Owning the Brand Promise: Higher Education, Mega Corporations, and Mom & Pops

What do small fine arts colleges in the outer ring of the London suburbs have in common with global brands like Marriott and Toyota? Just like the big players, schools like Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance have to define and communicate their brand promise in a crowded marketplace.

Just like large and small businesses competing against each other with the latest and greatest products, higher education institutions in a MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) world are trying to find their niche and voice in online learning. I recently attended the eLearning 2.0 conference in London, and this was a major theme. The attendees from schools both large and small were wrestling with the issue of how to differentiate themselves both in their local markets and globally. The keynote speaker, Steven Warburton from the University of Surrey, talked about the need for institutions to begin to look outward from their core, and start to explore market realities and strategic partnerships if they are going to survive.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Look beyond your core products and offerings and explore what your customer base (or students) are really asking for. Or, how can you move beyond your comfort zone to solve the problems that potential customers have that they may not even know about?

So what would that mean for a school like Rose Bruford? Do a Google search on “online opera degree.” A number one Google ranking is something marketers work day after day to achieve, tweaking one strategy after the other. And Rose Bruford has that enviable position without even trying! It would not take much for Bruford to refine their marketing message to talk about being the “only” or “oldest” or “most experienced” or “innovative” online opera degree program in the world. A thoughtful buy of Google keywords would help put their ad in front of opera buffs and students worldwide. The possibilities are endless!

Or look at Edge Hill University in northwest England. While their main landing page focuses on the student experience at the physical campus, the school has an online learning star hiding in the English department. There are two huge value propositions here for Edge Hill: they know what they are doing when it comes to online education, and they teach Vampire Fictions (!). Both of these are great lead-ins to positioning themselves in the online education marketplace as both experts and content providers, something any business would love to claim.

The challenge, then, for small businesses, major corporations, and higher education institutions alike, is to find their Vampire Fiction experts and make sure that when fans Google their specialty topic, they achieve Bruford-level results success. Every penny you spend on SEO and SEM marketing should work toward building that brand identity. And supporting it with quality landing page content.

Three Archetypes of the Future Post-Secondary Instructor

Since the dawn of electronic media and its role in higher education, we have been hearing about the end of the “sage on the stage” and the emergence of the “guide on the side.”

In the past decade, we have seen many faculty members embrace the transformation of their role: delivering live video chats, facilitating online discussions in the wee hours of the morning and reviewing online student portfolios.  Yet, at the same time, many faculty have also embraced media to capture their “sage on the stage” lectures for the students in their online courses without much additional pedagogical innovation.

As we look into the next decade, we can imagine a set of online instructor archetypes that will provide a more nuanced spectrum of roles and skills originally envisioned for them.  Let’s meet the “celebrity free agent,” the “ever-connected coach” and the “course hacker.”

The Celebrity Free Agent

When Sebastian Thrun left Stanford University to start Udacity, a massive open online course (MOOC) provider, many began to wonder aloud whether this would be the end of the traditional faculty-university relationship.  If star-powered faculty at major universities could strike out on their own, or perhaps form partnerships and affiliations with each other, could they begin to erode market share from the traditional institutions?  Time will tell.  Certainly, we can expect more faculty members who have top-ranked credentials and excellent presence on-screen to leverage their expertise into powerful new educational brands. These projects will feature more knowledge dissemination than active instruction, but could easily provide both students and institutions with new options. Evidenced by the 100,000+ students registered for Thrun’s MOOC offered through Udacity, or the recent online course project between Clay Christensen and the University of Phoenix, one can see how the traditional measures of faculty-institutional loyalties will be challenged in the next decade.

The Ever-Connected Coach

For many instructors without the star-power of a Thrun or Christensen, the online environment will provide other opportunities for role differentiation. This archetype is the closest to the notion of the “guide on the side.” Using a wide range of social media and networking tools, the Ever-Connected Coach can shift from disseminator of knowledge to learning coach. They might provide an ongoing stream of articles, tips and insights via Twitter. They could form user communities made up of current and past students and employers on LinkedIn to help students master skills that increase their employability, as well as build networks to help them succeed post-course and post-graduation. Conceivably, these instructors might realize they too could break formal ties with the institution, allowing them a more flexible and mobile lifestyle. The next-generation model is similar to that of StraighterLine, a low-cost online education provider, but focused on providing institutions with an in-demand pool of online instructors (excluding the ready-made course content), organized by discipline and highly trained in a set of online, social and mobile tools that maximize learner engagement and retention. An institution looking to scale a program might pair a celebrity faculty member or MOOC with a team of instructors or coaches from an online provider to add a higher level of engagement.

The Course Hacker

The last and perhaps most speculative role of the future online instructor will be the person who digs deep into the data that will be available from next generation learning systems to target specific learning interventions to specific students — at scale. The idea of the Course Hacker is based on the emerging role of the Growth Hacker at high-growth web businesses. Mining data from web traffic, social media, email campaigns, etc., the Growth Hacker is constantly iterating a web product or marketing campaign to seek rapid growth in users or revenue. Adapted to online education, the Course Hacker would be a faculty member with strong technical and statistical skills who would study data about which course assets were being used and by whom, which students worked more quickly or slowly, which questions caused the most problems on a quiz, who were the most socially active students in the course, who were the lurkers but getting high marks, etc.  Armed with those deep insights, they would be continually adapting course content, providing support and remedial help to targeted students, creating incentives to motivate people past critical blocks in the course, etc.

In the coming decade, faculty will have a range of tools to make content more accessible and engaging, better platforms and systems to connect with learners (and connect learners to each other and the broader world) and more data than they ever imagined about how students learn. While some may choose to further specialize with respect to how they teach online — going deep — many will incorporate some aspects of each of these archetypes and become even more effective online instructors, ever-seeking to improve learning outcomes.

Guest Post on The Evolllution


Entergy Corporation Renews Partnership with eCornell

Integrated energy company offers online learning as a professional development option

Entergy Corporation, an integrated energy company, has renewed its partnership with eCornell to help employees meet their professional development goals.

By offering the entire eCornell portfolio of courses and certificate programs, Entergy can give managers throughout the United States access to Ivy League learning and development.  Subject areas include leadership and management development, human resources and financial acumen.

eCornell’s unique approach to elearning combines the most effective elements of a world-class, Ivy League classroom with the flexibility of an online learning environment. eCornell courses—self-paced and 100 percent online—are “instructor-facilitated” to help guide a cohort of 20 to 30 participants through challenging, real-world exercises with practical on-the-job application. Classes enable learners to be immersed in learning that also fosters collaboration, interaction, and networking.

“We are pleased have continued our relationship with Entergy,” said Tom Abogabal, vice president, global sales for eCornell. “We are glad to be a part of Entergy’s mission to empower their talent across the organization and be a part of their professional development portfolio.”

About eCornell

eCornell, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Cornell University, provides many of the world’s leading organizations with online professional and executive development in the areas of leadership and management, human resources, financial management, healthcare, marketing, and hospitality management. eCornell’s proven course development model and asynchronous instructor-led course delivery provide for engaging, rigorous, and interactive learning. The company has delivered online courses to more than 50,000 students in over 180 countries. For more information visit ecornell.cornell.edu/enterprise (enterprise buyers) or ecornell.cornell.edu (small groups and individual students).

About Entergy Corporation

Entergy Corporation, which celebrates its 100th birthday in 2013, is an integrated energy company engaged primarily in electric power production and retail distribution operations. Entergy owns and operates power plants with approximately 30,000 megawatts of electric-generating capacity, including more than 10,000 megawatts of nuclear power, making it one of the nation’s leading nuclear generators. Entergy delivers electricity to 2.8 million utility customers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. Entergy has annual revenues of more than $10 billion and approximately 15,000 employees.

The Evolving Online Course: Can a Course Get Smarter As It Ages?

Much has been written about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and their potential to change how people access course content, and discussions abound on how faculty might change their style of teaching and how learning might become more personalized. These questions are an extension of the ongoing dialogue related to the potential opportunities afforded by online education.

One of the untapped areas of potential for schools, faculty and students is how to best take advantage of the digital assets created during the development and delivery of online courses. If you begin to think “outside the box” of the traditional course, or even the traditional online course, you quickly identify a variety of potential issues with how we use, re-use and re-combine these digital assets, which could lie at the heart of a future transformation of the course.

What is a course and who owns it?

Faculty members have traditionally been good curators of content, aligning readings and guest speakers with their own lecture topics to create a unified course. The faculty member regularly updates lecture content, adapts new reading lists and chooses new textbooks as new material becomes available.

In the digital environment, the faculty member now has a much broader menu of options for course content, increasingly supported by the learning management system being used by his or her institution, which makes it easier to integrate, link and embed third-party content into the course. Some of these options take the more traditional form (such as e-textbooks and journal articles) while others include online assets such as blogs, wikis and RSS feeds. Over the past several years, faculty members have had access to content from various open educational resource repositories, as well as YouTube or iTunesU videos. Added to this list now are MOOCs, which could serve as rich course material sources or pre-requisites, depending on the platform being used. Lastly, the new format for online courses has led to an explosion of student-generated content. Student discussion posts, blogs, tweets, etc. from prior courses could also become a rich set of new content.

For administrators, the questions will arise:

  • “Where does the definition of what counts as course material stop and start?”
  • “What ownership does the faculty member have over the course, its content and its design?”
  • “How does this new world of aggregation change how we think about stipends and other compensation for course development?”

New opportunities for aggregation and social sharing

Indeed, some of these issues related to IP ownership, rights and access have been part of the discussion for many years. And, certainly, the creation of a fully digital course is nothing new in some circles. But where it gets really interesting is when you factor in the ability to aggregate the student-generated and socially-shared content of an online course.

One of the unique characteristics of an online course, compared with a classroom course, is the digital footprint created by the students and the faculty member. At eCornell, where we typically offer short courses (two to four weeks long), each session is still populated with hundreds of unique discussion posts and dozens of student-created projects, papers and other assignments by the end of the course. Recent attention and focus has been turned to the field of learning analytics and tools like Knewton that can help faculty identify students in need, and offer more targeted and personalized content based on the aggregation of data on the student’s progress in the course. While interesting in its own right, I think there is another, more interesting use of student data.

When we move beyond the binary distinctions of faculty member and student, and instead look at everyone as having the role of a contributor to the learning experience, you can ask new questions. What if you could systematically capture, tag, anonymize, analyze and aggregate the various types of student contributions to an online course, such as discussion posts, blog posts, tweets, projects and assignments? The result could be a new set of course assets, based entirely on the insights, wisdom and questions of students. In professional programs, you could create “Best Practices” or new types of Case Studies that draw on the real-world experiences of those in the class. As enrollments in a particular course grow (through a MOOC, for example), or as you aggregate contributions from multiple sessions of a course, you have the opportunity for a true “wisdom of crowds” type of learning experience.

In essence, what if a course could actually get “smarter” in each successive running, not solely based on the updates of the faculty member, but based on the knowledge, insights and experience of prior students? Imagine a course with new assets that could reflect recent trends drawn from the diversity of its students. This could could enable the construction of new knowledge in a way that is possible but may not be happening in a systemic way.

Of course, there are questions

Do the students have to explicitly consent to the use of their contributed materials in this way? What types of tools do we need to aggregate and analyze this unstructured “big data”? How should faculty members adapt their own teaching and content to best leverage this student-generated content? Are they comfortable with this latest evolutionary step, which turns them from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side”? Do institutions see this type of learning as a competitive advantage or disruptive threat?

With so much hype about the disruptive potential of video-captured lectures (arguably a significantly old technology) and the transformative effects of blending digital content with human-powered learning (a not-so-recent development), I suggest we turn our attention to figuring out how to do things in the online environment that take advantage of its unique ability to capture learning that truly reflects the collective knowledge of the learning community.

Guest Post on The Evolllution


5 Ways Technology Will Impact Higher Ed in 2013

2012 was a transformative year in education.   Between the introduction of the MOOC (the ‘Massive Open Online Course’), and the explosive growth in the number of online offerings, all eyes were on higher ed. In the past twelve months, students were increasingly able to learn from leading faculty at elite institutions beyond the four walls of their classrooms, and soon, professors will be collaborating across universities to collectively create and distribute for-credit curriculum for an online semester.  New high growth players entered the online education marketplace, and universities began to align around interactive platforms.  As online certificate programs became more robust and hyper-targeted towards professional development, more and more students looked to gain these credentials as a differentiator in the work force.

After such a dynamic year, the discussion naturally turns to what the higher education environment of 2013 will look like and to what extent it will be impacted by technology.

Based on what we’re seeing at eCornell and in the wider online education eco-system, here are a few predictions for what can be expected in the coming twelve months.

1. Growth in Online Education will be particularly strong In the Top Tier

2013 will be a year of big growth for online education.  However, the growth will not be purely measured in terms of enrollment in online programs.  In fact, over the last two years, enrollment in the for-profit education sector was down and industry giants such as the University of Phoenix announced the closure of some of its facilities.  So where will the growth be?  In 2013 we expect to see a concentration of growth in top tier universities.  Over the last two years, the number of top-tier Universities with at least some online activity has more than doubled, in large part due to MOOCs.  That said, the availability of other credit and non-credit programming from highly selective schools has also increased significantly.   This is something that is on track to continue in 2013, as these late-adopting schools move online.

2. Expect to See More Innovation Around “Flipping the Classroom”

Gone are the days when students need to pile into large auditorium just to hear a lecture.  By leveraging online platforms, lectures can now be pre-recorded and core content accessed by students any time, anywhere, and as many times as they need.  This means that classroom time can instead be used to augment the lecture content, whether through discussion, group exercises or quizzes.  Also, since online platforms provide faculty with learner analytics, faculty now have even greater data on who is learning, what they are learning and how. So, the design of the classroom course is now ripe for innovation.  This will create opportunities as universities continue to hone in on the most effective formats for learning in the digital age while they re-think how to better use classroom time and space.

3. Next Year’s Buzz Words are ‘Hybrid Program’

Everyone was talking about the MOOC this past year as the notion of an online course offering with infinite capacity captured the attention and imagination of the education industry. Nevertheless, facts show that MOOC’s still make up a very small portion of courses at most schools and that won’t change in 2013.   Plus, there are still a number of fundamental questions surrounding this model—what will be the cost to sustain MOOCs over time, will these courses count for credit and if and how will they be packaged together into a certificate or degree program? That said,the hybrid model (where part of a program is taught online and part is taught in person) is one that we can expect to see more fully embraced in this coming year.  Faculty will still have the ability to interact with and assess directly their students while still leveraging some of the efficiencies of putting lecture and other course content online.  For adult and working professional students, this model provides even greater flexibility as students can access course material as their schedule permits.   Finally, this allows institutions to experiment with increasing their online programming without fully turning away from their tried and true model.

4. The Race Will Be On For A New Instructional Model.

As lecture content is moved online, instructors will be able to re-think the classroom experience.  A new model for peer-to-peer and peer-to-faculty interaction will need to be created, as this is one of the most fundamental components of classroom learning. There is a huge opportunity for instructors to create a more in-depth learning experience, whether by incorporating real-time discussions with industry experts or building small group experiences online, all of which may allow for more personalization of courses to students’ needs.  The beauty of teaching analytics is that teachers will have real time information on how students learn and can augment future plans accordingly.  While this is a budding area of exploration and one where schools will need to invest in discovery, once they ‘crack the code’, it opens the door to a much more effective as well as potentially more scalable model.

5. Higher Ed Costs May Start to Decrease…But Not Quite Yet.

One of the greatest costs in higher education is faculty.  The notion that faculty can increasingly reach a greater of number of students in their ‘classrooms’ means the per unit cost of teaching a student could start to decrease, but only if you can achieve similar or better learning outcomes, and simply moving lecture content online will not solve the cost problem.  Yet as institutions experiment with the pedagogical formula of what content is delivered online, how peer-to-faculty interact in both the online and “flipped-classroom” environments, and faculty explore new models of assessment, some institutions could potentially find educational models that begin to bend the cost curve. The first step is to continue to nurture faculty across the country to embrace online teaching, and from there we just may see a shift in the business of education.  The introduction of MOOCs in 2012 was an important first step forward in that direction.

Think it Through: Technical Considerations of Corporate Partnerships

University-corporate partnerships can offer higher education institutions many benefits, including exposure to new revenue channels, networking relationships with corporate partners, and continuing educational programming for professionals. However, before engaging in a corporate strategy, there are several technical considerations (and decisions) to evaluate.

Businesses tend to rely pretty heavily on data to drive business decisions. When a company sponsors training and development, they want assurance that their learning programs lead to measurable performance outcomes. To this end, universities should evaluate their data-sharing strategy for corporate partnerships.

Here are a few reasons why data sharing is mutually beneficial for both the university and corporate partner:

  • Aligns university-provided courses and content with company-defined competencies for individual employees
  • Improves visibility about aggregate outcomes from company-sponsored programs with an institution
  • Simplifies the user experience for employees by integrating (aka “federating”) university learning system logins and passwords with employer-based systems
  • Expedites enrollment and payment processing

Once you have determined the reasons for sharing data with your corporate partners, there are several technical questions you now need to ask, including:

  • What are the technical considerations and risks associated with data sharing? How can they be avoided?
  • What kinds of data should be shared and how should it be protected?
  • Should third-party system integration be considered?

Build Your University-Corporate Strategy

Prior to the late nineties, many university-corporate partnerships were relatively simple, from a technology perspective. In a typical relationship, a corporate student would enroll and attend an on-campus program, and upon successful completion, the institution would issue a credential to the student and provide a transcript back to the corporate partner to go in to their HR file. In some instances, the institution would tailor curricula specifically for corporate partners to meet organization-learning goals. From a technical perspective, this was still a very simple, analog transaction.

Move forward to today, the technical landscape in both the university and corporate learning environments are vastly different—and technically complex.

For example, let’s compare two complimentary systems implemented in most higher and corporate education environments today:

Example 1: Information Management Systems

  • Higher Ed: Most institutions have implemented Student Information Systems (SIS) such as DestinyOne to manage student data across the institution.
  • Corporate: Most organizations have implemented similar Enterprise Resource Planning(ERP) systems such as SAP or Oracle to manage data across the organization, typically including learning and HR data for employees.

Although these systems are similar in function, they serve different organizational needs.

Example 2: Course Management and Delivery Systems

  • Higher Ed: Most institutions have now implemented Course Management Systems (CMS)such as BlackboardMoodle or Canvas that allow schools to augment and flip traditional classroom learning, providing an option for institutions to develop and deliver online distance learning courses.
  • Corporate: Similarly, the majority of corporate organizations have implementedLearning Management Systems (LMS) that allow corporations to administer, track, report and deliver online education courses or training programs—developed both internally and externally.

Much like SIS’ and ERPs, these systems perform similar functions. However, they also serve different organizational needs.  

Bridging the Data Divide

As shown in the above examples, most universities and corporations have implemented systems to manage data and learning within their respective environments. So, it should be easy to share data between these two environments, right? Well, not exactly.

Many of these systems share technical standards intended for interoperability and sharing of data across systems (e.g. single sign-on, encryption, API, etc). However, many are not designed to seamlessly bridge the university-corporate divide out-of-the-box.

Every institution and technical environment is unique, and there is no single, correct strategy. Therefore, it’s important for each institution to carefully weigh its university-corporate objectives against its mission, technical infrastructure and resources.

Although there are many factors to consider, the following represent some of the most common technical areas that universities should evaluate before launching their corporate strategy:

Course Delivery

How you intend to deliver your programs to corporate partners can greatly impact the technical factors your institution must consider.  Will you offer Classroom, Online and/or Blended?  Depending upon your approach, consider some of the following questions:

A. Classroom:

  • Can corporate partners batch enroll students?
  • Will partners receive completion data? What formats?

B. Online:

  • Can corporate partners automatically enroll students?
  • How will students access your online system?
  • How will learning data be shared? What methods and formats?

C. Blended (Classroom and Online).

  • Will a blended approach offer consistency for classroom and online?

Student Information

Assuming student data needs to be shared between university-corporate systems, what information is commonly shared/desired by corporate partners? What common data fields and formats?

Which information and just how much of it should be considered carefully when sharing with a partner system. Here are some common data elements shared with partner organizations:

  • Enrollment and payment processing
  • Basic student profile information
  • Registration information
  • Assignment and course completion information
  • Attendance and basic transactional activity

Although this information is typical, corporate partners are becoming more accustomed to having analytics, interactive reports and behavioral/social data (student to student, student to instructor) available for reporting or data analysis. Therefore, institutions need to carefully evaluate the data they are willing and able to share with corporate partners, while considering future data requirements.

When sharing data between a higher education institution and a corporation, it is important to determine and define accountability.

Third-party Integration

Many institutions and corporate organization maintain various third-party systems that relate to employee learning.

For example, consider some of the following third-party integrations:

Human Capital Management.Many corporate organizations have implemented Human Resource Management (HRMS) and Human Capitol Management (HCM) systems such as Workday or SuccessFactors to manage employees, including the mapping of learning outcomes to career advancement, competencies, and rewards.

Enterprise Social Networks. With the advent of consumer social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, many organizations have implemented Enterprise Social Networks such as Yammer or Chatter that allow coworkers to follow each other and share updates, including learning achievements.

Industry Certifications. Many industries have developed their own set of recognized learning credentials such as the Project Management Institute (PMI) or Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) that allow institutions to map their outcomes to core certification requirements.

Is Human Capital Management important to your core corporate prospects? Do your programs align to industry-specific certifications or competencies to provide additional value to corporate partners? Is social networking important to your prospects?

Depending upon your overall university-corporate strategy and prospective partners, your institution may want to consider integration with other third-party systems.


Whether your institution decides to offer programs via classroom or online, most of your corporate partners will want to either send and/or receive data from your systems, such as single sign-on for online students, automatic enrollment, student results, etc. Therefore, to do this in a secure (and compliant) manner, you’ll need to determine the authentication methods you will offer to your corporate partners.

If you plan to offer online delivery, most organizations (like yours) want to avoid employees maintaining separate usernames and passwords for various systems. To solve this, most organizations use single sign-on to seamlessly log users into internal and third-party systems. This can also be used for non-human interaction with systems, where one application talks with another to share data.

Everyone does not use the same authentication methods. However, there are several authentication protocols (aka “federated authentication”) that allow organizations to authenticate with each other across the web, such as CASADFS, and Crowd. If you’re just getting started, there are also cloud-based “identity” providers to consider, such as PingIdentity and Okta that strive to make these interactions easier.

Data Security and Privacy

What are the security, personal identification and privacy issues that need to be considered in a university-corporate partnership? Security is one of the most important and overlooked areas surrounding integration between systems and organizations. And, as a result of serious data breaches over the past decade, there are now several information security regulations that require it, including:

Your first reaction might be; why do we need to be concerned with non-education specific security regulations such as PCI or HIPAA? Well, if you are accepting payments (e.g. PCI) and sharing data with corporate partners (e.g. SOX), they are responsible for maintaining compliance with all information and data systems.

No two information security policies look alike, and chances are one or both parties will have to compromise on one issue or another. Depending on the nature of the relationship, accountability is one of the most important issues to consider. Defining accountability will determine who is ultimately responsible for data loss, breach or other failure due to software or system vulnerability.

Therefore, it’s important for your institution to perform a risk analysis of the integration point(s) you’re considering sharing with your corporate partners, so that both parties are fully aware of their security requirements and shared responsibility.

Every institution and working environment is unique. There are myriad technical considerations and few easy solutions when working with corporate partners.

So it’s important that you carefully evaluate your overall strategy, resources, and systems to determine what’s best for both university and corporate partners.

Corporate partnerships can be fruitful and bring about huge beneficial change. But institutions need to weigh their ability and understand very clearly their capacity to meet the technical needs/requirements of the corporate environment.


Learning Technologies & Transforming Your Workforce

Join eCornell and Connie Malamed, industry veteran and publisher of the popular blogazine, The eLearning Coach, as she spotlights trends that have the potential to provide more meaningful and relevant learning experiences to your workforce.

This webinar will help your organization—from executives and managers to IT departments and training professionals—prepare for future generations of independent and active learners.

Tue, Jan 17, 2012 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM EST

The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out, by Clayton M. Christensen and Henry J. Eyring

Perhaps no idea has captivated the imagination of change agents within higher ed to the same degree as Christensen’s theory of “disruptive innovation.” His central observation is that seemingly invulnerable incumbents are displaced not by evolutionary better technologies, what Christensen calls “sustaining innovations,” but by cheaper and simpler technologies that are initially of lower quality. Over time, the simpler and cheaper technology improves to a point that it displaces the incumbent. Large companies are designed to produce sustaining innovations, and can seldom introduce the disruptive innovations that will result in lower profits and service levels in the short-to-medium term.

According to Christensen and Eyring, online learning is a classic disruptive innovation. Initially of lower quality than traditional face-to-face courses, the quality of online learning has progressed to a point where its cost advantages (both in fixed and opportunity costs) are set to disrupt the incumbent providers of higher ed. Institutions that figure out how to lower costs while increasing access and quality, through a combination of blended and online learning and a focus on student needs, will replace colleges and universities that fail to embrace the new technology and/or do not re-organize around the demands of non-traditional, adult and digitally savvy learners.

The Innovative University builds its case for the coming disruption of higher ed, one in which “consumers” (students) have far greater educational choice, through a close examination of the evolution of both Harvard and BYU-Idaho. The authors’ goal is demonstrate how the Harvard model rose to pre-eminence, and why this model makes a poor choice for emulation. Harvard and a few other wealthy institutions of higher learning can afford to bundle discovery research (in every subject) with teaching (in every major). For schools lacking billion dollar endowments, the design of BYU-Idaho, with its emphasis on teaching and learning and its aggressive use of blended and online learning, may be a better model.

Read the full article.

NY Times Expands Involvement in Online Learning

The New York Times Company plans to continue its slow advance into the realm of higher education, teaming with with the University of Southern California this fall to offer continuing-education programs in an effort to tap a growing market of adults looking to pick up new skills.

The new programs will comprise sequences of online courses taught by USC faculty through the Times Company’s online learning platform. While the programs will not count toward any degree, they represent the media company’s first foray into multicourse online sequences intended to confer a coherent body of knowledge. And that is yet another step toward full-fledged degree programs, which are coming, according to Felice Nudelman, the company’s executive director of education.

The Times Company, which has seen its annual revenues fall by about 30 percent in the last five years, has waded into the waters of higher education more deliberately than some of its peers—most notably the Washington Post Company, which now pays for its journalism operations largely off the back of Kaplan Inc., one of the country’s largest degree-granting enterprises.

To the extent that credentials are what many online learners want for their money, the Times Company’s new collaboration with USC represents a step backward from the certificate programs it is undertaking with institutions such as Fairleigh Dickinson University and Ball State University.

But Nudelman says the Times believes there is also a market for lifelong learners who are willing to pay to learn for learning’s sake. USC already runs face-to-face, noncredit continuing education courses that it says are profitable. The idea would be for the Times Company to help USC increase the scale of those programs by offering them online, while bolstering them by letting instructors draw on the New York Timesarchive and occasionally tap Times journalists for guest lectures.

There will be seven programs and 40 courses total in the NYT/USC partnership. The programs are in architecture, arts and culture, cinematic arts, global health, American politics, business and leadership, and executive education in business. There will also be a program in journalism aimed at high school students. But for the most part, the programs are tailored toward students “probably in their mid-20s through late 50s,” says Eileen Kohan, executive director of continuing education at USC. The length and price vary by course, but most last about four weeks and cost between $195 and $275, she says. Courses commence October 13.

Read the full article.


Disruptive Innovation and Higher Education

Clayton M. Christensen, the Robert and Jane Cizik Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, coined the term “disruptive innovation” in a series of books (among them The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution) that examined how technological changes altered existing markets for key products and services, usually by lowering prices or making them available to a different (and usually broader) audience. While Christensen’s early work focused on manufacturing industries and commercial services like restaurants, he and his colleagues, in their more recent studies, have turned to key social enterprises such as K-12 education and health care.

. . . [W]hile the complex and multifaceted higher education “system” has grown and expanded its role over time, the authors argue, it has done so largely without any major disruption to the pattern in which colleges and universities are rewarded largely based on selectivity, research and wealth. Given that definition of “quality,” reinforced by rankings and other proxy measures, most institutions join the chase up that ladder.

Though those circumstances have “rendered higher education impossible to disrupt in the past,” the situation is changing, the authors write. Policy makers are demanding that they enroll and successfully educate many more students at a time when their “economic model is already broken”—with public pressure mounting against increasing tuitions and their ability to use “government dollars, . . . endowments and gifts . . . to paper over cost increases” waning, Horn said.

That environment creates an opening for the “disruptive innovation” that has unfolded in so many other industries, from airlines to health care, the authors write. . . . This is typically accomplished through what the authors call an “upwardly scalable technology driver.”

A set of institutions—many, but not all, of them for-profit—have grown significantly over the years by embracing online education more than their peers. Online learning, the authors write, “constitutes such a technology driver” and is essential, they say, as policy makers shift their focus away from “how we can enable more students to afford higher education no matter the cost” and toward “how we can make a quality postsecondary education affordable.

The key question the authors pose is whether traditional institutions can adapt themselves enough to fill this role or “whether community colleges, for-profit universities and other entrant organizations aggressively using online learning will do it instead — and ultimately grow to replace many of today’s traditional institutions.”

. . . [T]he report acknowledges . . . that the expansion-through-disruption they envision will be meaningful and productive only if students receive an education that is both affordable and of high quality “that delivers on a student’s given job.”

One possible way to do so, the authors write, would be to create a new index that would allow innovative institutions to gain access to federal student aid not through accreditation, but by meeting a new set of metrics.

The “quality-value index formula,” as they call it, would rate an institution on four measures:

  • Its 90-day job-placement or school-placement rate.
  • A ratio determined through dividing the increase in its students’ salaries over a period of time after leaving the college by a measure of students’ cost (such as the total cost of attendance or revenue per student).
  • An alumni satisfaction rating (“would you repeat your experience at X university?”).
  • Its cohort default rate.

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