Education is the next disruption

education is nextRupert Murdoch’s hiring of New York City Schools chancellor Joel Klein offers fascinating insight into the innovative thinking at News Corp these days. There was preciously little specificity in the notice of the hiring, as News Corp would only say that Klein will advise Murdoch “on a wide range of initiatives, including developing business strategies for the emerging educational marketplace.”

In a press release Tuesday, Murdoch said that Klein’s record of achievement provides “a unique perspective that will be particularly important as we look into a sector that has long been in need of innovation.” That sector is education, what I believe will be the next big disrupted institution (media was first) that technology will utterly destroy. Murdoch apparently wants in on the destruction, because he smells profit.

Klein noted News Corp’s history of innovation in expressing his delight with the new position, because he was excited “to have the chance to bring the same spirit of innovation to the burgeoning education marketplace.”

What exactly is the “burgeoning education marketplace,” and how can a media company get involved in it?

The Washington Post has been funding its newsgathering operations in recent years through its reliable profit center, the Kaplan Higher Education division, one of the growing number of for-profit colleges that the government is increasingly trying to regulate. The profit comes from government-backed student loans, which some see as a money tree for unscrupulous capitalists.

But beyond the visible examples of for-profit education, that pesky old disruptor, the Web, is providing a challenge to any institutional infrastructure, as noted above, that is built on the sharing of information or knowledge. Separate the knowledge from the institution that exists by providing it, and you have a serious problem for that institution. There’s gold in them thar hills, too, for the smart entrepreneurs who exploit the disruption.

Is Murdoch that smart? We’ll see. In the interim, it’s smart for all media companies to consider the possibilities in this arena, because education — at all levels — is so ripe for disruption. Like media, “the system” gets a lot of complaints from parents and taxpayers, and today, those people can do something about it. I’ve advised clients in markets with a major university that this will be THE ongoing beat for years to come. Will those institutions get involved in the disruption? Not likely, because they have to protect the traditional infrastructure in order to sustain themselves, and that will be their clear mission. It takes considerable courage to cannibalize yourself in hopes of future relevance. It hasn’t happened with media and it won’t happen with education either.

Meanwhile, there’s a significant opportunity for media companies to play a role in the disruption. Why? Because the path is all about growth, and we don’t have a dog in the fight to protect the institution.

Keep an eye on News Corp and stay tuned.

(Originally published in AR&D’s Media 2.0 Intel – sign up here)

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