Can We Disrupt Education Without Losing Its Benefits?

I’m conflicted: On the one hand, I’m very much in favor of technology disrupting traditional education. On the other hand, what about the value of traditional educational institutions as rite of passage, validation, and cultural catalyst? Can we possible have it both ways?

can technology disrupt education

So many people agree education has to change. Imagine a tablet-based program for early education through high school. Investigate MOOCs. Google disrupt higher education. It seems so obvious. I believe this is part of the future, for sure. I’ve been doing online courses myself, including business plan tutorials for the SBA, several courses for the bplans school of business (with Udemy), and for a new venture not yet launched, Silicon Valley Startup Academy.

But over the weekend somebody asked me what I look for in degrees and such when I am evaluating a person for a job in my business. And the question made me think about it.


  • A college degree serves as a rite of passage. It means the degree holder stuck to a program, did the work, dealt with the system, and finished something. I don’t have the same assurance from the self educated.
  • That degree is validation. The institution has a stake in it. While it is true, as my dear mother-in-law used to say, that “there are millions of idiots with papers;” I look to the degree as a minimum proof of something.
  • The degree can serve as cultural catalyst. In a lot of the better residential campus-based institutions, the degree means this person went from high school to a college campus where he or she was able to integrate into college campus life and life with other young people, as students, for a few years.
All three of these elements are more important to me, as an employer, than the course content. Sure, I do look for some specialized knowledge with a degree for some specialized jobs like finance/accounting or computer code; but for most jobs the course content is far less important than learning how to learn, study, produce output, and get things done.

So here’s the question: can we disrupt education, using technology, without losing the rite of passage, validation, and cultural benefits?


  • Charles Robinson says:

    A rather timely article on this subject: ” In all, the four-year residential college experience as a presumed rite of passage for middle-class students is coming under scrutiny.”

  • Charles Robinson says:

    I found the college experience largely worthless, but given my previous statements on higher education you probably aren’t surprised. 🙂

  • Sammy Villarreal says:

    With my daughter about to enter her second semester of college, this is exactly what I think about. Especially when I see her taking on such a heavy course load. All while she shares her worry and frustration with not knowing what she “should” major in. On one end, I tell her to pursue a passion or an interest, which doesn’t necessarily require a “traditional” degree for that. On the other, I want her to have this experience for the very reasons you described.

    These are definitely very interesting times.

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