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Digital Disruption in Education

The World today is thriving on disruption or so, the IT or the innovation honchos would want us to believe. Our digital life styles have lead us to believe that everything innovated must also be digital. Is digital disruption really a euphemism for invention? Building a better digital contraption, as it were, does not automatically lead to digital disruption. Digital transformation is another we hear often these days, for which, each one of us have a definition that we seem to think describes it correctly. Often this is confused with the term disruptive technology, coined by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen to describe a new technology that displaces an established technology. Disrupt or be disrupted is the new reality for just about every industry that includes education.

Consumerization of IT, and the rapid increase in the use of mobile devices for personal use and work, has increased the potential for digital disruption of our lives, our way of living and across the places we work in. We all know the way Amazon, Netflix and Hulu Plus have disrupted the media and entertainment industries by changing how content is accessed by customers and monetized by advertisers. For example, the CBS, NBC and ABC networks in the United States still receive income from broadcasting television shows, but they can’t charge as much for advertising as they could, when there were only three networks and all viewers used television sets to consume content. Today, television networks employ a multi-channel approach to monetize their entertainment products. New revenue models have evolved as a consequence.

Incremental vs. disruptive innovation is more important for conceivable results as it helps lay the groundwork for the kind of disruptive ideas that lead to new business and revenue models. Incremental innovation builds on the existing, platforms, systems, or technologies. Disruptive innovation alters those foundational elements, introducing a new platform, system, or technology thus changing the game. Think Taxis and Uber. Both address the transportation of individuals and small groups, but Uber introduced a new platform or system depending on how you think about it. Can we do the same in education? Different content creators coming on one platform to peddle their wares? A student would pick and choose as suits his pocket and time. There is no such thing as a market that is not available for disruption today. Education which many thought was a straight-jacket business is no longer so, with teaching learning models evolving and online digital gurus taking over many traditional processes.

When it comes to students, there are some significant innovations disrupting the way the higher education experience is being delivered. Big data can personalise education and transform it away from one-size-fits-all model. Adaptive learning can leverage data capabilities to deliver a training course that’s personalised to the individual. Even tutoring is provided digitally today and continually gathers information on a student’s performance in order to tailor the educational content, at a far greater scale and geographical distance than with traditional methods. Are these disruptions any less when compared to traditional manufacturing allowing one to 3D print an entire turbine or a disruption in the traditional health sector, that allows the doctors to target more personally and specifically responses to disease or replace more of the vital body parts and organs? The discovery of new things and new solutions is the ultimate potential disruptor of our world and also the hope for a better future.

Peter Bol, Harvard’s vice provost for advances in learning explains, “Adaptive learning programs are very good at speeding up information acquisition and lengthening retention, as well as individualising learning to help learners see where they have difficulty,” When used as a tool that improves student’s understanding and retention of information, the ‘flipped classroom’ is proving extremely successful. It reverses the traditional homework/teaching environments. Students view lectures when it suits them so that once on campus, class time is devoted to deeper subject analysis and collaboration.

edX reports, the fastest growing population in higher education is the working adult student. The rate of increase for students over the age of 25 is projected to be nearly 2x that of students under 25 between 2012 and 2023 and that over the next two decades, an estimated 1 Billion women will enter the global workforce. Of these women, approximately 94% will be in emerging and developing economies. Which disruption can really address such massive numbers? Undoubtedly, access and affordability will drive future disruptions.

Unbundling credits, new certifications, collaborations and building bridges will all be on the discussion forums. Universities will need to drive technology innovation, evolve academic pathways and include alternative credentials. Collaborations between institutions is increasingly important to pool not only resources but best practices. Employers must accept alternative credentials. Research and analytics must help drive improvements of learning outcomes.

Technology and disruption of higher education includes details on MOOCs, blended, flipped and online classes and their role in transforming higher education. As much as they offer tremendous opportunities, they also threaten the traditional university. While new ways of teaching and learning are exciting, they are only part of the puzzle. Radical change beyond what happens in the classroom is needed if our higher education system is to continue to flourish. The educators should realize that the technology is both transformational and disruptive, and that some universities may actually fail in the next 10 – 15 years.

For those struggling with the cost of higher education, it’s easy to see why massive open online courses which provide free internet-based learning opportunities, are such a big drawcard. However, the concern is very high attrition rates of up to 90%.

The impact of disruption on the delivery of education means that in many ways, pathways are opening up to cheaper, faster and more accessible learning for students. Once limited by geography, students in remote areas can now access education and learn in a way they never could before. It also means that a greater range of educational providers have come into play. Universities and other higher education providers owe it to themselves and their students to keep up with this education disruption. If they embrace all the challenges and possibilities of this digital age, the promise of a better education for next generation students awaits and they’re worth it. If not they will fall by the wayside.

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