Online is Different

Moving school online.

Online education.

We’re seeing a lot of both right now, but they’re not the same thing.

Schools (including universities) do school — and that’s what they’re trying to move online.

Other people and organizations have figured out online, and now they’re creating all the teaching and learning they possibly can.


  • Famous colleges have spent a lot of time, effort, and money teaching us that online is different — and specifically lesser. They’ve staked their reputations on it, and now they’re all being forced to go there. Generally, this means taping a lecture and putting it on a laptop — in head-to-head competition with Netflix and email. Even live lectures can’t win that battle.
  • That said, not all online education is created equal. There’s still a market for real, meaningful credentialing. There’s no shortage of influencers or people they’ve influenced — being well educated is valuable.
  • Google isn’t a bigger library, Amazon isn’t a bigger bookstore, and Facebook is neither the white pages nor the local newspaper. If schools — or, ahem, institutions — are going to make the transition to the network, they’re going to have to reinvent themselves in some pretty dramatic ways.
  • The network is where life and work happens, and that’s only becoming more true every day. We desperately need educated, thoughtful people in and on the net — and networked citizenship is probably teachable (and worth teaching). Schools can’t be cloisters, but they can be ultra-valuable nodes.