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The post-secondary education sector is ripe for disruption. The cost of a traditional college education has become very burdensome for many students and new grads that it’s just a matter of time before a startup comes in and disrupts the sector, in the same way Uber did with the taxicab industry.

This disruption has already begun with the rise of startups in the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) space. MOOC companies Coursera, TutorGroup (for learning English), 2U (for getting universities online) and General Assembly (teaching coding skills online and offline) are leading the charge. Expect to see more students using MOOCs soon and pursuing higher education online without the burden of high tuition fees and living costs associated with traditional education.

Of course, if you’re a university or a college institution, this disruption will directly impact the way you do business. Universities need to develop an understanding of the empowered student if they want to remain relevant. They need to understand this change, not just the role of technology in this disruption but also how the motivations and wants of today’s teens are changing. These institutions need to engage with students and use their feedback to make better, more student-centric decisions.

But the impact of this disruption will also be felt beyond the post-secondary sector. As I wrote in my latest MediaPost article, this disruption is set to impact the way all companies engage with both teen employees and customers. Companies need to start thinking of ways of supporting the online education revolution now and consider how it can help them better serve their young employees and customers.

Here are three starting points on how your company can do just that.

  1. Give your workforce an opportunity to pursue higher education.

More companies are promoting continuing education among their employees. One recent example is Starbucks with its College Achievement Plan. This is a great move because it helps attract and retain employees and gives the company’s younger workers the education they need to become managers and executives someday. Companies like Anthem and Fiat Chrysler offer similar programs, while many other blue-chip employers offer generous tuition reimbursement programs.

Besides promoting a sense of lifelong learning among team members, these programs result to powerful buzz for the company. (For example, Starbucks has received an enormous amount of positive PR after announcing its free-college program.) But companies also need to ensure the success of these programs. To do that, companies should talk to their teen employees and explore how they could set up programs that are mutually beneficial for both their workforce and their business.

  1. Create your own education programs.

Companies like GE and Apple already have existing programs that train employees about corporate culture and business management. But imagine if companies open up their programs—not just for their own employees but also for customers.

A tech company like Microsoft could sponsor a startup like General Assembly to provide coding classes. Or imagine if Disney provided MOOC animation courses, or if Chipotle sponsored supply-chain management courses. These offerings could result in positive publicity and associate the brand with learning and self-improvement. More importantly, these programs could help build their brand with young people and win them as customers or employees in the long-term.

  1. Provide a community platform for communal learning.

Providing educational content isn’t the only way to support this movement. One powerful way that brands could participate is by providing a platform where educational content can be crowdsourced by young people. Today’s teens are used to learning from each other just as much as from a teacher or professor. They learn from peers on YouTube and other social media sites. Given that they already “study” fashion, music, gaming and dating rites by turning to other teens, there’s no reason why the same principles cannot be applied to math, science, literature, finance or other academic disciplines.

Companies should consider building online communities where this type of peer-to-peer learning can happen. Imagine if a struggling math student could reach out to peers for help on a Texas Instruments-sponsored community, or if a struggling finance student could do the same on a Citibank site. For brands, online communities like these provide a market research benefit, too. These conversations between teens are a potential source of insight into their motivations, attitudes and behaviors.


The traditional university system will most likely be with us for quite some time, but online learning is emerging as a strong complement to it and, in some cases, a replacement for those seeking a flexible, cost-effective education. If you’d like to win the loyalty of young people as employees and customers, you should consider tapping into this revolution now.

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