How Technology Is Disrupting Education And The Opportunity For Brands

As the growing student debt crisis painfully highlights, the cost of a traditional college education has become very burdensome for many students and new grads. It’s just a matter of time before a startup comes in and disrupts the sector, in the same way Uber did with the taxicab industry. 

In fact, this disruption has already begun with the rise of startups in the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) space. The MOOC company Coursera is leading the charge, alongside TutorGroup (for learning English), 2U (for getting universities online) and General Assembly (teaching coding skills online). In a few years, more students will use MOOCs and pursue higher education online without the burden of high tuition fees and living costs associated with traditional education. 

If you’re a university or a college institution, this disruption will directly impact you. To remain relevant, universities need to develop an understanding of the empowered student—not just from a technological perspective, but also of their motivations and wants. Post-secondary institutions need to engage with students and use their feedback to shape how they do business. 



But this disruption doesn’t just impact post-secondary institutions. This disruption will impact the way all companies engage with both teen employees and customers. Companies need to think of ways of supporting the online education revolution now and consider how it can help them better serve their young employees and customers. Here are three ideas on how your company can do just that. 

1. Promote continuing education among employees. 

More companies are giving their workforce opportunities to go back to school. Starbucks is offering its College Achievement Plan through a partnership with the University of Arizona. This move helps attract and retain employees while giving them the education they need to become managers and executives someday. Anthem and Fiat Chrysler offer similar programs, while many other blue-chip employers offer generous tuition reimbursement programs. 

These programs promote a sense of lifelong learning among team members, and they result in powerful buzz for the company. (Starbucks has received an enormous amount of positive PR after announcing its free-college program.) To ensure the success of these programs, companies should talk to their teen employees and explore how they could support their workforce’s education in a way that also benefits the business. 

2. Create your own education programs.  

Some big companies like GE and Apple already have programs training employees about corporate culture and business management. But imagine if companies open up their programs to employees and customers. 

Consider the example of Microsoft, a company that could sponsor a startup like General Assembly to provide coding classes. Or imagine if Disney provided MOOC animation courses, or if Chipotle sponsored supply-chain management courses. Like the Starbucks program, all of these offerings would result in positive publicity, associating the brand with learning and self-improvement. More importantly, it will build their brand with young people and potentially win them as long-term customers or employees. 

3. Provide tools for communal learning.  

Brands don’t have to provide all of the educational content themselves; they can also provide a platform for those insights to be crowd-sourced. Today’s teens are used to learning from each other thanks to resources on YouTube and other social media sites. They “study” fashion, music, gaming and dating rites by learning from each other online, so why can’t the same principles be applied to more traditional academic disciplines? 

Imagine if a struggling math student could reach out to peers for help on a Texas Instruments-sponsored community, or if a struggling finance student could do the same on a Citibank site. Companies should consider building online communities where this type of peer-to-peer learning could organically happen. For brands, there’s a market-research benefit too, since these conversations between teens is a potential source of insight into their target market. 

While the traditional university system will probably be with us for quite some time, online learning is emerging as a strong complement to it and, in some cases, a replacement for those seeking a flexible, cost-effective education. The brands that tap into this revolution will be in a powerful position to win the loyalty of current and future employees and customers.

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