It is much easier to talk about strategy than to implement strategy. There is justified skepticism among top business leaders when it comes to the many books and concepts promoted by professors who have never had to run a successful business. Harvard Business School is a premier source of strategic theory. There is much talk about innovation and disruption of the industry business model.
HBX – How does Harvard “walk it’s talk” with online learning?
What happens when the long-established and relatively stable business model of the top-tier business college faces the potential internet disruption (ubiquitous video downloads) of their business model that could be as major as the disruption of the travel industry (online access) or the music industry (faster audio download speeds) faced a couple of decades ago? The answer is they are really struggling.
The New York Times Business section (June 1, 2014) describes the conflicting viewpoints of how Harvard Business School thinks they should deal with the launch of their online learning called HBX. Some of the views they express sound as unaware as my customers of 20 years ago in industries just before they lost to the Internet competitors. Harvard seems convinced that twenty something students will continue to be willing and able to invest/borrow $100,000 (and growing) and two years of their career to say they went to Harvard. Some will make that investment who can afford the time and money.
Harvard Business School claims alumni among 20% of the CEO’s of fortune 500 companies. They have a more unique brand than most business schools. Today, many of the top 1% income earners are still using travel agents to book flights, sending their children to the best schools, and contributing to their school endowments. Harvard probably has the best chance of maintaining the century old business model.
The other 99%
What about the other 99% of potential students? What about the middle and lower tier schools?
- What if there emerged “super star” teachers who teach in a more interesting and dynamic way than the average professor? They could be accessed anywhere in the world and at a convenient time for the student. They could re-watch parts of the video they do not understand. How many really good math teachers do we need in an Internet world? Only a few.
- What if students could watch guest interviews and speakers who were “real world leaders” with experience applying the subject matter that is being taught? Maybe the guests do live conferences after they have watched the video.
- What if students could be more engaged and learn more watching the super star on video than sitting in a lecture hall?
- Imagine students with the ability to work in study groups where video conferencing was almost like being face-to-face without travel time? What if groups could have peer mentoring and easy access to tutors?
- What if you could certify the learning results for accreditation purposes?
- What if the practical application of graduating students was equal or better than the average of today’s students?
- What if businesses considered online trained students better than most traditional college graduates?
- What if a great eduction costs 20% or less of a Harvard or similar degree?
All of these things could be a reality in less than five years. Most are already in practice somewhere. If I were running any college … I would be worried. These things will not all be in place in five years, but they will be in motion for colleges.
The disruptive innovation is already in motion.
Khan Academy is already changing the world of K-12 lower eduction. They now have some courses that are accredited and it is likely more will be accredited soon.
Online video training for technology skills, user oriented program training, business skills, and many others are growing rapidly without any accreditation.
The effectiveness of good online learning is much higher than most expected. Our experience is that our clients prefer content delivery via video rather than a classic PowerPoint presentation in-person … even if the in-person is done well. More importantly most of the tests of effectiveness of online verses in-person teaching shows better results from the online teaching.
There are many who argue that the college experience of being on campus and building networks can not be replaced. For those who can afford the experience it will continue to be attractive. As more people realize how limiting it is to graduate with $100,000 in debt and challenging job opportunities … the shift will happen. There already are college programs that are a hybrid that combines campus experience with remote learning.
Our country needs to significantly increase the education of a much larger proportion of our current and future workforce to be competitive in a global world. Current economics, education models, and political will is not going to make that happen. Major innovation is needed and the tools for that innovation are at hand. I find it hard to believe the opportunity will not be seized. It will define the future for our grandchildren.
How will the customer of business colleges decide?
I give credit to Harvard for stepping into the HBX learning space so they will be able to make shifts as needed in the future. The impact on business colleges in general will ultimately be based on how we as business leaders evaluate the value of different forms of education. Will we honor someone as more proficient because he/she has embraced and used innovative college models. Will you see them as more suited to lead your business innovation than someone who chooses the traditional model because they think it is safer? Hiring and business results will ultimately define the pace of change.