How Technology Will Transform Education ~ Experts Weigh In

Rusty WilliamsEducation, Industry Insights0 Comments

technology makes blockbuster obsolete

Blockbuster Museum Video

Remember Blockbuster?   Just over a decade ago you had to get in a car and wander through racks of VCR tapes and DVDs with the hope that the movie you wanted to watch was in stock.  Blockbuster built a huge business serving as an intermediary between the entertainment industry and people who wanted to rent movies.  Now the company is gone.  It was disrupted by new technology.  Netflix, Amazon and cable companies now provide point-and-click access to almost any movie.  If you want to see how archaic and out of date the concept of a video store seems now, take a minute to view the “Blockbuster Museum” video created by the satirical site, The Onion.

Similar changes spurred by technology are moving through the world of higher education. The growth of online courses, lifelong learning, project-based instruction and rapidly-changing curriculum are just a few of the dynamics facing colleges and universities.  Unless these institutions are able to adapt, they could be heading towards the same fate as Blockbuster.

Rayi McNulty, Dean of SNHU

Rayi McNulty, Dean of SNHU

This isn’t just a provocative comparison created for a blog post.  The above example was made by Ray McNulty, Dean of Southern New Hampshire University and previously with the Gates Foundation.  He travels around the country speaking to groups of educators about the rapidly changing dynamics of higher education.  He made the comparison to Blockbuster at the Association for Learning Environments regional meeting this spring.  Ray has first-hand experience with transformation of Higher Education.  Over the past decade, SNHU has evolved from an second-tier college to a leading provider of online education. They have grown over 30 percent per year and generated over $500 million  in revenue in 2015 according to an article in The Boston Globe.

To help track some of these trends in education, we’ve started a podcast called “Forming the Future” and has hosted conversations with a variety of thought leaders and visionaries.  He focuses on the impact that online learning, technology and new forms of instruction have on facilities and the changing meaning of the term “campus” as colleges race to keep up with these trends.

Here are excerpts from conversations with some of the guests:

Tom Fisher on Technology Disrupting Higher EdTom Fisher is the former Dean of the College of Design at The University of Minnesota and the author of nine books including his most recent, Designing Our Way to a Better World. Named a top-25 design educator four times by Design Intelligence, he has lectured at 36 universities and over 150 professional and public meetings. He has written extensively about architectural design, practice, and ethics. He explained how the “platform revolution” will disrupt higher education.


All organizations that act as gatekeepers and exploit asymmetries of knowledge will be disrupted by the platform revolution.

Higher ed prides itself on being gatekeepers. In fact, schools brag about how selective they are. As a result, higher ed is in for some big disruptions. It would be wise for schools to think about that now, and start to plan for it, rather than get caught up in it and find themselves where newspapers were a decade ago where they got caught flat footed and are still struggling to define their new business model.

I think Ivy League Colleges are among the most vulnerable because they’re the most complacent. They may feel that they don’t have to change. The longer you don’t change and adapt to what’s happening in the world, the more exposed you are — however wealthy you may be. So I find colleges and universities that don’t have enormous endowments have to be more more creative and responsive to these changes and are going to be the places that adapt sooner and actually be better prepared for the disruption when it occurs.



Ted Dintersmith Producer of the movie Most Likely to Succeed Ted Dintersmith is the Executive Producer of the award-winning movie “Most Likely to Succeed”.  After a twenty-five year career in venture capital, Ted Dintersmith is now focused on issues at the intersection of innovation. Ted served as part of the delegation representing the United States at the United Nations General Assembly, where he is focused on global education and entrepreneurship. He’s traveled to all 50 states to help promote new approaches to teaching — most passionately encouraging more project-based learning and less rote instruction tailored to standardized tests.


Most Likely to Succeed is about a school in San Diego. The physical space is just stunning but it’s a place without any walls. Our film team loved it because it was easy place to film, but people will look at it and say “we could never afford a place like that” but it turns out that buildings with lots of walls are actually pretty expensive relative to buildings with no walls. There are a lot of opportunities because space does drive the way that people think about interacting and engaging with each other. We tend to think about how you configure the physical space of the school as an afterthought; It’s not. The more we can break down boundaries — boundaries between disciplines, boundaries between groups of kids, boundaries between the school and outside community — schools without boundaries are way better than schools that are siloed off.




Michael Haggins has worked on the facility challenges of colleges and universities for over 30 years. He is now an independent scholar researching the future of higher education and involved with the Georgia Tech Center for 21st Century Universities. He has led architectural practices serving higher education and was University Architect at the University of Missouri and the University of Arizona.


I believe campuses will continue to exist and be meaningful places only to the extent that they add real value. Developed properly, courses can be delivered online and be more effective than in-person. Certainly the 500 person lecture has limited value when compared with new digital alternatives. That form of education is now obsolete.

The challenge over the next 20 years for facility managers is beginning to deal with that kind dynamic flexibility in terms of supply and demand. They’ve always thought about their campus and physical assets being fixed in some way. You build it, you keep it, you have it, you use it. But in an environment in which thinking about certain aspects of the institution moving into a digital domain as opposed to being physically present on campus, they have the choice of somehow contracting what they have on campus or expanding the capacity.




Triumph works with a variety of educational institutions  — from pre-K to grad schools.  The rapid changes caused by new technologies and teaching techniques is also changing the types of facilities required to support these programs.  We’re happy to arrange a call or visit to discuss the changes taking place in education and how they may impact your school or organization.

Learn More About Trends in Education

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Rusty is a graduate of Trinity College in Hartford, CT. He's the co-founder of multiple tech companies and enjoys exploring the intersection of education, innovation, and built space. He hosts a podcast called Forming the Future which features conversations with thought leaders in campus planning, collaborative learning, ed tech and architecture.

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