Metrics tailored for an old paradigm aren't a good fit for one that's disruptively new. While this probably reads as "reasonable", proponents and critics alike fall into the trap of using obsolete metrics anyway. The result: new ideas are undervalued and take root more slowly.
MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are a rapidly evolving form of higher education. Many of the best-known universities are aggressively growing programs. Carnegie-Mellon, Harvard and Stanford are a few examples. MIT has the most mature offering. It's Open Courseware initiative includes hundreds of classes.
MOOC classes are mostly free, although a few programs are starting to charge a fee (discounted compared to standard tuition) for students who wish to earn credit. However, since a recent HarvardX study found that over 71% of MOOC participants already have a bachelors degree or higher, additional credentials may not be a primary motivation.
In any case, the value proposition this no or low cost format presents is too great to ignore. Like it or not, MOOCs are about to disrupt and transform higher education as we know it.
HBS Professor and Disruptive Innovation Expert Clay Christensen, referring to universities, puts it this way: "even five years from now these enterprises are going to be in real trouble." He nicely summarizes what to expect in the Business Insider article: Higher Education Is 'On The Edge Of The Crevasse'
A View from the Inside
I recently signed up for a Stanford MOOC, an intensive class designed for leaders of tech-based startups.
The difference between this course and standard business school offerings was apparent from the moment I read the syllabus. Deep on both technical and the business subject matter, the course's cross-discipline nature was a perfect fit for its executive target audience.
I was thrilled to see lessons that I anticipated would be invaluable. Others didn't seem worthwhile, so I planned to skip them from the outset. I had the freedom to choose because earning the certificate awarded for completion wasn't my objective, learning was.
Coursera provided the online platform for the class. A favorite feature was a button to speed up or slow down the lecturer. (Who didn't want that in college?) I ran most lectures at 1.75x normal speed, but ran information-rich sections at normal speed or even repeated sections. This speed adjustment has such an impact on focus that it has to be experienced to be fully appreciated.
The critical takeaway is that, free from the shackles of a traditional course, I was able to learn from material I found valuable and discard the rest. The return on time invested exceeded that of any class I've ever taken.
The Simplest of Measures
On what metrics should higher education be assessed?
Those who write about MOOCs seem singularly obsessed with "low completion rates". But is "completion rate" still a meaningful measure in an environment where student behavior is no longer warped by cost and an obligation to finish?
According to this study: HarvardX and MITx: The First Year of Open Online Courses, "Course certification rates are misleading and counterproductive indicators of the impact and potential of open online courses."
Why pay attention to newcomers who offer classes that students don't bother to complete? Because dismissiveness signs the paperwork for the downfall of giants. It’s often the simplest of measures, the ones that seem too fundamental to be wrong, that create a stain of complacency that’s invisible until it’s too late.
Kodak, the company that invented the digital camera, couldn't imagine a world without film. After decades of meetings fixated on "how do the film sales look this month?", it had to be hard to imagine a world awash in filmless cameras.
Two of my clients, both companies that provide enterprise software systems, couldn't imagine a world without one major revenue source: training new customers.
Training made sense in the past when large systems were cumbersome and hard to use. Moving away from the old model required the courage to make a decision with harsh consequences and to do it before the market shifted. It meant giving up all training revenue, retraining staff and rewriting large systems from scratch, a very expensive proposition.
Both clients had the foresight to change and are still thriving today as a result. If they'd waited, their demise would've been inevitable.
What ill-fitting metrics have you seen applied as measures of paradigm-shifted value?