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


Disruption and Implications

There was an interesting article in Forbes last week, “Disruption: Coming Soon to a University Near You.” 

January 25, 2012

There was an interesting article in Forbes last week, “Disruption: Coming Soon to a University Near You.” 

In the article, author Bill Fischer discusses some of the familiar critiques of higher education (e.g., high costs, impractical learning, poor job prospects) and how many of the non-traditional offerings (e.g., Kahn Academy, Stanford’s online course in Artificial Intelligence, TED lectures) are very different from what is currently offered in higher education.  And that this is as it should be, since a disruptive force challenges the incumbent firms’ most deeply held assumptions. 

So we should expect new players entering the fray and cutting into traditional university revenue streams, increasing importance given to brand recognition, market consolidation, the evolution toward modularized learning, and an increasing demand for certificates, perhaps at the expense of diplomas.  Scary scenarios if you’re a traditional university – and exciting vistas for those in the disruption business. 

Then less than a week later we have a potentially game-changing example – the launch of Know Labs after the success of Stanford’s above-mentioned artificial intelligence course.   Know Labs will offer inexpensive online courses by academic and industry luminaries, delivered online to large audiences. Now the interesting part: according to the Know Labs founders, when they asked people in the artificial intelligence community what was more important in “certifying” knowledge – the reputation of the instructor or the reputation of the institution – those in the AI world said it was the reputation of the instructor. 

Wow. What if the reputation of the instructor trumps the reputation of the institution? Although I doubt it’s true in a large number of cases, it may be true in just enough cases. And if so, this could be big.

Are many of the assumptions about who colleges and universities serve, how they serve them, what schools think they’re “selling” and what students (and the recruiters that hire them) think they’re “buying” becoming increasingly out of alignment?  If true, it reminds me of a quote I heard several years ago (source unknown):  “Most failed companies weren’t murdered; they committed suicide.” Failing to heed the signs and adapt to a changing environment is rarely a winning strategy. Just ask Kodak.  

What do you think?


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