Innovators Serve the Student

Clayton Christensen’s 2008 publication, Disrupting Class, and his recent publication, Disrupting College has and will continue to spur valuable debate about the reason and need for change in Higher Education. Much of the debate focuses on the Technology behind the Innovation, and how online learning can serve an untapped market of learners. The technology behind online learning can certainly drive down costs and facilitate more specialized learning.

From my vantage point, an equally disruptive innovation is the ability for online programs to focus on the student as the consumer. As Professor Christensen describes in his work, technology enables educators to teach to the student, tailor the teaching to individual student needs, rather than having to teach to the group inside the classroom. Everyone welcomes better learning and more efficient and cost- effective education. The additional or collateral benefit, is that the true innovators can now effectively and efficiently focus on what the student wants, not just what they should be provided.

Educational Institutions (I include both schools and professional training organizations) are rarely driven by customer service. Institutions often decide the best way to provide their product, and offer a ‘take it or leave it’ proposition to the learner. If you want a degree from ABC University or a certification to practice law, medicine, or accounting, you are told what to do and not given options as to how to achieve the ends.

The ability to serve the customer is an elaboration on what Professor Christensen describes in Disrupting Class as a Business Model Innovation. I think it an important elaboration because it could truly benefit all providers of education, the innovators and those “traditional providers”. Online learning enables Educational Institutions to offer different paths to graduation and certification. Students can now learn at their own pace on their own time.

What we’re starting to see at my company are the early stages of how technical innovation is changing the business model of learning – but even more strikingly, changing the business values of the educators – who are now able to focus on serving the learner/customer. Schools are coming to Software Secure so that students can test at home, or at work, with the same academic integrity as if they were required to go to a testing-center, go to campus or find a human proctor. Affordable and reliable security technology has enabled schools and testing organizations to focus on what is best for the student, without sacrificing the degree granting or certification organizations’ brand or credibility.

While the innovation of online learning is driving exciting new teaching methods and models, the accessibility and flexibility of some of the technology behind online learning is valuable and easily deployed to the traditional or face-to-face players in education. Physical classrooms populated by students debating issues will be a large part of our education system in the future. Some students will continue to seek the social development and group aspect of “traditional education”. Hopefully those traditional institutions will not only continue to poach some of the technology of the innovators (like course management systems), but that they will also embrace the ability to service the customer wherever they can.

Douglas M. Winneg, CEO

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