Tug of War – Traditionalists vs. Technologists

TO:  University Presidents

RE:  Tug of War – Traditionalists vs. Technologists

A high-profile tug-of-war is going on in the world of higher-education today between the technologists and the traditionalists.

I have been thinking about the role of technology in higher education with a new perspective, having recently led Revolution Growth’s investment in a blended-learning company called Echo360. The more I learn, the more it seems the debate is a needless tug-of-war, and the winning opportunity is for university presidents to blend the best of both worlds – to embrace disruptive technologies to enhance the traditional model of higher education.

On the one side are the technologists: Silicon Valley entrepreneurs offering “new business models” for higher education, online evangelists with more love for computers than classrooms, and provocateurs whose mode is to tout the doom of incumbents. Technologists advocate replacing traditional instruction with YouTube best-of lectures and substituting formal degrees with self-certificates.

On the other side are the traditionalists: educators and administrators who dismiss the technologists as purveyors of buzzwords and today’s flavor of change, who lack a true understanding of the learning process. Traditionalists view online learning as a poor country cousin of the real thing and believe it is only good for “other people’s children.”

Stuck in the middle are tech-savvy students, who arrive on campus surprised that higher education has not moved into the 21st century. Their favorite books are on their Kindles – why not their textbooks?  Their favorite late night comedy routines are available to re-watch on their iPads – why not their professors’ lectures? The popular show Game of Thrones offers on-demand viewing, commentary, related links, viewer interaction, and other extras – why doesn’t their European History class?   It is only a matter of time before this generation of “customers” starts questioning the “product.”

Rather than a tug-of-war, it seems time to find common ground on “University 2.0.”

Common ground on how to bring the last major part of our economy that is analog – higher education – into the digital world.   Common ground that benefits everyone involved – administrators, faculty, and students. Common ground that results in lowering the cost while raising the quality of the education. Common ground that equips faculty with new tools that allow them to re-imagine their craft and interact with students in ways never before possible. Common ground that blends the best of both worlds. To paraphrase singer Dave Mason:  There ain’t no good guys, there ain’t no bad guys, there’s only you and me . . . and we can all agree.


Donn Davis

Donn Davis is Managing Partner of Revolution Growth and he co-founded Revolution LLC with Steve Case in 2005. Revolution Growth is a venture capital firm that invests in and helps build innovative, consumer-facing companies that aim to disrupt large, existing industries.

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