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Higher Ed should learn from Silicon Valley. Not rush to repeat their mistakes.

Last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress about how his company handles customer data and privacy. I won’t offer any type of judgment here, but I will say that, generally speaking, bad things happen when companies don’t put the best interests of their customers at the center of what they do.

This week, I’m attending the ASU+GSV Summit, where today I’ll be speaking on a panel titled, “Is the Netflix of Higher Ed Finally Here?”

And I have some reservations.

I’ve always said that students and instructors haven’t been served well by our industry. And yes, some of that has to do with business models. So I’m excited to talk about innovation here — to an extent.

The subtext of this discussion — that what Higher Ed really needs is a dose of Silicon Valley thinking — makes me uncomfortable. Because when companies focus on their own needs ahead of their customers’, they start to lose their way.

I believe this: Education companies can be of value to their customers in three ways. We can improve outcomes. We can make learning more affordable. And we can make learning accessible to all.

As ed-tech leaders, our job is to accomplish those three things — and then get out of the way. Because everything else is a distraction.

I’ve talked to thousands of instructors over the course of my career. Not one of them has asked me about our business models.

Why? Because our models serve us, not them.

This week, every education company is excited to talk about innovation. Knewton is one of them! But I think we’d all be better off if we focused on something that’s a lot less flashy: service.

Service is not just something we provide. It’s the entire reason we exist.

What we really should be talking this week is how we can better serve students and instructors. Outcomes, affordability and access. It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that.



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Brian Kibby

CEO at Knewton. Passionate driver of digital transformation in education, with deep experience in personalized learning technology.