Business models in international education: what is possible? How local is education in your view?



In No education crisis wasted: On Bridge’s “business model in Africa (July 13, 2017), Hengeveld criticizes the way Bridge International Academies (Bridge) organizes their educational model in countries like Kenya (2009), Uganda (2014), Nigeria (2015), Liberia (2016) and India (2017). At their own website, they describe their Academy-in-a-Box: We re-engineered every part of the education system, from teacher training and support, to lesson delivery, construction and financial administration, as well as pupil and teacher feedback to monitor progress, to make it as efficient, effective – and very affordable for the communities we serve….The global education crisis means that it’s essential our education model is sustainable and scalable, that’s why we aren’t an NGO. The model includes 24/7 support of the teachers; following the national curriculum of the countries, incorporating the local context and standards, collaborate with local education ministries; personalized instructions using Wi-Fi handhelds, recording student data, freeing teachers to concentrate on teaching instead of administrative functions; streamlining managerial tasks, freeing managers to concentrate on teachers, families and communities.

According to a report of the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GIESCR),  Bridge uses “school in a box” model, employing a highly-standardized approach to education. At BIA, every school looks the same, the material used is the same in each classroom, and most importantly, the lessons are the same across all the academies of the same country. BIA uses a system of scripted lessons, and its teachers – who are mostly secondary school leavers without formal teaching qualifications – receive lesson plans on an e-tablet, which they have to follow word by word”. This report criticizes Bridge for several reasons. Firstly, they show that the tuition fees are such that poorer students cannot participate. Secondly, they dispute the compliance with local legal and educational standards. The report points towards research in Kenya(*), that “the majority of BIA students are taught by unqualifed, overworked, teachers using teaching scripts (developed in the US) read from tablets. The school infrastructure is basic and viewed by many as inadequate. [..]. Regular payments are strictly enforced and students who are behind with payments are excluded from the classroom. Both GIESCR and Hengeveld argue that public investors, as the Dutch government and the World Bank should reconsider their contributions.

Whether Bridge International Academies does violate national legal educational and labor regulations is something which I cannot determinate.  The arguments in the contra-Bridge rapports are convincing, but Bridge of course deny the observations mentioned above.

A different question is whether the business model of Bridge is viable altogether. Taking the strategic paradox De Wit and Meyer (2014**) on internationalization of organizations, they distinguish two perspectives, the global convergence perspective and the international diversity perspective. The first builds on international centralization of management, economies of scale in purchasing policies and sales, increasing efficiency. The second perspective accepts that there are fundamental differences between local markets, customers and governments.

Education is a sector which is certainly characterized by international administrative and legal diversity. So each organization which wants to operate on a global scale should take account of the local rules and regulations with respect to curricula, but also to privacy legislation and labor market regulations. react severely when –in their experiences- an organization disrespects or even violates these national laws. Especially when the organization offers formal degrees, local accreditation is essential for recognition.

Another question is how general is ‘education’. Is it possible to develop educational materials for the teachers or even for the students which can be used globally? To profit from the economies of scale, there has to be some synergy between either resources (reallocation, specialization), activities (pooling, specialization or competitive local advantages) and in the product offering (standardization, cross-border competition). For example, by designing an international oriented MOOC, the assumption is that the didactical methods are internationally usable. Whether it is an American textbook on sociology, a MOOC on global pollution or a distance course on chemistry, the designers/authors use a didactical method, specific examples and language. What makes some materials broader usable than others; what makes authors think that their materials are internationally usable? For example, starting European students of economics in the 80’s knew more about the American Federal Reserve than of the monetary systems of other European countries.

Bridge, but also MOOCs and OER implicitly assume that educational materials are broader adaptable than the development environment. Bridge even states that the material they make available through their tablets can be supplemented by the advice of central organized experts. Of course, the materials made available by Bridge are their own resources. MOOCs are available under creative common copyrights, but are often not adjustable, taking the form of a static text book for use in other environments. Only OER available under the most flexible creatives commons are adjustable and reusable by third parties (teachers). Yet, adjusting these resources, translating them in other languages, subtitling and adding local examples will be a lot of work. If the critique on Bridge’s central approach is right and local education is more effective with local teaching, this also removes the arguments of the possibility to provide less costly education, available for all social classes and incomes. If Bridge’s education isn’t more effective, more accessible and of a higher quality than the local teachings, the business model of this kind of education disappears.

But if the central globalization approach doesn’t work for Bridge, will MOOCs and OER be usable outside of the developers’ environment. Three of the shortcomings of MOOCs as listed on the website Online Course Report (OCR, 2016) are the teaching methods, the way content is presented and their Anglo-Saxon orientation. And these are listed as general limitations, not specifically because of local methodology.

I would like the opinion of teachers among my readers, How local is education in your view?

* Bridge versus Reality: A study of Bridge International Academies’ for profit schooling in Kenya; Report, Education International/Kenya National Union of Teachers, December 2016

** De Wit, B., & Meyer, R. (2014). Strategy synthesis: Resolving strategy paradoxes to create competitive advantage. Cengage Learning EMEA.




A Business Model for a research and education

Recently, I was asked to suggest a business model for a research and education center. Some organizations aimed to work together in the field of innovation and regional knowledge sharing. Aim is to make the center sustainable in the sense of Yunus et al. (2010). They describe Social Businesses as an organization which aims to earn enough to renew the invested capital combined with social profit maximization: At the same time as trying to achieve their social objective, social businesses need to recover their full costs so they can be self-sustainable.

Already several earning models of the kind Rappa describes at his website were discussed, however, a business model involves more than only an earning potential. So starting out with the assumption that in research each question is unique, this defines n=1. The methods of academic research may be more or less modeled in a stage model, each query will need different data bases, different academic specialties and competences.

The same applies for education. Taking aside learning styles and other contextual  factors, the group of intended learners will have specific work and practice related needs.

This suggest that at the input side r=g, a network organization is needed to meet the demand of the customers. The business model has to take the r=1-n=g philosophy of Prahalad (and others) into account. Central questions are

  1. how the network organization can attracted the necessary resources to organize the activities  needed to fulfill the unique demands of the customers?
  2. How to organize the earning model to make the center self-sustainable as a social business.

Education and research as a network organization

Note that in a network organization there are two sets of key resources and key activities as mentioned in the Osterwalder-Pigneur business canvas: firstly the resources and activities aimed at fulfilling the needs of the customer, the realization of the value offering. These factors have to be found in the relationships which make up the network of the organization. The key resources and activities within the organization have to do with setting the conditions necessary to activate the former external resources and activities. The internal resources and activities as relationship management, ‘the black books’ and communication and organizational skills are the core competences of the network organization. Money is often an important persuading factor, but reputation, knowledge sharing and strategic issues can also convince organizations to work together in a network setting.

A business model for an education and research network organization

The assumption is that the main customers of such a model are other organizations, having specific research questions, wanting to school their employees. The aim of the network organization is to match demand by organizing its partners into a relevant supply.

The actual business model is inspired by a model some colleagues of mine had developed some years ago for a HEI. It consists of different layers, each aimed at a specific audience, but building on each other.

The major difference between the layers is its amount of openness and the facilities offered. The first layer consists of free information, free courses, OER and research rapports. This layer offers free products and services for interested parties. The only restriction is that one has to register with an real email-address. There are several potential sources of income in such a case:

  1. Selling marketing space to third parties
  2. Internal subsidies because of the marketing of other products and services
  3. External subsidies because of the dissemination of knowledge
  4. Analyzes and sales of data on potential customers; email addresses ect.

In terms of Rappa’s earning models this is a combination of the advertising and the infomediary model. In Rappa’s taxonomy, the Freemium model of Anderson (giving away something for free; earning an income by offering additional services or products) is part of the advertising model.

In the second layer (registered) visitors find a supply of standardized service and products, for example courses based on existing courses of the participants, workshops and alike. Interested parties can either participate or buy products on a pay-as-you-go base, or –in the case of changing offerings- take a subscription. The utility model assumes the first case, whereas the subscription model differs from the description here as they assume the subscriber also to be a member of the network.

Here, I would label the participants of the last two layers as members. Members of the third layer become part of the community in the sense that they can freely use courses and existing research. Furthermore, they can participate in discussions and influence the direction of new research and the educational course of the center. This level can be compared with a regular student at a HEI, who has pays a yearly fee and is during that year free to use all the facilities and courses at the institute.

Of course, for specific studies or custom made courses and other on-demand the subscribing member has to pay an additional fee. The fourth layer consists of the full participants, the suppliers of services and products supplied in the three other layers. New full participants should pay a fee reimbursing the others for the initial investment costs, getting the right to promote and sell their own products and services within the center.

Open Education                                   – free (registered) entry–                   Open Access
Courses                                                     – pay as you go –                                 Studies
Programs and custom made courses          – community I –                   Original research
(New) Producers                                           – community II –                   Founding fathers

Overall, such a center will act as a broker between the participating organizations and individuals or organizations seeking the products and services on offer. In the brokerage model, income is earned by charging a commission or a fee either based on actual transactions or as part of a general agreement. Yet, at each level data is generated which could be used to create value for (potential) customers and partners, again creating income. Another additional source of income could be regional and national subsidies as governments often stimulate geographical collaboration.

Changes are that an actual implementation of such a model will require some adjustments, for example the privacy regulations with respect to adjustments to the gathering and usage of data are strict; in a world of ever falling government budgets, subsidies may be small or non-existent.

Still, a business model which generates income through its communities can afford to sustain Open Education and Open Access (research), which in itself will not be sustainable.

It would, therefore, be interesting to see if an institute or center build on these principles would be self-sustainable in the sense of Yunus et al (2010), combining a social goal (Open Education, Open Access), while at the same time covering the full costs.



Yunus, M., Moingeon, B., & Lehman‐Ortega, L. (2010). Building social business models: lessons from the Grameen experience, Long Range Planning, 43, 308‐325

It has to be Open: The Lau last performance at PinkPop

Internet, sharing and openness; lessons from e-commerce

At the beginning of the century, the influence of the Internet on business really took off. This induced managers and scientists to reflect on the role of the Internet on the way we do business. One of the major changes was the openness and sharing. Another influence is the increasing competition. Because information flows “openly”, the possibility to compare prices, quality and other characteristics increases beyond the geographical proximity.

Education is only beginning to feel the influence of both trends. The High Level Group on the Modernisation of Higher Education has published a new rapport on the New Modes of Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. In this report, the importance of technological progress for the widening of access of HE is stressed. As they state “Online technologies provide opportunities to learn anywhere, any time and from anyone”. Non-traditional learners have access to new forms of learning which will increase lifelong learning and ongoing professionalization.

In a world were global politics become more complex and worldwide manual labour has become a commodity, both European democracy and Europe’s competitive position require an ever increasing education of its population. Creativity and smart solutions have to take the place of mass production; not only the designers and developers have to be high educated, the average labour force also has to scale up. Another interesting observation is that “The goal should be to ensure that all publicly funded education resources are openly available”. This is not only a support of the Open Educational Resources-movement, but can be interpreted broader: education should be free as mostly all public educational institutes are mainly funded by the government.

Tony Bates (2014) concludes his review of Moocs with the observation, that “[A]t some point, institutions will need to develop a clearer, more consistent strategy for open learning, in terms of how it can best be provided, how it calibrates with formal learning, and how open learning can be accommodated within the fiscal constraints of the institution, and then where MOOCs might fit with the strategy”.

When we look into different sectors, where openness plays a role, we can distinguish:

– Open as in free to use, re-use and distribute: the open source movement in the sector of Information Technology. In general there are two different approaches. Communities develop free software, whereas companies are allowed to use the free software to sell specialized adaptations (only making the customers pay for the added value). In the other case, firms give away software or products to earn money with additions to these products and services (freemium, ranging from WinZip to razors).

– open as in open access in the publishing sector, where costs are shifted from users (readers) towards producers (researchers, writers); the intermediate firms keep the same or more income. Often open access is motivated by the fact that most research is funded by public funds, so it should be freely available for the public. Publishers are then compensated for their costs by authors’ fees.

– open as in free to participate, as the Internet opens the possibility for the public to participate in journalism or quality control. Furthermore firms use customers to improve their products and develop new products and services; labeled co-creation.

– open as in open innovation, the process whereby firms ‘spin-in’  ideas and inventions of others and ‘spin-out’ ideas and inventions which do not fit into the business models of the firm, especially in the industrial sectors. IP-rights are essential as they make it possible to trade inventions which can or will not be used internally. By selling and buying inventions, the efficiency and size of innovations in society will increase. Technology increases the possibilities for innovation on a small scale. Sharing of knowledge and resources is a major force behind the MakersMovement, in which small inventors design, prototype and -eventually- distribute their innovative products or services (see Anderson, 2012).

Wiley (2014) – in his discussion on Moocs – defines openness in education as the transition of ‘open entry’ (in the sense of no entry demands from the Open Universities) towards ‘open licenses’, as in Open Educational Resources (OER), towards a possible  ‘open educational infrastructure’.

The Open Educational Resources movement strives to generate educational resources, which are shared for free (although often developed using subsidies of national governments and private institutions).  Moocs are a part of this development, but where the majority of OER is aimed at teachers, Moocs are developed for usage by learners, opening up participation.

Moocs are also, more then OER, examples of the ‘give-part sell-part’ approach to openness. In the regulations of several Mooc-platforms, we see explicit remarks about the earning potential of alternative usage of the Moocs: licensing, assessment and certification but also use a HRM-instrument and corporate universities.

This definition of openness is consistent with the 5-components model for open education (5COE) of Mulder and Janssen [2013]. This model analyses the different activities of (open) education and it is possible to un-bundle these into three components on the supply side and two on the demand side.

On the supply side they distinguish:

  1. Open educational resources (OER)
  2. Open learning services (OLS): online and virtual activities which are available either free or for payment, including assessments, exams and communities.
  3. Open teaching efforts (OTE): all supporting activities as teaching, ict-support and other roles in (distance) teaching; these activities will generally not be free.

On the demand side they describe the following two components:

  1. Open to learners’ needs (OLN): open education should be free in the sense of time, space and tempo; however, it should also be affordable for everyone.
  2. Open to employability & capabilities development (OEC): education should be open towards new and changing demands from society and the labour market, but also promote critical thinking, creativity and personal growth.

Christensen et al. (2014) uses a similar approach to forecast a more disruptive development with respect to the (American) educational sector. Distance education, the competence based approach, the existence of high quality, accredited open educational materials offers commercial firms the opportunity to enter the educational sector, aiming at low cost segments and non-consumers (of existing education). According to them, it is only a matter of time before the last bastion of the traditional mixture of academic research and education, the accreditation organizations, will fall. So unbundling education at an organizational level could result in unbundling at a sectorial or national level and a new division between open en exclusive forms of education.

Most educational programs are not financed by their students, but subsidized by governments, churches or private enterprises. Depending on the fee, the financial barriers of participation in education are substantial to non-exsting. Contrary to the (average) openness in finances, most institutions have entry barriers in terms of quality requirements. Only the Open Universities (yet not all, and not for all programs) accept all students without a formal qualification. So, although open access in a financial way exists in some European countries, where the majority of the costs is shifted from the individual towards the collective. Yet open participation is even rarer due to qualitative restrictions for non-degree learners. This is an explanation why Moocs have attracted so much attention: it is the change for many not formally qualified learners to follow relevant academic courses.

Open innovation is based on collaboration, based on trust or contracts and on bought knowledge. HEI’s have a long tradition on working together on research projects. Yet, it seems that in the field of education, both developing and exploiting courses and programs, collaboration is less common. Still, there are large opportunities to exploit the Long Tail of Education. In Anderson’s long tail, the Internet combines two factors. The distribution and marketing costs of digital materials is approaching zero, so it’s only production costs which determine the price; furthermore is it possible to reach out to more people than locally interested. In the music business this means that a Celtic classical ensemble can distribute its music towards a global public covering costs, whereas in the traditional music industry this was only possible for hits. In education, this means that it should be possible for small audience courses to survive, provided that the teachers work together and share resources.

The success of Open Innovation depends on the right attitude. It requires a realization that the organization has to absorb external knowledge and has the competence to do so. It also requires an awareness of the strengths of the organization, as the external knowledge has to be complementary with the existing knowledge and competencies. External knowledge can destruct the existing business model and help to build a new one, but only when the competencies are available to transform the knowledge in an actual business model.

This means that opening up the supply side of the educational business model, we should ask ourselves questions like:

  1. What are our strengths and weaknesses, in the services we provide towards our students, our financiers and society?
  2. Which external knowledge can lessen our weaknesses and how do we acquire this knowledge? Are collaborations possible?
  3. How do we exploit and enlarge our strengths? Can the be of use in the collaborations to lessen the weaknesses?

For example, specific knowledge could be used to develop online courses which are taught to both our own students as students of other institutes for a fee. Even the expertise to develop online courses itself could be used to make excellent external knowledge available for our own students, by seeking combinations of our excellence in online teaching, combined with the knowledge of research institutes.

So opening up on the supply side may be a case of showing the possibilities of win-win situations by combining the strengths (or weaknesses) of the different institutions involved. Opening up on the demand side, from teacher/institution to student is perhaps both simpler and more difficult. As shown above, an Open Access-model requires a shift of costs from the users towards the producers. The simple solution is the removal of all fees for students and a full government funding of the HEI’s. This can be resisted on ideological grounds. For example, the British government finances students through loans, so they will choose the HEI’js best fitted for them, challenging HEI’js to improve their education in such a way that most students chose for them. If this is a good model to improve educational quality and the knowledge level in the economy can be discussed, however, it is one of the used models.

The second barrier to openness depicted above is the use of qualitative entry demands. Of course, there are formal restrictions on entry, but institutions are often more strict than legally required. For example, in the Netherlands, the entry demands for students with a vocational degree when entering a university are very high. That is not only because they lack research competencies, or the knowledge of specific academic subjects, but also because educational institutions in the Netherlands strive for the best students. The flexible part of their budgets depends on the success ratios of students and the amount of degrees awarded. By discouraging the lesser students, success ratios will be enhanced and for every student the “degree bonus” will be received.

Openness will increase experimentation, which will lead to a certain amount of failure. Not every (open) invention becomes a sustainable innovation and not every individual starting an academic program will become a successful student. Yet, without experimentation no successes too!

Remaining question of course is who is going to pick up the bill of the students’  “free lunch”?

Live BC – Before College / AD – After Degree according to 9GAG


Anderson , C., (2014) Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, Crown Business

Bates, T. (2014), A review of MOOCs and their assessment tools,  , accessed November 2014

European Commission (2014), Report to the European Commission on New modes of learning and teaching in higher education, October 2014, ISBN 978-92-79-39789-9, doi:10.2766/81897, , accessed November 2014

Mulder, F.,  B. Janssen (2013, in Dutch) Open (het) onderwijs, Surf Trendrapport, (accessed October 2014);
English version:

Wiley, D. (2014) The MOOC Misstep and the Open Education Infrastructure, September 18, retrieved September 30,  2014,

Wiley, D.,  (2014), The Open Education Infrastructure, and Why We Must Build It, July 15, 2014, , accessed December 18, 2014








What is Openness in Open Education??

In general, there seems to be a tendency towards openness in society.

Ilustation from Magelia WebStore,

In the sector of Information Technology, we see the Open Software movement, a movement in which people share knowledge, resources and products for free.

The Open Educational Resources movement strives to generate educational resources, which are shared for free (although often developed using subsidies of national governments and private institutions).

In the publishing sector, we see a discussion on Open Access; free access to scientific (subsidized) publication.

In industrial sectors, we see a discussion on Open Innovation (Chesbrough, 2006, de Wit and Meyer, 2014); the idea that most knowledge will be developed outside the firm. New knowledge, necessary for innovations, has to be bought, sold or shared. (Information) Technology increases the possibilities for innovation on a small scale. Sharing of knowledge and resources is a major force behind the MakersMovement, in which small inventors design, prototype and -eventually- distribute their innovative products or services (also see Anderson, 2012).

Wiley (2014) – in his discussion on Moocs – defines openness in education as the transition of ‘open entry’ (in the sense of no entry demands from the Open Universities) towards ‘open licenses’, as in Open Educational Resources (OER), towards a possible  ‘open educational infrastructure’.

Open Universities over the world (generally) accept all kinds of students, independent of the level of former education. Yet, education in this case is not free; students have to pay fees, which can become a barrier despite the formal openness. So did a member of the Open University of the UK argue that it could be seen as a social obligation to set entry tests. Given that students have to pay certain fees, it would be unfair to let them make debts for a couple of years, after which the university concludes that they are not capable of finishing their study.Since the nineties of the last century, several organizations worked on the development and distribution of free educational objects. These objects were termed Open Educational Resources in 2001 by the Unesco (1st Global OER Forum in 2002). This openness is defined over five dimensions (the 5R activities, as defined by the Unesco (2012):

  • Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the work (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)
  • Reuse – the right to use the work in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a web site, in a video)
  • Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the work itself (e.g., translate it into another language)
  • Remix – the right to combine the original or revised work with other open works to create something new (e.g., incorporate the work into a mash up)
  • Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original work, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the work to someone else)

© Chad Anderson |

Another general model of openness is the 5-components model for open education (5COE) of Mulder and Janssen [2013, figure 2]. This model unbundles the different activities into three components on the supply side and two on the demand side.

On the supply side they distinguish:

  1. Open educational resources (OER) 2. Open learning services (OLS): online and virtual activities which are available either free or for payment, including assessments, exams and communities; 3. Open teaching efforts (OTE): all supporting activities as teaching, ict-support and other roles in (distance) teaching; these activities will generally not be free.

On the demand side they describe the following two components:

  1. Open to learners’ needs (OLN): open education should be free in the sense of time, space and tempo; however, it should also be affordable for everyone. 5. Open to employability & capabilities development (OEC): education should be open towards new and changing demands from society and the labour market, but also promote critical thinking, creativity and personal growth .

The unbundling of Janssen and Mulder (2013) had the aim to develop a potential earning model for HEI’s, combining paid activities with the supply of free resources. This was necessary because there was a feeling that the isolated development of open educational resources, as done by MIT (subsidized by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation), or (offering whole courses, subsidized by Michael Saylor ( MicroStrategy Inc.)) were too much dependent on the goodwill of a person or foundation.

Others are building on Andersons 2009) Freemium model ). For example, the Free Software Academy, which offers free courses and paid tutoring within accredited programs. The Moocs developed in recent years often use a similar business model.

With respect to the openness of this model two remarks have to be made:

  1. there is a major division between several providers of resources, whether objects or full courses. All are open in the sense that using them to learn or teach is free (costless and no entry barriers), Yet, some do apply all the Unesco R’ s, some only part (both participating under different Creative Commons Copyrights), some are not reusable or adjustable at all. Especially Moocs are static in the sense that they cannot be changed or adjusted to new usage, sometimes new usage is actively discouraged. Furthermore, Most Moocs are only open for a certain period (often the period the same course is given in the original university).
  2. as shown by economic theory, obtaining money for products or services requires the possibility to exclude others from using the service or product. Unbundling to design a business model for open education means to draw a line between activities and products which are open (exchanged for free, but not necessarily costless) and activities which are closed (exclusively available for paying participants). Janssen and Mulder (2013) did use their model to show the possibilities of traditional and open universities to participate in the OER movement. Yet, it can also be used to explain the initial enthusiasm of xxx-investors to participate in the American Mooc-platforms. The expectation was that by offering additional activities, the platforms would generate profits. To guarantee the required exclusivity, participating HEI’s had to sign contracts which restricted their freedom in usage of the material placed with the platform. Data, but also third party contracting (in-company trainings ect.) became the prerogative of the platform.

Christensen et al. (2014) uses a similar approach to forecast a more disruptive development with respect to the (American) educational sector. Distance education, the competence based approach, the existence of high quality, accredited open educational materials offers commercial firms the opportunity to enter the educational sector, aiming at low cost segments and non-consumers (of existing education). According to them, it is only a matter of time before the last bastion of the traditional mixture of academic research and education, the accreditation organizations, will fall.

So unbundling education at an organizational level could result in unbundling at a sectorial or national level and a new division between open en exclusive forms of education.

Wiley (2014) moves openness even one level higher. He sees open education as  an open education infrastructure. With this he means a “set of interconnected structural elements that provide the framework supporting education”.

He concentrates in this on competence-based education. Developing competence profiles and the accompanying programs, techniques and need is costly and complex. By offering open competence programs, more institutions can develop new experiments based on these programs, improve and change the programs, which will feed back in the education of the original developers. Such a process should improve quality and efficiency of CBE-programs and the educational infrastructure. The same applies to assessments. In a CBE-world, knowing the exams will not increase a student’s chances (a reason for secrecy in a the more traditional educational world) as the test are competence based, and will judge performance rather than reproduction. Again, opening up your assessments will improve them by increasing usage, localization and experimentation. Wiley (2014) adds open certification to his open educational structure as a logical step following the definition of competence oriented learning objectives, teaching and learning using open educational resources; being tested through open assessments and using open certificates to show for the acquired competences. Openness of this kind will increase the quality and efficiency of the national educational system.

There are two important distinctions between these approaches. First of all, we can make a distinction between free activities and free products. As Michael Saylor is quoted at the website: Education should be free. Yet, at the website, a lot of courses can be found, however if we define education as the combination of materials, teaching, assessments and feedback, it represents only part of the educational activities.

The same seems to apply to the open education of Wiley (2014). He writes about the exchange of CBE-profiles, open exchange of assessments and alike. However what will be done with these products is not discussed.

The second distinction touches this point. Mulder and Janssen (2013) distinguish between the supply and the demand side. The supply side of the educational system are the teachers and HEI’s offering education to students; competent employees to employers and engaged civilians to society; forming the demand side of the system.

Openness on the supply side seems to concentrate on educational resources, whether teaching materials, assignments or CBE-profiles. The aim of the resources is to support and improve teaching by making materials available, but also stimulating quality through discussion and improvement of existing materials.

Openness on the demand side is about the freedom to participate in education. This is about the removal of entrée barriers. These barriers can be formal (admission restrictions), financial (high fees, large additional costs) or otherwise. The OECD (2014) rapports on tuition fees . These range from non (eg. Austria, Greece, Finland) to € 1950 in the Netherlands. Outside of Europa, the average fees are higher: Canada (approx. 4,000 USD), UK and the USA (approx. 5,000 USD) .

Other barriers, however, may be even more important especially in later-in-life education, as the combination between education and work.

Open education is different from free education; yet in my opinion, openness should be about removing barriers for learners, not only on providing resources for teachers.


Anderson , C., (2009) Free: The Future of a Radical Price, Hyperion

Anderson , C., (2014) Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, Crown Business

Chesbrough, H. (2006) Open Business Models, Harvard

Christensen, C. M., M. B. Horn, L.Caldera, & L. Soares, (2011) Disrupting College: How Disruptive Innovation Can Deliver Quality and Affordability to Postsecondary Education  (accessed April 4 2013)

Mulder, F.,  B. Janssen (2013, in Dutch) Open (het) onderwijs, Surf Trendrapport, (accessed October 2014)

OECD (2014) Education at a Glance, accessed December 2014.

Unesco (2012), Declaration of  Paris,, retrieved September 30, 2014

Wiley, D.,  (2014), The Open Education Infrastructure, and Why We Must Build It, July 15, 2014,, accessed December 18, 2014

Wiley, D., (2014), The MOOC Misstep and the Open Education Infrastructure,  July 15, 2014, , accessed December 18, 2014

Wit, de B., R. Meyer (2014), an international perspective, 5th edition, Cengage Learning


Disruptive innovation discredited? A personal assessment of the discussion.

The question posed by John Naughton in the Guardian is:

Clayton M Christensen’s theory of ‘disruption’ has been debunked. Can we all move on now, please?

He refers to a contribution of Jill Lepore in The New Yorker, titled The Disruption Machine. In both articles, the theory of disruption is attacked at three levels:

  • a historical level: starting with the initial meaning of the word innovation, a discussion whether “creative destruction”  equals “destructive innovation”, and some relationship between ‘the age of terror’ and the popularity of destructive innovation;
  • a critique of the case study method used by Christensen and others to support their theory; accordng to Naughton and Lepore the used definitions of success and innovation are crucial in the support of the theory by the cases. Another critique is the fact that if the chosen time horizon is longer, successful examples fail, whereas failling firms become succesfull in time.
  • not only in retrospective does the theory fail, accourding to the authors, the theory also fails to provide reliable predictions. Some investment fund of Christensen did not live up to expectations, several cases are described, in which the theory did not provide the right predictions.

Of course both Christensen (interview in Bloomberg Businessweek, June 20, 2014) as his co-author (The Innovator’s Solution) Raynor (Of waves and ripples: Disruption theory’s newest critic tries to make a splash, Deloitte University Press) did react to these critical remarks.Christensen is quoted by Drake Bennet to have said:

And then in a stunning reversal, she starts instead to try to discredit Clay Christensen, in a really mean way. And mean is fine, but in order to discredit me, Jill had to break all of the rules of scholarship that she accused me of breaking—in just egregious ways, truly egregious ways. In fact, every one—every one—of those points that she attempted to make [about The Innovator’s Dilemma] has been addressed in a subsequent book or article. Every one! And if she was truly a scholar as she pretends, she would have read [those]. I hope you can understand why I am mad that a woman of her stature could perform such a criminal act of dishonesty—at Harvard, of all places.

Raynor uses a 13-pages paper to react. If we leave the historical and semantic discussions aside, the major defense is on the case study method used. Both Raynor and Christensen point out that positions shift over time, so the different cases selected by Lepore and Naughton have to be understood in their specific market position at that point in time; providing new case studies. Also, the predictive value of the theory is a question of timing and good interpretation.

For example Christensen says:

Just so you understand, disruption doesn’t happen overnight. There are now six or eight traditional department stores in existence in North America. Let’s just call it less than 10. And Walmart is quite a large company. Target is quite a big company. So has disruption been at work in the retailing industry? It’s a question. Macy’s still exists. So—Jill, tell me, what’s the truth? If you could just be Jill’s answer for me.

Raynor also takes the Kmart example, stating:

To claim that Kmart was not a successful disruptor because it is no longer a disruptor is like claiming Carl Lewis was not a champion sprinter because he is not now a champion sprinter.


With respect to the falsifiability of the theory, Raynor points out that several cases indeed follow the theory:

Case studies are extraordinarily useful when developing theory and limning a theory’s limits. Case studies establish a theory’s descriptive validity (there is such a thing as a disruptive path to success) and its explanatory power (here is why it works). Case studies cannot test a theory’s predictive power when a theory makes probabilistic predictions. That requires a statistically valid test of a theory’s accuracy on a population. Complaining that Christensen has not proved the predictive power of disruption based on case studies is to miss this critical distinction between two completely different methods, each attuned to a very different need.

Therefore, I would like to rephrase the question with which we started this blog:

Is there a general theory of business economics?

Much of the discussion above centers on the validity of the case study method and the generalization of the theory of destructive innovation. If I may take two (handpicked, quoting Lepore) examples:

  1. Retailers, quality and price fighters.

In line with the examples given by Christensen and Raynor, several stages can be distinguished in the development of shops: Until 1948 small specialized shops dominated the market. More general oriented shops took over the market for retailers, but from the 1960’s on the large chains of supermarkets controlled the market. In the 1990’s two price fighters entered the supermarket segment. Lowering services and prices they captured a stable part of the market. The existing supermarkets tried to introduce so-called ‘own brands’ and C-brand products, but were hindered by the large overheads and fixed costs to really compete in the lower parts of the market.

Now, twenty years later, the former price fighters move upmarket offering A-branch products and specialized products. Other price fighters are competing at the low price part of the retail market.

Some conclusions, which are consistent with the theory of disruptive innovation:

–          Established firms have difficulty with combining different business models within one organization (cq shop);

–          Established price fighters move upwards in the market, imitating the old firms;

–          New disruptive firms will emerge and the old disruptive firms will have the same difficulties to compete as the firms they pushed upwards in the market.

 2. Airlines: KLM, Transavia and Ryanair.

Last week KLM had to warn the shareholders that the expected profits of KLM and Transavia have to be adjusted downwards. Transavia, is a Dutch based low-cost airline operating as an independent part of the Air France-KLM group, bought in 1991 as answer to the treat of the disruptive treat of pricefighters as Ryanair and Easyjet.

At the same time rumors indicated that Airbus, after Ryanair’s proposal to have passengers on short flights standing up, was developing new chairs doubling the capacity of the airplanes.



With this example, we illustrate two mechanisms from the theory of disruptive innovation:

–          It is not easy to find a way for established firms to copy and counter the business strategy of the disrupting entrant.

–          That disrupting firms can evolve and keep disrupting the market, contraire to the theory of Christensen and Raynor.

The two examples can be criticized of being “handpicked” and being too shallow to describe the full complexity of the cases; both true!

Yet the point we want to make is exactly that: in different situations, different components of the theory are supported. Instead of quarreling over the historical interpretation of the word innovation, what is the truth or if IBM still makes a profit or not, other questions should be asked, for example:

1. Which kind of innovations are there and what are their relative importance in survival of firms?

2. Why do we see different trends and reactions in different case studies: what are critical success factors for entrants and established firms?

3. What is the effect on social welfare of a successful disruptive innovation? Should we try to increase the speed of these kind of innovation, or try to stop it?


Lastly, a critique on the way which Lepore tries to protect education and health care from Christensen disruptive innovation. Disruptive innovation cannot play a part in these sectors, according to Lepore, because:

Doctors have obligations to their patients, teachers to their students, pastors to their congregations, curators to the public, and journalists to their readers—obligations that lie outside the realm of earnings, and are fundamentally different from the obligations that a business executive has to employees, partners, and investors. Historically, institutions like museums, hospitals, schools, and universities have been supported by patronage, donations made by individuals or funding from church or state. The press has generally supported itself by charging subscribers and selling advertising. (Underwriting by corporations and foundations is a funding source of more recent vintage.) Charging for admission, membership, subscriptions and, for some, earning profits are similarities these institutions have with businesses. Still, that doesn’t make them industries, which turn things into commodities and sell them for gain.

She totally misses the point of the application of business economics to these sectors. Readers leave the traditional media, turning to the free information available on the internet, students turn to Moocs, discussion groups and peer pages to find the information they need to learn, patients lookup success-ratios of doctors, choosing the best. Governments have financial difficulties, making choses about what to finance, people and institutions which donate are becoming more critical. Right or wrong, the customization of society is increased by the possibilities of the internet and social media.

Doctors, teachers, journalists and perhaps even priests have to take the preferences of their public into account. Of course, people are still restricted by their budgets, by their social class, by their networks, like before; but loyalty has declined and partly replaced by economic trade-offs.

This makes strategic analyses of the offering of an institution versus the wishes of the purchaser even more important.

The Crowd and Open Education: resilience and sustainability

Updated July 21 2014


A relevant quotation I found in my notes:

Paul Stacey

Crowd learning

Crowd learning describes the process of learning from the expertise and opinions of others, shared through online social spaces, websites, and activities. Such learning is often informal and spontaneous, and may not be recognised by the participants as a learning activity. In this model virtually anybody can be a teacher or source of knowledge, learning occurs flexibly and sporadically, can be driven by chance or specific goals, and always has direct contextual relevance to the learner. It places responsibility on individual learners to find a path through sources of knowledge and to manage the objectives of their learning. Crowd learning encourages people to be active in setting personal objectives, seeking resources, and recording achievements. It can also develop the skills needed for lifelong learning, such as self-motivation and reflection on performance. The challenge is to provide learners with ways to manage their learning and offer valuable contributions to others.


Deloitte University Press published an infographic on crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing is defined as “an approach to harnessing the power of individuals to work to solve problems in a decentralized way”.

They distinguish five different kinds of crowd sourcing, using the crowd’s creativity and knowledge (competition, collaboration and voting), its funds (funding) or its labour power (labor). According to the writers, Rob Hamill, Emily Malina and Elizabeth Pal, each form of crowd sourcing is applicable in certain situations and will be contra-productive in other situations.

The table below gives an overview of the different ways of crowd sourcing, the video has some funny examples, starting with 1714 as start of one of the first crowd sourcing projects.


Form Pro Contra
Crowd CompetitionCrowd competition refers to the hosting of contests in which participants work individually or in groups to come up with a solution to a given problem. The outputs may include many viable ideas or solutions.
  • creating actional solutions
  • developing prototypes
  • Generating outside ideas
  • predetermined desired outcomes
  • lack of resources to review submissions
  • building community
Crowd Collaboration
Crowd collaboration requests the input of decentralized individuals to develop, aggregate, and share knowledge and information across a pool of contributors, generally through a loosely controlled web-based platform. The typical outputs of a crowd collaboration effort are collective concepts with shared buy-in.
  • building and sharing knowledge
  • responding to emergencies
  • shared policies
  • User anonymity
  • Small and inactive crowds
  • Promoting individuality
Crowd Voting
Crowd voting is the process of turning to the crowd to reach a decision. This practice typically involves inviting participants to help make a decision based on pre-defined options.
  • Decision making
  • Rating and ranking
  • Quality assurance
  • Strategic decision making
  • Political sensitive issues
Crowd FundingCrowd funding is the process of funding projects through small contributions from a large group of participants. Crowdfunding activities are typically hosted through web-based platforms.
  • Fundraising
  • Disaster relief
  • Start-ups
  • High transparency


  • Ongoing operations
  • Loosely structured initiatives
  • High short term expectations on returns
Crowd Labor
Crowd labor refers to the engagement of a distributed labor pool to accelerate the completion of large-scale projects by splitting up a task into components that require little creativity or coordination but that cannot be automated.
  • Creating actionable solutions
  • Data entry and validation
  • Translation (eg language)
  • Digital archiving
  • Unstructured tasks
  • Subjective tasks
  • High-level thinking

As I argued before, the sustainability (or resilience to use a new buzz word) of business models for Open Education will depend on the inclination of people and institutions to cooperate either on the input/production side as on the user/learner/consumer side of the business model. As crowd sourcing is a form of this kind of collaboration, it could generate knowledge on the the potential success factors by reversing this table and apply the pro’s and contra’s to different systems of Open Education.

Crow Labor is one of the most used forms of Crowd Sourcing in the development of Open Educational Resources. Organisations as the, rely heavily on materials of others. However, this kind of free labour has also some aspects of Crowd Collaboration because it is not necessarily about projects which “require little creativity or coordination”.

Crowd Competition is seen in situations in which organisations as the EU, Hewlett foundation or the American government ask for proposals which will be subsidized. On an individual level, these calls will be passed on towards teachers and other educational developers to come up with the creative solutions to win the funds.

It can also be used as an instrument to start-up a new data-base or website on educational resources and programs. By setting a suitable reward, the system can generate a certain minimal critical mass, above which it will be interesting for other partners to participate.

Crowd Voting is often used to give an indication of the quality of the resources or programs. For a ranking to be functioning, there have to be enough votes and the voting public has to be something of an “in-crowd” of experts.

The remaining form of Crowd Sourcing is the financial form, Crowd Funding. According to the authors, this instrument is unsuitable for ongoing operations and loosely structured initiatives. Yet, I have the impression that several non-commercial projects depend on one large fixed subsidizer and a fringe of minor short-term donors.

Concluding, the examples of Open Educational Resources and Open Education show that the forms of Crowd Sourcing as described by Hamill, Malina and Pal is not complete; there are other situations which can only partially described by this taxonomy. Especially the voluntary participation in high-knowledge projects does not fit either the Crowd Collaboration nor the Crowd Labor definitions.

Still, the research in Crowd Sourcing should generate a further understanding of these kinds of collaboration: the free contribution and exchange of educational materials between individuals and organisations. A better understanding of these phenomena will enhance the changes of success of the Open Education movement.


Value, effort and education.

Upon the education of the people of this country, the fate of this country depends. Benjamin Disraeli

Value, effort…………

In modern business economics, there is a realization that is not so much the organization which creates value, but the organization makes an value offer and the realization of this is in the usage of the product or service by the customer.

In traditional approaches (as still in can be seen in the tax system: taxes on value added), when inputs are transformed during each sequential stage, the efforts of the firm are seen as adding value to the product. Taxes are levied on this effort, measured by the costs of the labour and capital used.

In the transformation of grain into bread, the labour of the farmer, the miller and the baker are seen to increase the value and so the price of the outputs. Yet, if the bread is not sold and thrown away at the end of the day, does all this labour add to the welfare of society? The realization of the potential value in the offering is the appreciation of the customer, in the case of bread this is shown by the price paid for the bread. This appreciation will be different in different situations. In countries with a shortage of foods, a simple bread will be sold, whereas in countries with a lot of possible substitutes, simple bread will not be valued highly. Doubling the inputs (efforts), without changing the quality or characteristics of the bread will not increase the value.

More difficult is it to determine the value of art. However,it should be clear that it is not the level of effort which determines the fact if something is valued as a work of art. Yet, the reverse is -of course- not true: most artistic work will require hard work. Thinking about the way the artistic level of something could be determined, I think it is not the price paid on the free market, or the opinion of experts but the effort of people to preserve it. At least, the efforts and costs invested in preserving art over the centuries is a better approximation of the value for society, than the money invested in making the object itself.

From The Picture of Dorian Gray

…………………….  And Education   We see different trends appearing at this time:

  1. The success of Moocs, measured in participation,
  2. The expectation that (commercial) distance education providers will have a destructive influence on the sector as described by Christensen and others, and
  3. The financial problems of different governments, where the examples of California and Greece show that education is one of the first sectors which will suffer.

The success of the Moocs can be interpreted in different ways:

  1. As a rise in demand for education which is not supported by a rise in income;
  2. A demand for training increased in the last years due to the economic crisis.

Related to the success of the Moocs is the concept of disruptive innovations as used to forecast developments in American education by Christensen and others. The success is partly explained by the price (free for Moocs). The prices for education will decline because of the separation of research and teaching: concentration on key activities being a central theme in disruptive innovation. The idea of cheaper or even free education is, of course, attractive to governments which have budgetary problems. Especially when education is not a top priority for local and national governments with liquidity problems. To summarize, learners and financers of education substitute traditional education for cheaper and free alternatives, a tendency which only will become stronger according to Christensen and others. In terms of the new business economics as described above, the key stakeholders in education refuse to create the value, offered by the efforts of the educators. Rephrasing this, the value offer of the educational institutes may not be acceptable or affordable for the stakeholders. The value of education is determined by the usage by the learners of the learned competences and knowledge. In general, we can distinguish two extreme approaches to the effects of education.

1.  At one side of the spectrum, education is seen as an important factor increasing social cohesion, democratic participation and (economic) welfare. For example, the European Union writes in the evaluation of the Lisbon Agenda:

Underlying this was the realisation that, in order to enhance its standard of living and sustain its unique social model, the EU needed to increase its productivity and competitiveness in the face of ever fiercer global competition, technological change and an ageing population.[..] These ambitious targets could only be achieved through structural reforms to tackle a number of challenges within Europe’s labour markets; tackling labour market segmentation, addressing skill needs through more and better education and training, promoting a lifecycle approach to active ageing, and inclusive labour markets. […]Education and skills policy is at the heart of creating a knowledge-based economy, but it is apparent that the EU has some way to travel in this regard.

2.  The approach on the other side of the spectrum emphasis the economic effects, especially for the individual who becomes more competent. Education, in this view, primarily produces individuals which are more competent in their work, increasing employment by a better fit between demand and supply in the labour market. More productive workers will earn a higher income and firms will earn their firm an additional profit.

In the second view, employers, employees and learners are primarily responsible for financing education as the value will only partly crystallize in the form of additional income for the learner and the employers. The broader approach of education puts part of the responsibility with society: government has incentives to finance at least the general competences of the learners, through educational subsidies. Again, effort will determine quality but rise costs, but when demand shifts to other alternatives, much of the effort will be lost. Problem with disruptive tendencies in the sense of Christensen et al. is the “catch-22” between costs and demand, which results from the move towards quality which is the standard response of all organizations in these situations. Traditional education wants to take its social responsibility, teaching collective social competences next to functional content based on research efforts. However, if society doesn’t want or can pay for this kind of education, it will end up with purely functional education, paid for by employers and employees and aimed totally to an efficient fulfilment of jobs and the furthering of individual careers.