Universities Will Be Amazoned – Just Not By Amazon

A few years ago, people said Amazon is gonna kill physical retail. But in 2015, the company set out to kill retail opened its own physical bookstore – Amazon Books.  

From there onwards, Amazon has entered and changed the face of physical commerce. 

In 2017, Amazon acquired Whole Foods which led it to control over 400 grocery stores across US, Canada and UK. 

And then Amazon opened a new kind of store, Amazon Go – a cashierless grocery store with the most advanced shopping technology. 

The e-commerce giant is leveraging data in smart ways to enhance the in-store experience of shoppers. It creates exceptionally accurate user-profiles and predicts their behaviour by taking note of what a user buys and what they skip.

This has helped Amazon make real-time decisions on inventory and logistics, ensure the right products are available, eliminate waste and overall, stay competitive.

Other retailers are now playing catch up.

Amazon brought its e-commerce expertise to overhaul physical commerce. 

Will universities see a similar trend?

MIT having a Nobel Prize-winning professor who teaches only 200 students every semester, is an underutilized resource.

With a single online course, these professors could not only reach students in the most remote areas but also leave a legacy.

There was a need to democratize education. 

Online education platforms like Coursera, edX and Udacity were built on this premise and have been successful in providing world-class education to the world.

They have figured a way of providing flexibility and feedback to students and save time for teachers.

So what’s next?

“In retail, a customer might have a preference between online and offline purchases, but when it comes to how they buy, very few people exclusively shop online or only in-store. They marry the best of both worlds.” – Anna Schaverien, Forbes

Universities will also see a similar online-offline blend. 

What are the biggest challenges to university lectures?

  1. When in a lecture, if a student has the urge of checking Instagram, they just missed 30 seconds of crucial information that the professor is never gonna repeat. There’s practically no way to rewind the professor, except asking him again and wasting other student’s time. 
  2. When a student is sick, they have to rely on notes of a peer who may or may not have written everything the professor said. 
  3. When content is too easy, a student still has to sit through it all to ensure they don’t miss anything. There’s no way of 2X’ing the professor.

University Education is not personalized and is ripe for disruption. 

And, what are the biggest challenges of MOOCs?

  1. Exams – They can only be multiple choice because if not, it would be a major undertaking to mark papers of thousands of students around the world. 
  2. Verification – It’s very hard for online platforms to confirm that the same person who took the course, wrote the exam. 
  3. Human Aspect – Mostly students are doing online courses alone sitting in their room. 

There is definitely a way of marrying the best of both the worlds. 

Imagine having access to pre-recorded lectures of all courses on the very first day of the semester. I WOULD ABSOLUTELY LOVE THAT.

Pre-recorded lectures would mean you could replay the content millions of times and need not worry looking for course notes on your sick days.

Now you would think – why would any student attend lectures if they have all the course content they need to study?

Lectures are boring because professors are rushing to finish coursework on time. If students already have the coursework, professors can take this opportunity to try exciting things. They could invite industry professionals for a guest lecture or a panel, get students to build projects and encourage entrepreneurial efforts. 

The future of universities will be blended and platforms like Coursera, edX and Udacity will make this possible.

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