Education and Skills

Education should be like everything else. An on-demand service

A graduating student of the City College of New York takes a selfie of the message on her cap during the College's commencement ceremony in the Harlem section of Manhattan, New York, U.S., June 3, 2016

Notes from Netflix ... should we binge-watch our education? Image: REUTERS/Mike Segar

Nathan Schultz
President of Learning Services, Chegg
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Education and Skills?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Digital Communications is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Digital Communications

This article is part of: Annual Meeting of the New Champions

Education has long been linked to national economic competitiveness. Most debates have focused on what subjects are taught - and many in the US correctly argue we need to further invest in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) teaching. That is important, but we also need to revisit not just the ‘what’ of education but how it is delivered, especially for the modern student. In the US, 40% of college students are now over the age of 25, and – according to recent data from Chegg’s State of the Student report – a quarter of students have a child.

They also have different expectations. Today’s students order a Lyft when they want to go from point A to point B rather than waiting for a cab. They stream shows on Netflix and songs on Spotify, rather than wait for the next episode to air or their favorite song to come on the radio. Today’s students are living in a system that is different from the one I grew up in – and our educational system hasn’t caught up.

The fact is, 44% of recent college graduates between 22 and 27 work in jobs that do not require a college degree. Few course curricula reflect the current trends in technology. Traditional college programs are rigid and confining. For the 73% of students who work while in college (according to Chegg data), attending class five days a week at a specific time is challenging, if not impossible. Operating within a constraining educational system can be a bit of a culture shock, especially for the younger generation who grew up in a time where so many things are available on demand.

Image: NCES (2009, 2015), UCLA Higher Education Research Institute (2015, 2016), Institute for Women’s Policy Research (2014); Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce (2015); Chegg estimates

Students aren’t studying in the afternoons after class or on weekends; our internal data shows that the typical student’s primary learning time is 9pm. And while our data demonstrates that one of the primary ways students access material is on their phones or mobile devices, many professors still prohibit students from using these devices in the classroom.

Simply put, today’s educational system is incompatible with the needs of the modern student.

Online education has long been championed as a way to scale education to those who cannot access traditional institutions. Students in India can take robotics classes at Harvard through EdX, while rural villages in Ghana use video to access quality teachers. However, with the costs of higher education continuing to rise, online education also represents an opportunity to dramatically lower costs. Allowing students to learn when and where suits them allows them to stop choosing between ‘learning and earning’, and lowers the burden on traditional institutions that are not designed to cater to thousands of learners.

Most students go to college to become a positive contributor to society and an active participant in life. But we’re letting them down. In the US we are expecting students to borrow tens of thousands of dollars to earn a degree to go to a particular place at a particular time to learn. This is in an age when everything in their lives, such as entertainment, transport and food, comes to them at any time of day.

Rather than telling students to borrow the money and hope there’s a job that will help pay off their debt, we should be using technology to both reduce their costs and to accelerate the time from learning to earning with on-demand education and curricula that prepare them for the jobs of the future. In many ways, the idea of going to a certain place at a certain time to learn seems anachronistic. Why can’t we binge watch our education?

Have you read?

The millions of students who use our services do it because they can learn better, at more convenient times, the way they want to. We need to realign the educational system to enable students to learn the same way they do everything else in their lives.

As the US election cycle gears up, all candidates are discussing how college education needs to be less expensive, more relevant and more productive. It needs to represent the diversity of students we are serving today and must prepare them for the jobs employers need to fill, both today and into the future. We need to reduce the cost of college so students can participate fully and freely in society after they graduate. Technology is the solution.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Bringing back curiosity: How digital tools can help us rethink education

Rahmin Bender-Salazar, Breanne Pitt and Christian Roth

June 13, 2024

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum