Episode 18: One Person’s Mountain is Another’s Tourist Destination

by Mar 2, 2020

Welcome to Education and Technology Futures, a videocast that highlights interesting trends and connections in the worlds of education, technology, and culture.

In this episode, Rob takes a look at how Sherpa guides have begun disrupting the lucrative Mount Everest climbing business. It makes him wonder what would happen in education if others in the traditional supply chain decide to take on different roles, or the rules of the system change dramatically.

Full Transcript

Full Transcript

I think it’s interesting how we can take things that no one in a normal state of mind would do, and turn them into big events and huge tourist destinations.

For example, a few people came up with a crazy idea for a competition in 1978, so crazy that only 15 other crazy humans would get involved — swim 2.4 miles, take a 112-mile bike ride, and then run a marathon. Didn’t they have anything else better to do? But fast-forward forty years and Iron Man triathlons are a worldwide phenomenon.

Or take a 1500 mile bike race organized by a newspaper in 1903 to boost its circulation. Everybody likes to read about things that they could never imagine doing, right? Now, fast-forward 100 years and we have what has become the Tour de France spectacle, a worldwide media event with over 3.5 billion viewers.

Of course, the craziest idea turned into a sport and tourist destination has to be “climbing Mount Everest.” What used to be considered something only a very select few would even attempt has now become a multi-million dollar business.

Particularly interesting is the fact that, as the Mount Everest climbing business has grown, the role of the famous Sherpa guides has shifted. Instead of continuing to serve as guides hired by Western companies offering expensive expedition packages, the Sherpas have begun to offer expedition packages of their own, undercutting the prices offered by Western companies.

What was once an established business model with a clearly defined supply chain and set of roles has been disrupted.

Thinking about this disruption of the Mount Everest model by the Sherpas has made me wonder how this might apply to education.

Traditionally, education in the U.S. has been locked within monolithic structures that are empowered by state and federal funding. But what happens when others in the supply chain decide to take on different roles, or the rules of the system change dramatically?

What happens when businesses, typically the clients of higher ed institutions, decide to grant their own degrees?

What happens if high schools, traditionally the feeder for higher ed, begin offering their own 2-year degrees to juniors and seniors?

What happens when increasing numbers of parents and students, unwilling or unable to pay the rising cost of a college degree opt to pursue non-traditional routes to professional certification?

Or what happens when institutions decide to bypass expensive, short-term tuition models and persuade people to pay affordable, monthly fees over longer periods of time for long-term life learning?

From the inside, these possibilities probably seem absurd. That can never happen, you might say. On the other hand, history provides us with a long list of things that shouldn’t have happened but did.

I think it’s definitely something to think about.

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