Ulrich News – July 2014

1. Will Video Kill the Classroom Star?

Christian Terwiesch and I are releasing today a new report on the threat and opportunity of Massively Open On-Line Courses (MOOCs) for full-time MBA programs.

Here it is: Terwiesch-Ulrich-MOOC-16Jul2014

Terwiesch Ulrich MOOC Report

Prior to the 20th century, entertainment was predominantly delivered via live performances. The advent of motion pictures fundamentally altered the entertainment industry. Why go and see a local clown in the town square if you can watch one of the best in the world on the big screen? With the advent of on-line instructional technology, perhaps classroom instruction will undergo a similar transformation.

Business schools are clearly vulnerable. A top full-time two-year MBA program costs about $120,000. Blessed with those revenues, elite business schools have not focused much on efficiency. We show that it presently costs a business school about $1,500 in instructional costs to provide one course to one student. Moreover, business schools encourage faculty research, which itself does not generate revenues, but costs approximately $400,000 per scholarly article published.

The emergence of the Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) offers the prospect of dramatically lower instructional costs, possibly without the financial burden of faculty research. Based on our experience at Wharton, we show that it costs just pennies to register a new student in a MOOC and a few dollars for every student that actually completes the course. With such a cost advantage, one might predict that MOOCs will offer the same fate to professors as befell stage actors in the early 20th Century.

We argue that this prediction is likely incomplete. The threat to business schools is not the MOOC, but the technology embedded in the MOOC: chunked asynchronous video content created by an expert. This technology, which we call SuperText, has the potential to destroy full-time MBA programs as we know them today. However, if used differently, the same technology can be used to strengthen today’s business schools by boosting student learning and leveraging faculty and other expensive assets. Unemployed clown or the Charlie Chaplin of education? We outline a set of actions every faculty member and every business school can take to influence that destiny.

2. Noteworthy Items from Summer (so far)

Swiss-Army-Knife Products

If you have not yet seen this (and that is unlikely), you’ll be amazed by the Kickstarter project which (as of this writing) has raised $5mm for a better picnic cooler. You read correctly…a picnic cooler.

Kickstarter "coolest" picnic cooler.

Kickstarter “coolest” picnic cooler.

This cooler integrates a blender, radio, cutting board, ice compartment, plate storage, wheels, tie downs…you get the idea. It’s a “swiss-army-knife” product. Just take a bunch of features and combine them into one product.

Wow. I’m not a big fan of these products. They usually do nothing particularly well. But, maybe I need to revisit my bias. I do have several actual swiss army knives. They come in handy. When $5mm in revenue is generated for a product concept, it’s hard to argue a lack of validity.

However, one of my former students pointed out that a comedic entrepreneur had raised $50k for making potato salad. Really. Check it out here.


So, maybe a big response on Kickstarter is not as valid a market signal as we might believe.

That’s it folks. If you don’t yet follow me on twitter, and would like more timely updates, you can get them here @ktulrich.

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