The Education Revolution

I went to university. My wife went to university. And I’ve always assumed that Dan and Rory would go to university. Until now…

I was talking to a friend of mine whose son will shortly be coming home from his first term away. “Four year course, Ed,” he said. “Nine grand a year for fees and then there’s living expenses. He’ll come out of it at least £50,000 in debt. Probably closer to sixty.”

He was pretty relaxed about the debt: he’s confident his son will earn enough to be one of the relatively small number of current undergraduates who’ll actually pay off their student loans. Likewise I’ve always been relaxed about Dan and Roy incurring a similar level of debt – after all, the student loan system seems to work perfectly well in America.

And not all that long to go now. The boys are getting older: time seems to be speeding up. Pretty soon it’ll be just Dav, me and a bottle of red wine.

And then at the weekend I read this article in the ‘Guardian:’ Do online courses spell the end for the traditional university? I’m still thinking about the article now.

If you’ve time, I recommend you read it. If you haven’t, the basic point was simple. Traditional university education is hugely expensive: putting the course online is not. Some American universities have started to do this – and the response has been phenomenal. Students have enrolled from all over the world – in their hundreds of thousands.

At the same time, some figures came out in the UK. As university fees have gone up, so applications have declined. Interestingly, they’ve declined most sharply in middle class areas.

So maybe Dan and Rory won’t enjoy the pleasures of freshers’ week and everything that follows. Maybe in seven years’ time it will all be online, and the days of £60,000 debts will be behind us.

This started me thinking about all education and training – and it seems evident that it will increasingly move online, and that it will become a permanent feature of someone’s working life. I think this will apply whether you’re an employee – or like so many readers of this blog, the owner of an SME.

So where does that leave The Alternative Board? Where does it leave six or seven people meeting round a boardroom table somewhere in North Yorkshire? After all, you could have the same link-up by Skype. You could arrange a conference call. Or a webinar.

Except for the fact that if I take part in a webinar, I have three or four other windows open at the same time. Conference call? Not three or four, but if Kevin Pietersen is 95 not out you can be sure I’ll have a quarter of an eye on Cricinfo.

I think online learning is fine – when that’s all it is. But when you need to see the bigger picture, then nothing beats face-to-face: it’s the difference between 2D and 3D. It’s seeing the conviction in someone’s eyes when they make their plans for next year – and recognising the body language round the table as you outline what you thought was your greatest idea yet. Working with your peers brings the intense focus to your business that you’ll never get online – or on your own.

It wouldn’t be right to end this week without saying ‘thank you’ for all the ‘welcome back’ comments I’ve received. Sydney was amazing, Melbourne was beautiful and we had a fantastic time in Australia. But it’s not North Yorkshire…



  1. Steven Partridge · November 16, 2012

    Online is fine for some training, and is becoming prevalent in the legal sector for cost reasons, but I agree something is lost in terms of face to face communication and exchange of ideas.

    • edreidyork · November 16, 2012

      Hi Steven – you’re right; online training in appropriate scenarios, done properly, is a fantastic resource. But it’ll never be the “be all and end all”

  2. Rory Ryan · November 16, 2012

    To quote a barber from about 20 years ago…”In 15 years time they’ll be inventing things we haven’t even thought of yet” He was right. When architectural computer models and animations began in the 1990s many believed it was the end for physica architecturall models. Now the two are combined with amazing interactive models that combine both a scaled model, interactive lighting, touch screen and computer control. I believe the online courses will ultimately combine with Uni in a way ‘we haven’t even thought of yet!’

    On the point of fees – Ireland is cheaper!

  3. edreidyork · November 16, 2012

    I love the plug for Ireland education. I even know a couple of clever people who benefitted from an excellent Uni education in Ireland…!

  4. Dave Rawlings · November 16, 2012

    The Open University has been doing a pretty good job for many decades – much of it with very clunky technology. What’s more difficult to do at a distance is coaching – and that’s definitely a big element of what happens in Alternative Board meetings. As I continue to develop online coaching programmes of my own I’m beginning to see how it can be done, but I don’t think the experience will ever be the same as face-to-face. The value comes from having the coach’s attention, whether physically present or not, and that will always be expensive – I hope!

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