Why Ed Tech Is Currently ‘The Wild Wild West’

November 4, 2015, 8:56 PM UTC
Fortune Global Forum 2015 FORTUNE GLOBAL FORUM Wednesday, November 4th, 2015 2015 FORTUNE GLOBAL FORUM San Francisco, CA, USA 7:45–8:45 am BREAKFAST CONCURRENTS DIGITAL LEARNING: TECH MEETS EDUCATION New technologies are emerging that will reshape the way your workforce is prepared and retrained in the disruptive economy. We’ll cut through the hype to discuss the realities of overcoming entrenched obstacles, the scale and likely timing of the coming changes, and how best to prepare. Panelists: Alan Arkatov, Katzman/Ernst Chair in Educational Entrepreneurship, Technology, and Innovation, Rossier School of Education, USC Daphne Koller, President and Co-founder, Coursera Dennis Yang, Chief Executive Officer, Udemy Moderator: Susanna Schrobsdorff, Assistant Managing Editor, TIME
Photograph by Stuart Isett — Fortune Global Forum

The massive disruption of the education industry is well underway, but the biggest tremors are yet to comedisruptions so dramatic that many universities will cease to exist in the next few years.

That was the conclusion of the panelists at the Fortune Global Forum’s session on Ed Tech. Said Alan Arkatov, a professor in USC’s Rossier School of Education: “Think Jurassic Park,” he said. “I would say 500 to 1,000 colleges across the country will not be around, or will have morphed into something else, because they do not have a sustainable business model. The market will annihilate those folks.”

Two of the would-be annihilatorsDennis Yang, founder of Udemy, and Daphne Koller, founder of Coursera, weren’t disagreeing. Yang’s company, which allows anyone to offer a course and relies on the market to sort out the good from the bad, now offers 30,000 different classes in 80 languages. And Koller says Coursera has reached 16 million “learners,” with much of the company’s growth coming from outside the U.S.

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But neither company offers online degrees, instead focusing on practical and career-focused skills such as computer programmingand, increasingly, corporate training, which they see as another area ripe for disruption. Yang actually compared its current state to “taking a rusty nail and putting it in your eyes.” He continued: “Most of the solutions for corporate training were built and designed for the administrator, not the learner.”

So having, say, a top professor from a top university teaching employees virtually would improve the experience, says Koller. “Our brands are so strong. Everyone understands these are the top people in the field offering the kind of content that companies pay a lot of money for.”

It’s not clear yet, however, whether these companies can actually make money with their current business models (Udemy charges approximately $25 to $100 for a course and shares revenue with the professor; Coursera charges for a credential rather than the course itself). What is clear is that the changes in the education world will continue to accelerate. “It’s a little bit of the Wild Wild West right now,” says Arkatov.

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