This Week in LIS - 16 May 2014

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Headline of the Week: Innovation and Disruption in Higher Education

A couple weeks ago Corey Landstrom, Vice President and Dean for Student Life, shared information about a symposium being hosted at Colgate University. It was lived streamed and the recording remains available. It is worth watching; especially the first and third sections.

The first section is a keynote by Clayton Christensen. Clayton is a professor from Harvard that speaks about “disruptive innovation” theory. His most recent book is called “The Innovative University” and it talks about disruption coming to higher education driven by new ventures leveraging information technology and promising cost and quality improvements. Interestingly, this book is being used in a course Wade Shilts taught this spring called “Economics of Higher Education” where Wade and his students explored some of these topics together. The second section is a panel discussion made up of a number of college presidents of well-known liberal arts colleges responding to ideas raised in the keynote. The third piece is a case study by a geology professor from Colgate University who leveraged information technology from EDx to deliver a class on “The Advent of the Atomic Bomb” that including undergraduate students and alumni from around the country. The final piece is a case from a professor at Davidson who delivered a MOOC.

The idea behind Clayton’s “disruptive innovation” theory is that market leading incumbents generally lose out, over time, to new ventures, typically leveraging some new technology, who bring an offering to market that is not nearly as good as the incumbent’s offering but is good enough and is cheaper. They market it to either groups that are currently not customers of the incumbents or are the least of the incumbent’s customers as measured by value. The tendency is for the incumbents to move up-market and retreat from the competition below and for the new ventures to improve their offerings on their much better cost structure until they take more and more of the incumbent’s business and the incumbents create offerings that even their best customers will not pay more for. At that point, under these circumstances, the incumbent has been disrupted and the incumbent fails. The question on the table is could this happen to higher education and specifically to residential liberal arts colleges.

The key takeaway from Clay’s talk is that colleges need to differentiate their offerings in ways that their prospectives (and their parents) value and are willing to pay for.  A key differentiator for residential liberal arts colleges is that students report that faculty engagement with them can change their lives in profound ways. This happens at Luther College. I am looking forward to strategic planning that will come with our new president!

The course taught by Colgate University that directly engaged with distance neutralizing EDx platform between students and alumni seems like a very good idea and one worthy of considering. As higher education goes through changes and Luther College responds to that change. It is important that we seek out particular things to invest in for ongoing differentiation. This example looks to be one that improves not only the experience for students but provide an opportunity to create further value for alumni. What do you think?

Suggested Reading/Viewing/Listening:

Innovation + Disruption Symposium


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This Week in LIS is published most Fridays by Paul Mattson, Executive Director of LIS at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

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