Is Tech Disrupting Education?

In the Christian scriptures, it is said that a young boy named David went to fight with Goliath with a few pebbles and a slingshot. Goliath stood at 6 ft 9 inches as opposed to a 17 year old much smaller David.

David was just a shepherd boy. His actual height isn’t given in the bible account, but Goliath was referred to as a giant.

I am referring to this story not to argue the authenticity of the story, but to pick up on a point that Malcolm Gladwell alluded to in his book, David and Goliath.

David and Goliath

Gladwell argues that the younger David,

while being the underdog, won because he did not play according to the rule of the game.Men in those days fight with honour. It was the rule of the game to fight with honour.

Fighting with honour means that you do not stab an opponent at the back. Both of you will be fighting using the same fighting tool.

David changed the game.

He went to Goliath with some pebbles and a slingshot. As big as Goliath the giant was, he has some weaknesses. David apparently capitalised on those weaknesses and defeated Goliath, not with bow and arrow nor with sword and shield.

Similar to the David and Goliath story, the incumbents in any industry are disrupted when a new startup uses technology and a cheaper method to provide the same service more efficiently.

We can see the example with how new media is disrupting traditional media. Buzzfeed vs The New York Times.

There are also a couple of startups that are building products that power education online.

David and Goliath Exist in Education?

Big Schools like Harvard, Oxford and MIT are well known and popular. There’s a high barrier to entry as they are expensive and the competition for entry is enormous.

A friend of mine earlier this year, left her high paying bank job, her apartment in Lagos, and moved her things back to the countryside as she moved to the USA for a Masters Degree in E-Business. Reason? Not that there are no schools in Nigeria that offer the courses, but she wants to have certification from one of the Ivy League schools in the US.

If she had access to take the same course as provided by 2U from the same school she’s at now, and earn the same kind of certification, she could have jumped on it and still keep her bank job.

2U 2U partners with top tier colleges and universities to create the world's best online programs. It was founded in 2008 by a team of education and technology veterans. Online education is not new. We have a couple of players already. Many Ivy League schools are already providing some of their courses online for free and for a fee. Last week at **[Starupgrind Lagos](**, I caught up with Jeremy Johnson, co founder and Chief Strategy Officer at 2U. I had some question I wanted to ask him as he spoke passionately about the platform they are building and how they have been focusing on creating value to their students and their partners. While Jeremy addressed other members of the audience, he made it clear that a Startup should not focus on the competitor. When I spoke to Jeremy, I was able to ask him what 2U is doing differently and why he thinks the incumbents won’t create their own solution pretty soon and stop offering their courses through 2u.

Jeremy Johnson at Startup Grind Lagos

How does 2U function?

2U does not offer the courses themselves. What they do is they offer the online platform and seek partnership with schools. The schools manage the admission process and course content themselves.

In addition to providing the platform, 2U teams up with the lecturers to create a learning environment that isn’t a replica of offline in class teaching, but the type that is completely created from scratch to suit the online learning and teaching environment.

The 2U Approach

Each University's faculty work with the course developers to create immersive, interactive course materials. Course materials include videos, quizzes and lectures.


Live, weekly classes are taught by university professors in an interactive classroom that is unlike any other online learning experience.
There is also room for peering students together for hands-on learning experiences, such as field placement and global immersions.

Jeremy mentioned to me that starting up is really tough. There’s a lot of work involved. When they started, their aim was to create a platform that will train and equip teachers. At some point, they had to pivot to what they’re offering now.

I figured that the Ivy League schools are going to at some point start offering the same service that 2U is offering and 2U would be out of business.

Jeremy responded and asked me that, if I am a big company, won’t I focus on my business and allow other people make the computers and smartphones we’ll be using?

Of course, I won’t be handling every aspect of my business including making the computers that I will be using.

He went on to mention to me that the Ivy League schools aren’t in the same business with them and they’re not panicking if they would some years down the road.

2U has learnt from failing and discovered how to make the platform work for its clients. If any school is going to come into this space and try to duplicate what they have set up, Jeremy told me, they’re going to have a lot of catching up to do.

He said:

"There are schools doing it already, but they’re not doing it as good as we are doing it. We offer great value to our partnering schools and our students. We keep looking for more ways to add more values by constantly iterating."

I had the opportunity of speaking to someone that was building similar product in the Nigerian educational space, but doesn’t want to be mentioned.

He mentioned to me that he agrees with what Jeremy said.

“People like 2U will never go out of business as they can never be independent. Policies won’t allow them to set up their own schools. They will always need the schools.”

I asked him the same question if the schools won’t one day decide they want to establish an online version of the schools and get to keep 100% of the money and stop using services offered by 2u.

He answered:

“Those specialised in building the technology that power online schools help Ivy League schools save money. The cost of technology and the cost of marketing is out. Cost of admission and looking for students in also out. A lot of these schools are not at a point where they can commit so much money to building this kind of technology."

"Bureaucracy and policies would be the stumbling block. Before you can make such a decision in a school, you have to contact the board of trustees and the governing council. This scenario is similar to the online shops (Jumia and Konga), they are not going to go out of business. The shops are not going to start creating stores and edging out Jumia and Konga.”

But SLOT in Nigeria and some other shops are creating an online versions of their stores and running it independently.

To which he asked me:

“How much are those stores selling from their online stores.”

True to that.

I am a frequent person at SLOT. I check their online store just to know the price of an item and then proceed to go to the physical location of the store.

The argument he’s making is that it is two different businesses that are not disrupting each other just like online stores are not edging out the offline stores.

The offline schools are going to keep needing those creating technology to take schools online and those creating this technology are going to keep needing the schools that are traditionally offline.

What are your thoughts?