Disrupting Higher Ed

An article from the Huffington Post today describes how established business like Blockbuster Video and taxis have been challenged by the disruptive innovations of Netflix and Uber/Lyft.

The upshot of the article is that higher education is ripe for disruption in the same style of Netflix’s emergence.  Netflix saw the new technology curve approaching and was prepared to utilize it, where Blockbuster was not.  The analogy drawn is that somewhere, someone is developing a use of technology that threatens to do the same thing to higher education that Netflix did to Blockbuster.

But where is that disruption?  Is it the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)?  Likely not.  The term “fad” is used regularly to describe MOOCs today. Despite fawning praise for their disruptive power, MOOCs have not caught on to the extent they were predicted.

Perhaps the for-profit education world?  ITT Tech failed, because of its dependence on federal financial aid. Corinthian Colleges suffered a similar fate.

Just because those two examples failed to disrupt higher education does not mean that we can believe university education is immune from disruptive forces.  Campus Technology highlights six factors that true disruptive innovations share:

1. They target people who are non-consumers or who are over-served by existing products.

2. The innovation is not as good as existing products, as judged by historical measures of performance.

3. They’re simpler to use, more convenient or affordable.

4. There is a technology enabler that can carry the new value proposition upmarket.

5. The technology is paired with a business model innovation that allows it to be sustainable.

6. Existing providers are motivated to ignore the new innovation and are not threatened at the outset.

The for-profits never had a sustainable business model and had no ability to move upmarket.  MOOCs also lacked a business model, and also neither brought non-consumers into the higher education market nor did it improve on the existing product.

Higher education can proactively fight off the disruptive forces by integrating these principles, especially the sixth.  By learning from MOOCs, for-profit entities, and our own mistakes perhaps higher education will disrupt itself.  Where is the great innovation that will disrupt higher education either from inside or out?


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