Sun Tzu and the Art of Disrupting Higher Education

Len Sherman, Dec 10, 2013
Commentary by Stephen Downes

I'm not sure Sun Tzu is the best model to use when discussing innovation in education (I prefer Lao Tse, "The excellence of water appears in its benefiting all things, and in its occupying, without striving, the low place which all men dislike). But it's business writing, so it's all Sturm und Drang, I guess. Anyhow, Len Sherman's point is that the sceptics are wrong to dismiss the Udacity pivot to corporate learning as a failure. "It fails," he writes, "to recognize that Thrun’s pivoted business model poses a far more serious threat to traditional higher education institutions than Udacity’s original approach." Udacity is now focusing on an area long shunned by traditional institutions, he says, and in so doing threatens to undermine one of the key foundations of the universities' business: employability.

I don't agree with all the details but I agree with his overall premise. In particular, I think Udacity's pivot was a failure - if it's going to do corporate learning, it will need new technology as well as a new focus, or it will be mashed by incumbents. And secondly, I think that post-secondary education has been investing in corporate learning, but not in such a way as to challenge the essential dominion of formal learning and credentials. So, with Sherman, I think higher education is prone to disruption. It wouldn't take much to create substantial change in the sector. But contra Sherman, I think it will take significantly more than that Udacity was offering to do the trick. Anyhow, good article, worth a careful read.

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