Digitalization of education in the early innings

Christopher “Chip” Paucek, co-founder of the technology firm 2U
By Michael R. Malone

Christopher “Chip” Paucek, co-founder of the technology firm 2U

Digitalization of education in the early innings

By Michael R. Malone
Christopher Paucek, co-founder of the firm 2U, touted the potential of technology to expand the reach of pedagogy and promote lifelong learning opportunities.

Christopher “Chip” Paucek—whose firm 2U provides investment, technology, and support to nonprofit colleges and universities to expand and enhance their online course offerings—held a virtual conversation on Wednesday with the University of Miami Patti and Allan Herbert Business School.

“We believe that universities are central to the student’s life and that the modern university needs to think about lifelong learning as a core part of their value propositions—not just in the traditional way of going to college and then off on their own for the rest of their lives,” he said.

Paucek compared the education sector to that of retail to highlight the potential for continued growth and improvement.

“The notion of being online has changed, it’s not an either or—today you just say you’re going shopping, sometimes online, sometimes to a store,” Paucek said. “That the reality of where higher education is going, it’s about being blended and connected, it’s not about being online,” he added.

“When you unleash the university from its physical boundaries you get great students,” he continued, noting that only about 2 percent of higher education is currently digitalized. “We are in the early innings, and there’s a lot of growth ahead.” 

In contrast with other firms and other approaches to providing online education—notably massive open online courses or MOOCs—Paucek described 2U as the “subservient partner” in the collaboration, empowering universities to transition their degree programs, boot camps, and other short courses to a digital platform and then helping to market the developments.  

Dean John Quelch guided the webinar discussion, part of the school’s Knight Venture Leader Lecture series.

Paucek grew up in South Florida in a family “with limited resources” and recounted that the opportunity to attend college in Washington, D.C. shifted his life trajectory and fueled his passion for education.

“I managed to get a full tuition scholarship and a Pell grant. And all of a sudden, this kid who had never seen snow was four blocks from the White House, meeting incredible people and being taught by great faculty,” Paucek said. “I really came to believe in the power of the great university to transform someone’s life.”

He suggested that his firm was especially valuable in terms of marketing and also clinical placements, noting its partnership with a Washington, D.C.-based university to place students in a Master of Science program in midwifery.

“You don’t want to go to a midwife who delivered a virtual baby, you want someone who has delivered a baby—we find a location to go and do that under the university’s supervision,” he said.

He marked distinctions between programs and courses for undergraduate and graduate students and said that both demographics yearn for an interactive experience that encourages connection, camaraderie, and networking.

In Latin America, Paucek said, the firm has partnered with Monterey Tech in Mexico to help transition their M.B.A. program online.