Posts filed under ‘Education’

Disruptive Innovation and Job-Market Signaling

| Peter Klein |

The job-market value of education, as famously argued by Michael Spence (1974), derives from two sources: additions to human capital and signaling. By going to college, you learn some useful skills, but you also demonstrate to potential employers that you have the natural ability to earn a degree. Depending on the difficulty of obtaining a degree for students of varying abilities, a college degree may be valuable even if you don’t learn a thing — you distinguish yourself from those who weren’t clever or patient enough to jump through the necessary hoops.

Of course, the human-capital and signaling components aren’t mutually exclusive. But, as long as at least some part of the job-market value of education comes from signaling, the demand for higher education depends on its perceived signaling value, relative to the cost of signaling. And herein lies the rub: getting a college degree is a very costly signal. Suppose high-ability workers could demonstrate their value to the job market by obtaining some credential that low-ability workers can’t or won’t obtain, without forgoing the explicit and opportunity costs of 4+ years at college. This would be an attractive alternative for many, and bad news for the higher-education industry, which today has a virtual monopoly on credentialing.

Michael Staton makes precisely this argument in today’s HBR Blog: “The Degree Is Doomed.” Staton argues that new technologies increasingly allow the unbundling of the learning and signaling functions of higher education, and that alternative signals such as “work samples, personal representations, peer and manager reviews, shared content, and scores and badges” are undermining the value of the college degree.

There are sites — notably Degreed and Accredible — that adapt existing notions of the credential to a world of online courses and project work. But there are also entire sectors of the innovation economy that are ceasing to rely on traditional credentials and don’t even bother with the skeumorph of an adapted degree.  Particularly in the Internet’s native careers – design and software engineering — communities of practice have emerged that offer signals of types and varieties that we couldn’t even imagine five years ago.   Designers now show their work on Dribbble or other design posting and review sites.  Software engineers now store their code on GitHub, where other software engineers will follow them and evaluate the product of their labor.  On these sites, peers not only review each other but interact in ways that build reputations within the community. User profiles contain work samples and provide community generated indicators of status and skill.

These are specialized areas, and probably not substitutes for the credentialing function for other fields and industries. But low-cost, innovative, specialized signaling methods could pose a significant challenge to the university establishment.

Of course, even if higher education loses its credentialing function, it can still add value the old-fashioned way, through teaching.

8 January 2014 at 10:54 am 4 comments

ISNIE Session at ASSA 2014

AEA_left| Peter Klein |

Those of you attending this weekend’s ASSA meeting in Philadelphia may want to catch a great session sponsored by ISNIE and titled “The Economic Institutions of Higher Education.” I am presenting along with Henry Manne and Sarah Smith; Scott Masten is chairing and discussants are Bob Gibbons, Henry Hansmann, and Jeff Furman. The session is Saturday, January 4 at 2:30pm in the Philadelphia Marriott, Grand Ballroom, Salon L

1 January 2014 at 2:20 pm 2 comments

Academia QoTD

| Peter Klein |

Gladwell has more in common with his academic critics than either he or they realize, or care to admit. Academic writing is rarely a pursuit of unpopular truths; much of the time it is an attempt to bolster prevailing orthodoxies and shore up widely felt but ill-founded hopes.

The subject here is Malcolm Gladwell, a favorite punching-bag here at O&M, but the general point is worth pondering. Despite the myth of the brave academic, wielding his tenured position as a shield against the powerful interests trying to bring him down, academics typically crave influence, acceptance, and security and are attracted to power — in particular, political power — like moths to flame. There are exceptions, of course.

22 November 2013 at 3:38 pm Leave a comment

Private, For-Profit Legal Education

| Peter Klein |

The WSJ profiles InfiLaw, a network of private-equity backed, for-profit law schools that is challenging the established model of legal education. From what I understand, InfiLaw seems to be the University of Phoenix of law schools, providing vocationally oriented training for the lower-end of the market (but, unlike for-profit business schools, charging upmarket prices).

InfiLaw’s schools aren’t designed to compete with the Harvards and Stanfords. The approach, the company says, has mostly been to target students, including many minorities, whose grade-point averages or LSAT scores don’t qualify them for admission at the top schools. . . .

Some in the academy think InfiLaw is compounding the problems in legal education, which is graduating far more students than there are entry-level jobs for lawyers. Critics, including former students who have sued Florida Coastal, see the company as a predatory outfit that peddles false promises to students in exchange for high tuitions.

Others think criticisms of InfiLaw are based on elitism embedded within the legal academy,

As we’ve noted before, it is unlikely that newer, private, for-profit colleges, universities, and professional schools can compete head-to-head with the traditional schools, but why should they? Certainly there is room for more creativity, experimentation, and innovation, structurally and pedagogically, in legal education, as with other forms of higher learning. InfiLaw may be ineffective, or even a scam, but viva la diversité!

21 October 2013 at 9:57 am Leave a comment


| Peter Klein |

Via John Hagel, a story on MOOR — Massively Open Online Research. A UC San Diego computer science and engineering professor is teaching a MOOC (massively open online course) that includes a research component. “All students who sign up for the course will be given an opportunity to work on specific research projects under the leadership of prominent bioinformatics scientists from different countries, who have agreed to interact and mentor their respective teams.” The idea of crowdsourcing research isn’t completely new, but this particular blend of MOO-ish teaching and research constitutes an interesting experiment (see also this). The MOO model is gaining some traction in the scientific publishing world as well.

3 October 2013 at 8:48 am 1 comment

How Much Has Changed, Really?

| Peter Klein |

Henry of Germany lecturing at the University of Bologna, 14th century.

University of Bologna, 14th century

Come to the CSIG Teaching Workshop this Saturday in Atlanta and find out!

25 September 2013 at 1:46 pm 6 comments

SMS Teaching Workshop on Technology and the Future of Higher Education

| Peter Klein |

Tunji Adebesan and I are organizing the second annual teaching workshop for the Strategic Management Society’s Competitive Strategy Interest Group. The workshop is Saturday, September 28, 2:00-5:00pm, part of the upcoming SMS Conference in Atlanta. It’s open to emerging and established scholars in strategic management, organization, and entrepreneurship, or a related field.

This year’s theme is technological innovation and its impact on teaching strategy. The higher-education industry is abuzz with talk about MOOCs, distance learning, computer-based instruction, and other pedagogical innovations. Many of you are already using online exercises and assessments, simulations, and other activities in the classroom. How are these innovations best incorporated into the strategy curriculum? What can strategy scholars say about the impact of these technologies on higher education more generally? Are they sustaining or disruptive innovations, and what do they imply for the structure of the business school, and the university itself?

The interactive, participatory workshop begins with a panel session featuring experts on distance learning, online assessments, simulations, electronic textbooks, social media, and more. Panelists include Michael Leiblein (Ohio State), Jackson Nickerson (Washington University, St. Louis), Frank Rothaermel (Georgia Tech), and Bob Wiseman (Michigan State), along with Tunji and myself. Sample questions: Are MOOCs the future of higher education? Do they work? Can What are best practices for distance learning, and for incorporating online activities into the traditional classroom? Do improved distance-learning and collaboration tools facilitate new models for executive education and corporate training programs? How should strategy teachers make best use of social media, TED talks and other media, iPads, and other tools and apps, especially for younger students? Following the panel session, participants will break into small groups for in-depth discussion and practice using new tools. After regrouping, participants will discuss about what these innovations mean for the higher-education industry, and business schools in particular.

Pre-registration is encouraged but not required. If you’re planning to attend, please let us know by sending an email to so we can plan accordingly. Feel free to email me with questions or comments.

8 September 2013 at 3:54 pm 4 comments

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Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgment: A New Approach to the Firm (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
Peter G. Klein and Micheal E. Sykuta, eds., The Elgar Companion to Transaction Cost Economics (Edward Elgar, 2010).
Peter G. Klein, The Capitalist and the Entrepreneur: Essays on Organizations and Markets (Mises Institute, 2010).
Richard N. Langlois, The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism: Schumpeter, Chandler, and the New Economy (Routledge, 2007).
Nicolai J. Foss, Strategy, Economic Organization, and the Knowledge Economy: The Coordination of Firms and Resources (Oxford University Press, 2005).
Raghu Garud, Arun Kumaraswamy, and Richard N. Langlois, eds., Managing in the Modular Age: Architectures, Networks and Organizations (Blackwell, 2003).
Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, eds., Entrepreneurship and the Firm: Austrian Perspectives on Economic Organization (Elgar, 2002).
Nicolai J. Foss and Volker Mahnke, eds., Competence, Governance, and Entrepreneurship: Advances in Economic Strategy Research (Oxford, 2000).
Nicolai J. Foss and Paul L. Robertson, eds., Resources, Technology, and Strategy: Explorations in the Resource-based Perspective (Routledge, 2000).