Weekly news round up

I am resuming my blog after a long hiatus.

EdX had a great profile on Sonal, a 55-year-old PhD. physics graduate, who becomes a regular user of MOOC in the last few years. She has taken many courses outside her field such as Mandarin and Science of Happiness and is an advocate for democratizing education to provide a level playing field for everyone. Before the advance of online learning, it is rather uncommon for a 55-year-old Ph.D in physics to be an active learning participant. Time has changed as the half life of skills has dramatically shortened.

As Thomas Friedman has discussed in an op-ed piece this week that they days we can go to college for four years and then use that knowledge for the next 30 is basically over. Thirty years are long enough to cover two, three or four technology cycles. If you want to be competitive in the workplace, it is critical to adopt the attitude of life-long learning like Sonal.

“My philosophy as a life-long learner on edX is: the most important thing is not how well you do in the course or how many certificates and degrees you earn, but how you apply what you learn to connect with the world, improve yourself, inspire others to learn and help others in every way possible. We all have something interesting to teach others. On edX we get this wonderful opportunity to learn and share as a global community.”

Click here to view original web page at blog.edx.org

You may wonder when and if MOCC and other alternative form of learning can create pressure to ivory towers who are reluctant to changes. There may be pressure inside many colleges but we may not able to see it from the outside unless someone press the wrong button. This week, Kelly Jordan, president of Holy Cross College, a small college in Indiana, pushed the wrong button accidentally and circulated a confidential email to everyone detailing the school’s current financial woes. The smaller colleges, like Holy Cross College, which lack economy of scale, are particularly vulnerable to disruptive innovation such as MOOC. As both New York Times and WSJ have pointed out, colleges have been playing the game of price differentiation for some time. The sticker price is a starting point but a student may be paying much less. The increase in discount, or the spread between the sticker and net price, is a very bad sign for colleges as the customers (parents and students) are showing fatigue to the product. The price degradation is a familiar phenomenon in fast-changing industry with low marginal cost. Some schools such as Georgia Tech, are actively disruptively itself by offering hybrid offering at substantially lower cost to students. Georgia Tech is working with EdX and Udacity in the hybrid offerings. Another MOOC giant, Coursera, is also active in partnering with Universities such as University of Illinois in offering MBA and Data Science. Georgia Tech and Illinois are both great schools and they are prudent to pursue the hybrid strategy. Schools with big endowment and huge brand equity can survive the challenge. Undifferentiated product from providers without scale may not.

With all the resources available, one may need help to figure out what to learn and area of focus. Bill Gates is providing his wisdom to the graduating class. Bill is longing AI, energy and bioscience.

It is well known that the largest technology companies such as Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple and IBM are investing heavily in AI. In fact, the investment from the big five is already eclipsing the investment funding sponsored by the U.S. government. This is a noteworthy shift as U.S. government was historically a big supporter for R&D with payoff far into the future. The shift has been years in the making. It is scary to think Google now controls your kid’s computing platform (Chromebook), your mobile phone (Android) and your desktop Internet experience (search). If they also control AI and if they become evil, what will happen? That seems to be too much power concentration in one company for a sound system. Obviously, they may not win the battle of AI as Bezos et al are working hard to prevent such power concentration but Google has a huge advantage vs. others because of its data footprint.

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