In a piece on Vox.com, titled “How Amazon could destroy college as we know it”, Alexander Holt speculates on how Amazon could move into the business of HE. It’s based on an imagined speech by Jeff Bezos in 2030, reflecting on what Amazon has achieved. It’s based on imagination, but supported by references to actual achievements by Amazon. As with all service provision that has previously been primarily state or public funded, we know full well that venture capitalists and technology entrepreneurs see that HE is ripe for “disruption” and that technology will play a key part in this solutionism.
Holt envisions Amazon developing their already developed classroom used to support their staff, together with “badging” of competences to create mastery of tracks such as logistics. The next step proposed is that of the Amazon University to support internal staff development. So far, so similar to plenty of other in-house training or development schemes. The next imagined step is the interesting one – what if Amazon opened up these classroom, badges and courses to anyone? What if they offered access to Prime customers at no extra cost, to be able to study for a qualification and to keep them locked into the Amazon customer experience?
At a time when the MOOC-boosters have gone a little quiet (remember the heady days of 2012?), then maybe looking at those companies such as Amazon, or Google, (even Facebook) with their “closed garden” view of the internet, and their sheer dominance over the provision of web services, and maybe we can see the latest potential disruptor of higher education.
A couple of years ago I took a few MOOCs, one of which was on disruptive technologies. As a final assessment, I wrote a paper (essay in UK terminology) on how technology would disrupt HE. At a time when we are looking at the possible outcomes of a Green Paper review that was fixated on ideas of teaching excellence, but focusing entirely on metrics of students who have been full time undergraduates, then maybe we need to look again at how technology might (or might not) change higher education. At the time I argued that MOOCs wouldn’t be the game-changer that was being suggested at the time. However, we need to find a better use of technology that will be the key in helping to change HE, provided that it is used in a way to reduce gaps in inequality of access to learning, not to increase them, and to enhance the learning experience of students in meaningful way. A blog post from 2014 revisited these ideas.
If you want to read the original essay, then a copy of it can be supplied!