I recently read about Eastman Kodak’s rumored bankruptcy: “The year hasn’t been kind to Kodak, which has suffered massively from photography’s transition from film to digital….” I can’t say I’ll be very surprised if they do declare bankruptcy: their industry was severely disrupted by the introduction of digital photography, and despite their previously dominant position and early work in digital, they have not been able to adapt successfully—corporate Darwinism, I suppose.
Their troubles remind me that my industry (secondary education) has entered its own period of massive disruption with the introduction of online learning. Just as digital cameras were clearly inferior when they were first introduced, online learning is clearly inferior to in-classroom learning… so far.
However, just as digital photography first made in-roads on the fringes, so has online learning. The Flex Academies, offered by K12.com, would probably not appeal to many families who send their children to independent prep schools which sit at the top of the secondary ed pyramid. However, I believe the Flex Academy concept, which provides an adult-supervised, safe place to stay while parents are at work, combined with a self-paced online curriculum, will appeal to many families for whom independent education is out of reach.
K12.com initially offered online curriculum for home-schooling, so we see that the concept of online education is already moving up the pyramid, and is currently at the second or third level. As online technologies improve, become more interactive and engaging, and as K12 and other online curriculum providers experiment, learn, and solve the problems with their approaches, this climb up the pyramid will continue.
How long before it reaches the top? For my own sake, and for the sake of my colleagues at UHS and other independent schools, I hope a good, long time—but we would be wise to anticipate this disruption before it reaches us, and to recognize it for both the threat that it represents, as well as an opportunity. I’ll write more about online learning as opportunity in a future blog post.