What the Mary Meeker slides mean for the future of education

Last week Mary Meeker published her latest trends report.  It’s gotten a lot of attention, typically; here I’d like to identify what I see as the important findings for the future of education.

(If you’re not familiar with this effort, Meeker is an analyst with a venture capital firm, and annually shares giant slidestacks summarizing her team’s research into technology trends.  Their focus is trends for business, including marketing, platform use, commerce, etc.  If you’d like more background, plus my analysis, I’ve written about previous publications in 2017, 2016, 2015, and 2013.)

What caught my eye?  First I’ll pull out the macro level findings, then technology-specific ones, then Meeker’s specific comments on education.

At the bigger level:

Almost exactly one half of the human race is online now (49%). (slide 8)  We’re about to hit that 50% milestone.  (Actually, in her live presentation Meeker went a little further: “Global internet users of 3.6 billion surpassed half the world’s population in 2018”) For educators working on online learning, we have to keep in mind that half of humanity isn’t online – so far.

For those online, the amount of our engagement with the digital world keeps growing.  Meeker finds adults spending 5.9 hours/day with digital media, the highest amount they’ve found to date. (slide 11)  One part of that behavior involves making tons of data in all kinds of ways:

(slide 189)

The e-commerce world also keeps growing, while bricks and mortar retail growth is “decelerating” (slides 45ff, 87ff)  For educators, this is interesting on a few levels.  It tells us our communities (depending on their specific natures, of course) are increasingly comfortable with online transactions, which should encourage the expansion of campus IT services across the spectrum of needs.  We might also learn some tips about user experience from successful e-commerce platforms.

Meeker sees companies gathering more data for personalization as a good thing, and deems worries about that to be a “paradox”.  As recorded by ReCode:

We tried to simplify [the paradox] into really three sentences. Internet companies are making low price services better in part from user data. Internet users are increasing their time on internet services based on perceived value. Regulators want to ensure data is not used improperly and not all regulators think about this in the same way.

Meeker also warns regulators to be careful:

It’s crucial to manage for unintended consequences… but it’s irresponsible to stop innovation + progress (35-36)

Meeker thinks users really like having data gathered on us, because it leads to greater user customer satisfaction. (190-194, 205) In other words, this is an example of the pro-data-collection side, deeply connected with finance capital.

Additionally, she deems personalization to be in “early innings”. (78ff) This might comfort campus technologists and administrators seeking to develop their own data-driven personalization projects.

This year’s report also explores household spending in a detail way.  It draws out some important changes in what Americans pay for:

Compared with recent history, we are spending more for shelter (rent, mortgages), pensions and insurance, and healthcare (now 7% of our budgets).  We’re spending less on food, entertainment, and clothing (which seems counterintuitive to what I’ve seen of advertising and tv “news” content). (104ff) . Meeker suggests these changes might drive us to Airbnb (to reduce shelter costs), Uber (to keep reducing transportation costs), and to pressuring health care providers for better service.

What does that mean for educators?  First, it’s a useful snapshot of how student families’ economic lives are changing, which is essential info as we consider how they can or cannot afford higher ed.  Second, it augurs greater community use of the “sharing economy.”  Third, there are implications for related academic programs, such as the full spectrum involved in allied health care.

On the labor front, this year’s report uses the term “on demand jobs.”  I think this means the gig economy, including freelancers and the sharing economy (Uber etc.).  The report sees this sector growing rapidly, and seems delighted. (163ff) At the same time the report’s final note is praise for immigration. (289-291)

Globally, Meeker’s report sees the US and China leading the world technologically.  I’m glad to see this, as I find most Americans not paying nearly enough attention to China’s rise on this score – well, on any score. (216ff, 237-261)

Focusing on America, Meeker sees “USA Inc.” as having serious economic problems. (278) Her model of the nation as business yields reports of losses and slowing growth.  Meeker repeats her earlier fears of rising debt. (285-288)  Why does this matter to educators?  It shows how the investment class views the overall economy, meaning what it thinks should be gone in the public and private sectors.  So watch this carefully.

At the level of specific technologies:

Mobile continues to grow.  One interesting measure of this is how advertising revenues and experience have changed.  Nieman Labs has a nice dive into the issue – basically, print has shrunk to a tiny die-hard core, tv is ahead but dwindling, while mobile booms.

the party continues over in Mobile Land, where usage has now blown well past the desktop Internet. It took until 2016 for all of digital (desktop + mobile) to pass TV in total ad dollars; it wouldn’t be shocking for mobile alone to pass TV this year or next.

Here’s a fun animated gif so you can track the changes:

Why does this matter for educators?  Because as I and others have been saying as far back as 2001, mobile is HUGE for education, and we need to catch up.

However, the number of new smartphone units shipped has stalled for the first time ever.  Apparently everyone who wants and can get a smartphone has one, and is looking to replace it at some point; the number of new users/owners has dried up.  Which gives rise to all kinds of questions, such as: what devices will the other half of the human race use to get online now?  Second, the Android operating system continues to dwarf iOS market share globally:

(slide 6) This causes me to wonder if the smartphone/no smartphone divide will endure for a long time, which has many implications for education (i.e., build a mobile app, yet some % of your students can’t access it?).  The huge difference in market share might suggest educators should lean towards Android.

Cloud computing: Meeker parallels the cloud with smartphones in terms of growth and impact. (181ff) For educators, it’s a reminder that our populations are increasingly friendly with cloud services.

Messaging services: they just keep growing worldwide. (slides 22, 187) Again, some educators are looking into using Snapchat et al for teaching.  The ed tech world could benefit by studying why messaging services appeal to so many people.

Automation: Google’s machine learning accuracy rate is at about human levels. (25)  At the macroeconomic level, Meeker thinks automation isn’t likely to lead to unemployment. (153ff) Actually, there’s surprisingly little on AI here, and nothing on robotics. (198-202, 225-226, 228-229)

Internet of Things: Amazon’s Alexa/Echo is experiencing wild growth:




Social media: it’s very interesting to see which platform leads in shopping.  For “product discovery” Facebook wins.  Unsurprisingly, Pinterest is in second place, tied with Instagram.  Twitter remains far behind, as it always has (Slide 71).

Why does that matter for educators?  It helps us understand how our communities view these platforms when we want to use them for academic purposes.  It might also give us insight into their respective economic viability.

On education

The report compares STEM graduation rates between the United States and China:

(slide 227) This reminds us that pressure on higher ed to keep growing STEM is continuing, and that it might increase its geopolitical content.

Meeker’s report also sees lifelong learning as important, because it ties into business needs and because it’s getting easier to offer.  The slides here mention web video and (without naming the category) MOOCs. (232-236) . Techcrunch finds an implicit message here: “Cheap Education to Fight Debt”.

What do you make of these trends, and of the report in general?

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One Response to What the Mary Meeker slides mean for the future of education

  1. Rodney Hargis says:

    Great insights, as always, Bryan.

    I look forward to the varied analyses of this data each year, and particularly appreciate your education-based take on it.

    Just a few observations/thoughts of my own.
    The amount of data generated over the course of a year is mind-boggling. 2018 marks the 150th anniversary of the invention of the first commercially successful typewriter, the Sholes and Glidden Type-Writer. Since then, the data creation rate has accelerated from a zero keystrokes per second to what I would only assume is in the billions of keystrokes per second now. (Then there’s creation of multimedia, which is another beast entirely). Prior to the invention of the typewriter, information was created (obviously), but the rate of production was significantly lower. With the means of production now quite literally in the hands of billions of people, that’s a whole lotta data being generated.

    I also wonder what it would look like if the same source data were parsed out and analyzed by social scientists instead of business analysts. It might give us (as a society) a different lens through which to see ourselves. Although, in the current political climate, genuine self-reflection is not permitted. We are, it seems, a nation hell-bent on serving the “needs” of the least needy.

    No surprise that cloud computing is becoming more widely adopted. As cloud technologies (G Suite and Office 365 most prominently) expand their penetration in the education sector, the demise of the ePortfolio as a separate tool is imminent. These tools allow for much broader collaboration and sharing than any of the previous tools. They also empower the development of multi-course/multi-disciplinary projects that could span the course of a student’s enrollment at an institution. Getting institutions and instructors to adopt such ideas and projects is the next hurdle.

    The same can be said for the mobile revolution. I’ve been in EdTech since 2007 and have spent the better part of this time preaching “mobile first” and “universal design” for course and content design/development. With the death of Flash and rise of HTML5, the mobile takeover is almost complete. But the world’s leading LMS is still running on code that, at its core, is at least a decade old (I’m being generous). As a regrettable result, many of the technological advances don’t make their way into the classroom, and when they do, they’re often obsolete.

    As I review the data, reports, and analyses, I’m most troubled by the glacial speed at which many institutions respond to these shifts. The slow adoption of mobile first strategies is a prime example of how the sector that should be leading the charge is, more often than not, behind the curve.

    But of course, you know all this, and the reasons behind it… What can I say? Preaching to the converted always has been my strong suit.

    Stay awesome.

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