Universities beware, disruptive innovation is here

I just finished a truly inspiring podcast: George Mehaffy on Medieval Models, Agrarian Calendars, and 21st-Century Imperatives. It was also terrifying for someone who just began a career in HigherEd :). Super short version: Universities beware, your industry is about to be Disrupted.

Wikipedia reminds us that…

Disruptive Innovation – An innovation that creates a new market by applying a different set of values, which ultimately (and unexpectedly) overtakes an existing market. (E.g., the lower priced Ford Model T)


  • Telegraph destroyed the Pony Express
  • Digital music is overturning the record labels
  • Websites, blogs, and twitter are destroying the newspaper industry

In each case new players with radically different (and cheaper) cost structures go head-to-head with industry giants and win. Why? The Giants cannot adapt without cutting their own throats, so they march off to death. \

The podcast does a wonderful job showing that the Giants of traditional HigherEd are heading the same way. Why? Universities have a legacy cost structure they cannot easily toss aside that is VERY EXPENSIVE: small classes, taught by extremely specialized and expensive artisans (professors) at extremely expensive facilities… meanwhile people like Udacity, Coursera, Open University, and so many others, are finding ways to teach 10x as many students in 1/2 the time with better results.

My college experience was not terribly different than the one my parents had, and that in turn was not radically different than the one open to generations before them. But I think my 4-year-old daughter will have a HigherEd experience radically different. That is both exciting and terrifying to think about.

For anyone interested in this field, I highly recommend the podcast. Listen here.

One thought on “Universities beware, disruptive innovation is here

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s