the education system will treat their customers i.e. students right and offer products and services that are optimized for a better learning experience.