More than nearly any writer I think I’ve read, Sarah Lacy of TechCrunch gets it. She understands disruptive innovation, as well as why some promising innovations work whereas others don’t, and why all of it flummoxes the experts in a field who grow frustrated with why people would be attracted to a so-called lesser offering (lesser as judged by historical measures of performance; quality is always relative).

I urge readers to check out her piece on Nixty, a platform for eLearning courses worldwide that recently launched and whose founder I’ve had the opportunity of corresponding with quite a bit over the last couple years, as well as her piece titled “What the Valley is Missing in Online Education” that I tweeted when it came out.

A few sections or lines that jumped out at me in the Nixty article:

“It’s easy to say that online education can never capture the full experience of being in a classroom, the one-on-one chats with the teacher, the face-to-face bonding with classmates, the simplicity of raising your hand when you have a question. Opening a chat window or sending an email just doesn’t compare. The question is: How much do people care about those differences? Because we heard the same argument with CDs versus MP3s, TV versus online video, reading physical books versus reading over a Kindle or iPad. Evidence has shown that in most categories a meaningful group of people will take convenience over immersive experience.”

Yup, classic disruption, and a clarifying way to think about the blog I wrote about Knewton and were disruptions generally not as good as the existing paradigm. In this case, they don’t replicate what we think education “should look like” so we naturally judge them as not as good along those old measures of performance.

“Nixty is hardly the only company trying to be an open, social eLearning tool. This has been a hot market especially in developing countries, and Nixty is wise enough to recognize that’s where a lot of the battle is going to be fought, rather than in the US. Which is not to say there are no niche markets here – for instance, children being homeschooled whose parents would like new-self-driven curricula, or people who can’t easily leave the house, either because of disabilities, childcare issues or even house arrest (speaking of which: continuing education courses for attorneys or lawyers may be another niche.)”

Classic areas of nonconsumption about which I’ve written.

“But back to the argument of how much people care about immersive experiences, the fact is that most people who can afford to go to college in the US want the experience of actually going to college. Those of us who would love to go back to college but don’t have the time to take off from careers or raising families, could use Nixty, but the problem is what I call the “Rosetta Stone dilemma.” I love Rosetta Stone’s (link) software, and I think the approach to learning languages works – but the bottom line is there’s no short cut to the hours you need to put in to really learn a language fluently and I just don’t have those hours. It’s the same reason a lot of eHealth ventures have flopped. You have to build companies for how people actually behave, not how you’d like them to.”

Wonderful description that drives home the concept of Jobs to be Done in almost our exact language that we use in our forthcoming second edition of Disrupting Class that will have a new chapter about this very idea.

Stay tuned.


  • Michael B. Horn
    Michael B. Horn

    Michael B. Horn is Co-Founder, Distinguished Fellow, and Chairman at the Christensen Institute.