Posted by: crudbasher | October 11, 2011

Can Disruptive Innovation Be Stopped?

(cc) CraigAllen


Nice article in the NYT about the Stanford massive free online AI course. The professor teaching it talks about how if the massive online university course works out it will disrupt the business model for higher education. I think he’s right on about this which lead me to an interesting thought.

There are people in society who are considered the power brokers. These are the people who are at the pinnacle of their craft. Some examples of this are the leaders of the media, bankers, politicians and entertainers. These people all wield tremendous power and influence and yet… Often times things don’t work out the way they want. Oh they can influence and steer individual events their way often enough, but the longer term trends are going against them time and again.

Here are some examples:

  • Politicians are used to the media working with them to help them craft their image. To a large extent that is still happening but now anyone with a video camera can record an embarassing moment and post it for the world to see on YouTube. These things don’t go away.
  • Record companies had a really good thing going with CDs. Cheap to make, they had a large profit margin because you had to buy the whole album just to get the few songs you actually wanted. Now with iTunes, people are much more selective about their music tastes.
  • In the 60s and 70s most news in the US was distributed by the 3 networks and a few major newspapers. They decided what was news and how to spin it. Now there are an ever multiplying amount of sources. It’s harder to bury stories (although it still happens.)

The Internet makes all this possible by empowering people to inject their own information into the global information pool. Like a stone in a pond, the ripples can travel far and wide. This is the disruption that is coming to higher education. The existing social structures and laws are keeping the current system intact but it will only take a crack in that dam to open the flood gates of innovation.

    • FOR more than a decade educators have been expecting the Internet to transform that bastion of tradition and authority, the university. Digital utopians have envisioned a world of virtual campuses and “distributed” learning. They imagine a business model in which online courses are consumer-rated like products on Amazon, tuition is set by auction services like eBay, and students are judged not by grades but by skills they have mastered, like levels of a videogame.
    • the Internet has so far scarcely disturbed the traditional practice or the economics at the high end, the great schools that are one of the few remaining advantages America has in a competitive world.
    • Two recent events at Stanford University suggest that the day is growing nearer when quality higher education confronts the technological disruptions that have already upended the music and book industries, humbled enterprises from Kodak to the Postal Service (not to mention the newspaper business), and helped destabilize despots across the Middle East.
    • The Stanford bid for a New York campus is a bet on the value of place. The premise is that Stanford can repeat the success it achieved by marrying itself to the Silicon Valley marketplace.
    • Meanwhile, one of Stanford’s most inventive professors, Sebastian Thrun, is making an alternative claim on the future.
    • He is offering his “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” course online and free of charge. His remote students will get the same lectures as students paying $50,000 a year, the same assignments, the same exams and, if they pass, a “statement of accomplishment” (though not Stanford credit).
    • Thrun’s ultimate mission is a virtual university in which the best professors broadcast their lectures to tens of thousands of students. Testing, peer interaction and grading would happen online; a cadre of teaching assistants would provide some human supervision; and the price would be within reach of almost anyone. “Literally, we can probably get the same quality of education I teach in class for about 1 to 2 percent of the cost,” Thrun told me.
    • Thrun acknowledges that there are still serious quality-control problems to be licked.
    • “If we can solve this,” he said, “I think it will disrupt all of higher education.”

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.



  1. Great article! My husband signed up for the AI course and I’m taking the Databases class also being offered for free online by Stanford. It’s a fascinating experiment.

    In the Databases class, there’s a discussion thread on which people introduce themselves – I’ve seen people as young as 14 and as old as 72, from all over the world (U.S., U.K., Russia, Ukraine, Spain, Latin America, etc.), and with varying levels of experience and education in the subject. Many (like me) are self taught and are interested in seeing what a structured curriculum would offer.

    What I would be curious to find out after the classes are over are how many students signed up, how many actually accessed the online materials and did the assignments, and how many passed.

    • The big advantage to online learning is you can get some pretty good stats on things like that. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of good info come out of those courses. Let me know how they went!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: