Not Reinventing Education

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Education seems like an attractive market to entrepreneurs. It’s huge. It has low competition. Its core technology comes straight from the Stone Age. Why won’t you create something cool here?

Education is different. Not only because of ideology, but because of the very Stone-Age technology that looks replaceable. Universities didn’t change much since they had come out of monasteries a thousand years ago. And they are highly competitive despite that. You won’t find another industry in which a company remains on top for nine centuries.

Most startups created thus far compete with textbooks, not education. New textbooks now work in a browser and interact with the reader. Online courses offer lectures and materials from the best teachers. But it’s not the university experience, as the teachers themselves agree. Books remain books even online. Best books were in libraries for centuries. It never withheld the learners.

Education is cooperation. Cooperation happens in groups, and groups are limited by definition. Harvard might have a million students (after all, Walmart has 245 million customers weekly), but then it would be an ordinary place. Until groups are small and carefully selected, its members may learn from each other and the faculty. In other words, education is all about one limited resource: people’s attention. IT can’t scale up people’s attention yet. It does routine stuff and does it well, like crawling petabytes of data daily. For this, it’s more likely to create the next Google worth $300 bn. than to create a $10 bn. business in education.

PS: Investors agree:

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