0845 557 7363 [email protected]

We all know change is a challenge, an opportunity and an ever-present elephant in the room of life. We are all beginning to understand what explosive change means when it has the power to alter the very nature of society.

Digital disruption is nothing new. The ubiquity of digital services is undeniable but if you can remember 20 years ago you will remember the unprecedented pace of change that exploded with the Internet and mobile operating systems; a new website, a new way of communicating and a new app every 5 seconds!   The explosive change delivered by Covid has forced every business, organisation and individual to face change again at an unprecedented rate and the response has been different across many sectors. Digital Disruption, picking up its own pace again, has already provided many with enhanced communication channels and collaboration tools and will undoubtedly surprise us all again with things we never thought possible.

My domain, Higher Education, has been subject to unprecedented challenge, well documented in the media. A sector that has arguably had the same business model for, well pretty much forever, has had to re-evaluate how it provides students with three key elements of the offer: education experience, accommodation and lifestyle. It’s not been an easy ride, what with fences erected around halls of residence, a varied rate of successful online teaching and a ban on social activity. Digital Disruption has supported the sector in moving to online teaching, with varying degrees of success but has been used in anger by many students who are beginning to question the value of campus based Higher education.

 The Open University has always been at the forefront of tech innovation. From being the first university to use broadcast media to educate at scale (some of you may still remember the BBC2 1am Sunday morning Maths tutorials!), to being pioneers in Apple’s iTunesU and delivering the UKs MOOC Platform, FutureLearn. The OU has seen an increase in students in this time of change and continues to adapt its own products to retain leadership in the relevance of digital platforms for education, extending its portfolio of shorter study time micro-credentials with relevance in the changing landscape of work, the skills required of a workforce and the new flexibility of remote working lifestyles.

This piece is not intended as a clarion call for the OU but a thought piece about understanding the extent of challenge and opportunity to your business model that is enforced or can be made through Digital Disruption in the covid explosion of change. Universities are traditionally very slow to change and the struggle of one business model to adapt through Digital Disruption to offer relevant experiences and products, has been challenging. More so than a model that has engaged with Digital Disruption as an embedded part of its business.

Tech Business is supposed to be more agile, innovative and adaptable, but that’s not always the case.

The simple message, which is nothing particularly stunning (My grandmother always told me the most effective messages were the simple ones) is to constantly consider how you adopt, adapt, build or retire elements of your business that deliver value to your customers, particularly using (or better still building) the new wave of Digital Disruption in the explosion of change.


Alan Fletcher, Head of Research and Enterprise Support (STEM) – The Open University