What a $4,000 Treadmill Means for the Future of Higher Education

Peloton’s home-based fitness classes, online education, and the new death of distance.

January 11, 2018

Do you remember when we once believed in the death of distance? The end of the tyranny of geography?

The web was going to solve all of our propinquity problems. We’d telecommute. (Although not with telephones, but with web meetings and whatever came before Slack).

As we all know, the death of distance failed to materialize. Distance, it turns out, didn’t want to die.

Rather than all of us moving to where the housing is most affordable, able to live where we want while working remotely, most of us have to live where we work. Remote working, while still practiced by a fiercely dedicated tribe of true-believers (and their managers), never hit the critical mass that so many of us predicted.

All that may be about to change.

The weak signal for this shift is not some new report on telecommuting. Rather, it is a $4,000 treadmill.

Peloton is a hardware fitness company with a content and social soul. Today, you can $2,000 stationary bike from Peloton, and then pay $39 a month to participate in spinning classes from your home. This fall, runners will be able to purchase a $4,000 Peloton treadmill with a 32-inch screen, and then through a monthly subscription be able to join in customized fitness classes.

The genius of Peloton is that it combines the best of working out at a gym, the instructors and the social elements of exercising together in a single place, with the convenience of exercising from home.

We will see more combinations of products and services like Peloton in the future. The combination of hardware, software, a fast network, and an understanding of the social nature of our brains will create a whole new class of services.

The idea that the death of distance is finally on the horizon has some big implication for higher education.

If the social and fitness experience of going to a high-end gym can be replicated without the need to leave home, then how far are we from doing the same with learning?

What combination of hardware, software, and social interactions do we need to re-create the seminar through our online learning platforms?

The reality is that premium online education exists today. Courses that are immersive, interactive, and social - built on intimate and rigorous interactions with professors and fellow learners.

The challenge is that the perception of online learning still lags behind the reality of online learning. The quality of online education has increased at a faster rate than this shift can be understood and assimilated by those involved in higher education.

Like the $4,000 Peloton treadmill, high quality online education will not be cheap. Online education can facilitate a close relationships between professors and students (and students and students), but it does not scale very well.

The best online education is small online education. Small classes. Highly supported faculty. Lots of coaching and mentoring for the students.

Still, even an expensive high quality online education can save money by avoiding paying for new buildings. A good quality online education does not come cheap, but choosing to learn online may end up making sense for those with high opportunity costs.  (Those with jobs and families).

Few people may want to shell out $4,000 for a Peloton treadmill. That is fine, as what Peloton will do is help to create a new industry of hardware+software+social. Costs will come down as consumer choice increases.

Those colleges and universities that are smart will figure out how to build capabilities in this new world of non-physical (non-residential) premium experiences.

Peloton, and whatever comes next, will also force gyms to up their game. Gyms will not close, but they will need to change. They will need to figure out how to differentiate from an experience like Peloton. Expect gym amenities to also begin to improve.

We will see a similar path with residential higher education. The coming enhancements to the online learning experience will force residential models of education to evolve and differentiate. Expect better classrooms, nicer campuses, and improved residential learning as the result.

What year do you think that online education will cross-over to become the dominant mode of higher education?

How do you think residential institutions will change to compete with ever higher quality options in online learning?

Would you ever pay $4,000 for a treadmill?


Be the first to know.
Get our free daily newsletter.


Back to Top