Educational institutions of all levels are facing unprecedented challenges in responding to disruptive innovation in the education sector. At this point, we’re still only at the very beginning of the innovation cycle, and there is already massive change occurring. From cheap ebooks to Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to tailored-for-the-individual education offerings, there has probably never been more experimentation in the way we deliver and consume education than there is today.
While the innovations are largely good news for individual learners and would-be students, their disruptive nature means that educational institutions at all levels are going to have to become more nimble, more efficient, and more responsive to events and developments going on around them. Technology has recently brought fundamental change to so many industries – for example movies, music, retail, journalism and publishing – and now it appears to be education’s turn.
Nowhere does this apply more than to institutions of higher learning, universities and colleges in Korea and around the world, who now find themselves faced with various challenges they may not have expected. To be sure, these challenges are not all negatives. With enlightened leadership many of these institutions should be able to turn emerging innovation in their favor and ride the wave of change. Korea, in particular, already has a long history of experimenting with educational alternatives in the English language training sector. This experience could now be brought to fruition in more traditional university settings so that Korea stays ahead of the innovation curve, rather than getting buried by the rapidly-developing online education ecosystem abroad.
The New Education Ecosystem
The education ecosystem of tomorrow likely isn’t going to look anything like the education ecosystem of today. Change is coming incredibly fast, and it isn’t all being forced on students and institutions from the outside. In the U.S., which arguably has the most to lose from dramatic disruption in the higher education industry, many of the innovations seen are being brought to prominence by the very marquee universities that would seem to have the most invested in the status quo. Schools, non-profits, private companies, local and state governments, and venture investors are all taking part in building the education platforms of tomorrow.
Massively Open Online Courses
Depending on who you talk to, MOOCs are a boon or a bane. Either way, MOOCs are changing higher education as we speak. In the US, there are four large MOOC platforms: edX, Futurelearn, Coursera, and Udacity. These online-only platforms are largely in competition with each other to deliver course content (video, audio, documents) created by their brick-and-mortar university partners. edX is strongly associated with Harvard and MIT, two institutions who have invested roughly US$60 million in the company, but there are roughly 20 major educational institutions providing content to the edX platform. Coursera and Udacity are two startups who have received major funding from corporations and venture capitalists and who have tied up with many large educational institutions. Stanford University has invested in both Coursera and Udacity, while the University of Pennsylvania and Caltech have together invested almost US$4 million in Coursera. Coursera is currently delivering courses and content from 60+ educational institutions. Venture capital company Andreesen Horowitz has invested US$15 million in Udacity, while Coursera has attracted an additional US$16 million in venture investment.
Tailored Education Platforms
One of the stated goals of tailored education programs is to “flip the classroom,” which is to say, switch the way time is spent inside and outside of the classroom so that students get the same lectures from instructors just the way they used to, but can also get more personal attention from the instructor inside the classroom. This is accomplished by making the lectures available on video, to be watched outside of the classroom on the students’ own time, and using class time to work on problems under the guiding hand and watchful eye of the teacher. This changes teachers from lecturers into coaches or guides, and thereby makes education more personal and more tailored. These platforms are also hugely attractive to homeschooling programs.
Khan Academy is an independent platform developed by Salman Khan as a personal project, which organically grew to national prominence in the U.S. through YouTube. Khan Academy offers educational videos free of charge to anyone who wants to watch them, along with an accompanying progress tracking and testing application. The program is currently being used in pilot programs in several school systems in the U.S., where teachers assign videos for homework, and traditional problem-based homework is done in class. Since becoming prominent, Khan Academy, which is operating as a non-profit organization, has attracted major investment from Google and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which invested US$2 million and US$5.5 million, respectively. The money is being used to create new course content, develop testing and tracking applications, and roll-out the platform to more students worldwide by translating existing courses into various foreign languages. Institutions of higher learning who are experimenting with flipped classrooms include Boston University and Ohio State.
The move from desktop and laptop-based computing to tablet and smartphone-based computing has played right into the above trends. Mobile apps extend the course platforms above to consumers of education no matter where they are and with less required infrastructure, creating more opportunities for students to participate and use time more effectively. Heavy paper textbooks move to light ebooks, allowing richer content and more interactivity.
The possibilities of the new educational ecosystem and their attendant social benefits are attractive to a variety of actors in the U.S., who have become engaged in pushing these innovations to the forefront. As stated above, many of the most prominent educational institutions are already deeply involved. In addition, non-profit organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the American Council on Education have joined in. Pearson, owner of the Financial Times newspaper and the Penguin Group, which is a publisher of traditional textbooks, has also got on board with edX and Udacity.
Get in Now or Get Left Behind
While many have been energized by the possibilities, there are likely many who are filled with trepidation, wondering how all of this will affect them or their own educational institution. The exact path that educational institutions should follow in going from traditional education models to the models of the future is, of course, far from clear. Leaders may worry more about becoming a casualty of disruption and think less about getting a boost from innovation, thereby leading them to just do nothing. Unfortunately, doing nothing is a guaranteed recipe to be left behind.
There are potentially many ways for an organization to get involved, including creating educational content, joining or promoting a platform, starting trial programs in the classroom, integrating rich content into an existing curriculum, and extending the classroom to mobile learning apps. Those are just the low-hanging fruit. The future will bring further disruptive ideas and even greater possibilities to the classroom, like virtual reality, the Internet of Things, game-based learning, and wearable computing.
The Korea Business Leaders Alliance (KBLA) will host a seminar on September 2 entitled “Online Education and the Challenges to Higher Education.” The keynote speaker will be David W. Pershing, president of the University of Utah, with contributing speakers being Utah State Senators Stephen H. Urquhart, Keith Grover, and Eric K. Hutchings.
The KBLA is a business group serving senior leaders in Korea. For information on attending the seminar or joining the KBLA, please visit their web site.
Rodney J. Johnson and Steve McKinney are co-founders of the Korea Business Leaders Alliance.