MOOCs and Brands

I’m currently taking two online courses via Coursera. One seems to have generated a lot of traction – Dan Ariely’s A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior has registered more than 135,000 students. In fact, Coursera has, in less than a year, enrolled more than 3 million ‘students’ in more than 10 million courses, proving than MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) have the potential to be a truly disruptive technology for the education system. Coincidentally, the other course I’m taking is entitled, Surviving Disruptive Technologies and that’s what I want to focus on this week.

Over the last year we’ve seen the rise of the 3D printer. Bre Pettis, the founder of MakerBot, the leading consumer 3D printer maker, gave a keynote address at SxSW this year. 3D printing has raised discussions around such diverse subjects as guns,food and clothes, but it’s perhaps a more conventional use of 3D printing that has led one beloved brand to get in front of what it sees as a potential future. According toSociable, LEGO will be unveiling their own 3D printer by the end of the year. In an article titled, Is Lego about to embrace the Dark Side by releasing an official 3D printer? (complete with image of LEGO Star Wars figure), the Danish company “says that along with the printer they will also release a selection of their 2013 range of Lego sets as downloadable files.  All official sets produced from 2014 will be available for download from the Lego Web Store. Once downloaded, the plans will let users print all the required bricks for their new sets.”

Ok, it was an April’s Fools Day joke by the gang at Sociable. Full disclosure: I fell for it. Tweeted a link to the story and started writing this essay under the assumption it was legit. Seems a bit silly, but if you’re taking that Disruptive Technologies class, it doesn’t seem so far fetched. In the class we are focusing on three brands – Kodak, Blockbuster and Borders who all got crushed by Disruptive Technologies. Now, I’d argue they all got crushed by the same disruptive technology, the Internet, just different applications of it. But let’s go back and think about LEGO for a minute. If in 3-5 years thousands of people have 3D printers in their house and can easily produce LEGO blocks at home maybe taking a ‘If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” strategy isn’t a bad idea. Didn’t we all look at Kodak, Blockbuster and Borders and ask why they didn’t create Instagram, Netflix and Amazon respectively before those latter companies put the former out of business? And don’t we all think that universities all around the country are trying to figure out what they are going to do about Coursera?

Now the question is: What disruptive technology is your client (or brand) facing? Are you in denial about what it will do to your industry, market or brand? Do you have a plan to own it before it owns you?