It’s Time to Disrupt Education As We Know It. Here’s The First Step

Posted April 1, 2022 by Mark Perna

Disruptive—it’s a buzzword for success and innovation in the business world. Being called a “disruptor” is a badge of honor, but what does it really mean? And how does it play out in the arena of education, workforce, and economic development?

One of my favorite authors and speakers, Tony Robbins, has a great article on disruption—what it is, where it started, and whether or not it’s something to pursue. True disruption, according to the originator of the term, is not simply a company coming in and shaking up the market in a big way. It’s more specific than that:

“‘Disruption’ describes a process whereby a smaller company with fewer resources is able to successfully challenge established incumbent businesses. Specifically, as incumbents focus on improving their products and services for their most demanding (and usually most profitable) customers, they exceed the needs of some segments and ignore the needs of others. Entrants that prove disruptive begin by successfully targeting those overlooked segments, gaining a foothold by delivering more-suitable functionality—frequently at a lower price. Incumbents, chasing higher profitability in more-demanding segments, tend not to respond vigorously. Entrants then move upmarket, delivering the performance that incumbents’ mainstream customers require, while preserving the advantages that drove their early success. When mainstream customers start adopting the entrants’ offerings in volume, disruption has occurred.”

You could argue that the postsecondary status quo is for students to graduate high school and go directly to a four-year university. Many high schools are funded, at least in part, based on their ability to get their graduates off to college without delay. This creates a huge incentive for them to promote a “college for all” model—regardless of whether or not it’s the right choice for each individual student.

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Who’s disrupting this status quo? Career-focused education and workforce development providers, for one. Think about it: as per the definition of disruption that I quoted above, they frequently have “fewer resources” than the established four-year colleges and universities, which can be seen as the incumbents in the postsecondary educational market.

And these alternative postsecondary learning institutions also serve an oft-overlooked customer segment—individuals who choose to bypass the traditional university route.

Because of the high and constantly rising cost of college education, it could be fair to say that the incumbents are indeed chasing higher profitability, while the disruptive, smaller, alternative postsecondary organizations are targeting their segment with the “more-suitable functionality” and “lower price” of in-demand technical skill training.

This disruption should spur the incumbent colleges and universities to rethink what and how they deliver to their customer base. And when they do, everyone will win.

Celebrating all pathways

While I’m a huge fan of career-focused learning like apprenticeships, certification programs, industry credentials, coding bootcamps, and other ways to build technical skills, I don’t want to set up a hard dichotomy between traditional universities and other postsecondary learning institutions. College can be a great option when students go with purpose. In my mind, positive disruption will reach its zenith when all of these options are celebrated equally.

At the end of the day, all these pathways have the same goal: to prepare students and trainees for meaningful, rewarding, and productive lives. Education is a priceless asset, no matter how or where it is imparted, and the more choices that young people have, the more chance that they will succeed in whatever pathway they choose.

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Everything we do must center on the students and trainees who are getting ready to change the world. And if we can give them a greater chance of success by disrupting the status quo, we should be all for it.

The first step

Robbins concludes that in most fields, the best disruption is “disrupting your business as usual.” If we want different results, we have to disrupt our old habits and ways of thinking. Different actions and approaches lead to different outcomes.

Education, workforce, and economic development in communities across America are ripe for positive disruption—in fact, there has never been a better moment to shift this paradigm. I believe one of the first steps to create this disruption is to bring all the stakeholders together around a shared vision. It’s why I created the Education with Purpose & Employment with Passion movement, to get entire communities pulling together like never before. For young people today, purpose is the thread that connects education and employment—and we can only deliver it when everyone catches that vision.

Every student deserves a purpose-driven education and career journey—and every community will benefit when they get it. Setting up our young people for a stronger economic future is worth a little disruption.


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Education Paradigm Shift

About The Author
Mark Perna
Mark C. Perna is an international speaker and bestselling author. He also serves as CEO of TFS Results, a strategic consulting firm at the forefront of the national paradigm shift in education and workforce development.
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