• StratEDgy

    The StratEDgy blog is intended to be a thoughtful hub for discussion about strategy and competition in higher education.


Designing (for) Education

These past few months have been all about design.

January 20, 2014

In addition to designing and implementing several other new initiatives, I’ve been working with Dave Power to put together a two-day Design Thinking Workshop that launches in April of this year. The materials we’ve found to produce the program have been phenomenal (send me an email if you’d like the working list – or would like to contribute to the list), as have been some of the examples we’ve come across for both the outcome of and need for some very creative thinking.

One example is Airbnb, a company that connects travelers in need of a room with homeowners and apartment dwellers that have extra space. According to a recent WSJ article, this six-year old company has 500,000 properties available in nearly 200 countries and is valued at $2.5 billion.  How did it get started?  Fonder Brian Chesky, a designer educated at the Rhode Island School of Design, needed to pay the rent.  So he and his roommate bought three air mattresses and rented space in their apartment during a large conference, knowing that hotel rooms would be scarce – and expensive.  It grew from there and Airbnb is now on pace to, by the end of this year, book as many overnight stays as some of the world’s largest hotel chains.

Another example deals with education, or rather the need for a new model of education.  In the most recent issue of The Economist, there are two articles discussing how technology is rapidly changing the world of work – and permanently displacing a large number of workers. Both articles point to “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerization?,” a September 2013 paper by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne of Oxford. The paper concludes that 47% of total U.S. employment is at risk to the increasing processing and “thinking” power of computers.  

Changing the education ecosystem will be an important antidote to the displacement of a large portion of the workforce.  From The Economist’s “Coming to an Office Near You:”

“The main way in which governments can help their people through this dislocation is through education systems.  One of the reasons for the improvement in workers’ fortunes in the latter part of the Industrial Revolution was because schools were built to educate them – a dramatic change at the time.  Now those schools themselves need to be changed, to foster the creativity that humans will need to set them apart from computers.  There should be less rote-learning and more critical thinking.  Technology itself will help, whether through MOOCs (massive open online courses) or even video games that simulate the skills needed at work.”  

There has been quite a bit of experimentation with educational technologies and new business models, which I’ve written about over the past few years (see here, here, here, and here, for some of them).  So which model(s) will win?  In The Economist’s “The Onrushing Wave,” the writers summarize part of a new book, The Second Machine Age, on timing:  “Mr. Brynjolfsson and Mr. McAfee reckon that the main bottleneck on innovation is the time it takes society to sort through the many combinations and permutations of new technologies and business models.”  Sound familiar?

The education challenge may be used as one of the design challenges in the April session – one focused on wicked problems – and I suspect that some of this will also be discussed in the Strategy and Competition in Higher Education program. . . . .


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