The challenge of innovating the education industry

The challenge of innovating the education industry [Panel]

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This is a part of our coverage of the Japan New Economy Summit 2014. You can follow our updates on Twitter as well at @thebridge_e.

At the New Economy Summit in Tokyo this afternoon, we had a chance to hear a panel on technology innovation in the area of education. Three speakers participated, moderated by Swimmy Minami of Bizreach:

  • Youngme Moon, the dean of Harvard Business School’s MBA program
  • Dennis Yang, president and CEO COO of Udemy [1]
  • Jun Murai, dean/professor, Faculty of Environment and Information Studies, Keio University

Youngme opened by discussing what pointing out that most areas in our lives have been vastly changed by technology, but yet education remains relatively the same.

If you compare learning years ago, and learning today, it continues to be very tedious and very uninspiring. When it comes to education, the audience is essentially captive and the teacher has little incentive to be very engaging. It is remarkably easy to get away with being a boring teacher. You just need to be an information delivery system […] and the student’s their job to absorb it. Does the system work? Sort of. But it is deeply flawed.

Youngme Moon,
Youngme Moon,

She points to the example of MIT’s electrical circuits course, which is free online. Last year 150,000 signed up, and a year later only 5% remained. That dropout rate for online courses is typical, she said. Most of them are simple imformation delivery systems, very much like what we have offline. And for that reason, they aren’t very innovative at all. But yet she is optimistic.

These courses which are the exception to the rule are somehow managing to figure out how to make education more engaging and more immersive than ever. So I believe the real breakthough in online learning is yet to come.

Dennis Yang gave a brief introduction to his Udemy service, pointing out that in addition to delivering education to students, there is also the capability to enable more potential teachers, as opposed to just existing teachers:

At Udemy we believe that there are great teachers outside the walls of academic institutions. It could be a boss, a mentor, or a coach, and we’d like to give them a platform to teach students all around the world. I think most people identify with themselves as a student, but I encourage people to try to think of themselves as a potential teacher.

Dennis Yang
Dennis Yang

Dennis admitted that while many of the courses on Udemy skew heavily towards technological skills, that’s a reflection of the interests of the early adopters. But the platform has many new niche topics that they didn’t expect to see, such as how to pass the written exam for being a fire fighter. He says that he expects online education to continue to broaden in this way.

Jun Mirai added that there was an opportunity to make classes fit better through the use of the internet:

We all know about MOOCs these days. But one characteristic of the internet is personalization. So a matching mechanism could be [an interesting development in this space].

Jun Murai
Jun Murai

He also discussed the possibility of using online courses as a supplement to offline classes, noting that he is actually doing this at Keio University in his own class:

[For certain information] I tell my students, go check out the MOOC. I’m going to talk about different things in class. I think in this way I can then use the classroom in a more exciting way.


  1. I initially, and mistakenly, had Dennis as the president and CEO of Udemy. That’s incorrect of course, as he is the president and COO. Thanks to one of our readers for pointing this out!  ↩