Will your Harvard Business School degree have any value in 20 years? That is one of many questions that disruptive technology is creating in the education sector. As Massive Open Online Courses (“MOOC”) are offered by more independent organizations and universities, more individuals will have access to educational content. If everyone has equal access to the same content, what, if any, value do educational institutions offer?[i]
The Khan Value Proposition
Khan Academy (“Khan” or the “Company”), a non-profit, is one example of an organization that is taking advantage of digital technology to offer value to students. The Company provides instructional videos and practice exercises across a variety of subjects such as math, science, computer programming, history, art history, economics, and more. The content is also applicable across age groups from kindergarten learners to adult learners. Khan’s mission is to “Provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.”[ii] This mission statement highlights the core attributes of Khan’s value proposition:
- Flexibility – By utilizing the internet, Khan allows learners to access educational materials from their computers or mobile devices. By untethering the learning process from brick and mortar school buildings, Khan offers students unlimited flexibility in determining where and when to learn. This flexibility is a key competitive advantage over traditional schools. Consider how this opens the door for adult learners with full-time jobs to continue their education.
Additionally, by offering content on mobile devices, Khan offers a compelling value proposition for students in developing countries who may have access to mobile devices but not computers.[iii]
- Private / Self-Paced Learning – Khan allows individuals to explore any topic that interests them. The benefit for students who are behind in a subject is that they are able to take remedial courses in the privacy of their homes, which removes the stigma behind publicly struggling with concepts. It also allows advanced students to surge ahead. By offering students the ability to work at their own pace, Khan addresses one of the problems of the traditional classroom model where teachers are forced to teach to the median.[iv]
- Free, Open Source – All of the content available on Khan is accessible free to everyone. By eliminating payment as a requirement to access the material, Khan offers broad accessibility to everyone.
Example Khan Academy Video:
YouTube. 2016. Intelligent Design and Evolution – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxOEz9aPZNY. [Accessed 18 November 2016].
Low Marginal CostUnlike traditional academic institutions, the marginal cost for adding additional students is low for Khan. Traditional schools are limited by the physical infrastructure that is required to teach additional students—more students require more teachers, classrooms, books, and other materials. Therefore, schools must invest heavily to expand the number of students. However, Khan essentially operates as a subscription model, without charging a subscription fee. Khan’s largest investment is in developing the educational content. Once the content is created, the marginal cost of delivering the content to an additional student is low.[v]
Based on the strong value proposition that Khan offers to students and its attractive operating model, which is highly scalable, it seems as though online educational platforms will soon consume traditional schools. However, there is one area where MOOCs fail and this presents an opportunity for Khan to strengthen its platform. In 2014, Khan opened the Khan Lab School –a physical brick and mortar school building.[vi] At first, this seems highly counterintuitive. If digital technology offers such a strong value proposition for students, why would an online platform open a physical school?
The concept is best explained by Khan founder, Salman Khan, in an interview with NPR. This: “Doesn’t mean that the classroom gets replaced; it means the classroom gets liberated. It doesn’t have to be about a lecture anymore; students don’t have to learn at the same time and pace. Classroom time could be much more about Socratic dialogue, building projects, whatever else.”[vii]
Recognizing that students still benefit greatly from interacting, bouncing ideas off of one another, and working in teams, this is really the next frontier of online educational platforms. Khan should leverage its technology to build more interactive components into the software platform. Khan should create virtual classrooms where students can work together from across the globe. Today’s technology allows us to have a thoughtful dialogue with someone sitting on another continent. Therefore, instead of expanding into physical schools, Khan academy should invest in building out its technology platform to support interactive learning among students.
Once Khan masters the case study method online and everyone has access to the same content, how valuable will our HBS degrees be?
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[i] Washington Post. 2016. How the Internet will disrupt higher education’s most valuable asset: Prestige – The Washington Post. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/how-the-web-will-disrupt-higher-educations-most-valuable-asset-prestige/2016/02/05/6bddc1ee-c91e-11e5-a7b2-5a2f824b02c9_story.html?utm_term=.0149d9ca1f61. [Accessed 18 November 2016].
[ii] Khan Academy. 2016. About Khan Academy | Khan Academy. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.khanacademy.org/about. [Accessed 18 November 2016].
[iii] Ally, Mohamed, & Mohammed Samaka. “Open education resources and mobile technology to narrow the learning divide.” The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning [Online], 14.2 (2013): 14-27. Web. 18 Nov. 2016
[iv] WIRED: WIRED. 2016. How Khan Academy Is Changing the Rules of Education | WIRED. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.wired.com/2011/07/ff_khan/. [Accessed 18 November 2016].
[v] The Economist. 2016. Online education: The disruption to come | The Economist. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2014/02/online-education. [Accessed 18 November 2016].
[vi] Khan Lab School. 2016. History | Khan Lab School. [ONLINE] Available at: http://khanlabschool.org/history. [Accessed 18 November 2016].
[vii] NPR.org. 2016. ‘A Bit Of A Montessori 2.0’: Khan Academy Opens A Lab School : NPR Ed : NPR. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/01/05/461506508/sal-khan-on-learning-coding-and-why-virtual-ed-is-not-enough. [Accessed 18 November 2016].