What working people often need is some way to learn exactly what they need to learn, when they need to learn it. It’s time to change the old paradigm of “degree factories” and welcome the prototype of “innovation centers” at our colleges and universities.
The online delivery of education via the Internet has grown in recent decades. Meanwhile, corporate training has become a means of teaching workers and managers the specific and sophisticated skills they need to solve the problems they face. Community colleges offer low-cost certification programs providing the opportunity to bypass expensive four-year university courses. If traditional universities and colleges could not respond properly to thr changing needs of education services, consumers—as Christensen, Anthony and Roth (2004) truly claim—they might lose their current position and their future roles. They need innovation, innovative ways and methods to offer education services more effectively.
Disruptive business models will open the doors of quality education to previously non-consuming populations. Market disruption is and will be working as a strong force even at the lowest levels. Schools, colleges and universities will outsource more of their courses to private higher education service providers. This will change what we know as public schooling systems, both in quantity and quality at all levels.
Non-consumers (people who don’t consume higher education) lack the time, resources and skills to get the education they need for solving problems that rise in their daily lives. They prefer to receive customized training to help them advance in their careers. The jobs-to be-done theory suggests that products (including educational ones) are successful if they connect with a real time need. In this sense, higher education services can be effective if they relate to people’s daily problems and serve as reliable solutions to their circumstances. Truly innovative (educational) products that delight existing customers and attract new consumers from the sidelines of non-consumption can play an effective role in the future.
That kind of innovation at higher education sector should play roles like these: (a) Getting a job; (b) Solving a problem; (c) Making people qualified for promotions; (d) Providing a valid certification; and (e) Branding people in their long-term careers.
Today, conventional colleges and universities overshot their consumers (students) by offering too much studies and reading materials. Many of these courses are not really necessary to solve their daily problems. Some of students may want these extras, but this does not mean necessarily that they are essential to their careers. Curricula planners should always keep this consideration in mind. Many of graduates need significant further on-the-job training to acquire the skills to help their employers solve their pressing needs. This aspect should be also brought into consideration in any course planning activity.
Traditional higher education programs should be replaced with shorter, lower cost, more convenient, and more customized courses, delighting customers and expanding access to non-consumers. They should be brought into new social and working contexts. That can be done by competent for-profit institutions. They attract non-consumers by giving them simple products (short programs) that help them get done what they are already trying to get done—gain skills and degrees to further their professional careers. Many can afford attending such programs because of their low cost and short duration.
The Internet can be used as a means of innovation in offering educational services. We need to remember that e-learning by itself is neither a sustaining nor a disruptive innovation. What matters is how companies adopt e-learning. While traditional colleges use the Internet as a reinforcing tool for sustaining their current model of training, new universities use it as a transformative tool providing new higher education opportunities for non-consuming customers.
Corporate training can provide customized education solutions for different consumers. Historically, employees seeking management training had to go to two-year MBA programs. Only a selected few could attend. Many customers lacked either the skills (grades, test scores) or the resources (time and money). Corporate training institutes open a wide window to thousands of employees who would never consider studying for an MBA degree, but need access to many of the lessons found in such programs, even in a more practical manner.
For instance, modular customizable corporate training can provide managers a three-day customized course on strategic thinking. They can go off and use what they learned to craft better strategies for their organizations. Later, they might take a week’s course on new product development and then figure out how to improve their development processes, and so on.
Evidence suggests that managers drive more value from these programs than from generic two-year MBA programs. In fact, corporate universities have greatly enhanced people’s abilities to solve specific on-the-job problems. Besides, corporate training has millions of non-consumers and can be a lucrative market for all who love to invest in the business of non-academic higher education.
This trend may make many community colleges to bring low-cost solutions to customers more competitively than ever. Conventional colleges and universities should beware and review their current course of action if they want to win the battle. They need to recognize the changing nature of their target customers and business models. Finally, they will have to skate to the back end or launch a counterattack.
We are faced with asymmetries of motivation in higher education consumers and non-consumers. In the near futures, leading universities must decide whether or not to create their own disruptive offerings or provide modules to disruptive entrants. That would be a strategic choice. Highly personalized on-demand continuous learning is my personal preference.
Christensen, C. M., Anthony, S. D., & Roth, E. A. (2004). Seeing what's next? Using the theories of innovation to predict industry change. Boston: Harvard Business School Press. pp. 99-128.
Alireza Hejazi is the founding editor of Futures Discovery website: http://www.futuresdiscovery.com/. He holds a Master of Strategic Foresight from Regent University.
Essays and comments posted in World Future Society and THE FUTURIST magazine blog portion of this site are the intellectual property of the authors, who retain full responsibility for and rights to their content. For permission to publish, distribute copies, use excerpts, etc., please contact the author. The opinions expressed are those of the author. The World Future Society takes no stand on what the future will or should be like.
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