In September 2007 the New York Times announced a distance-learning venture called the Knowledge Network. The newspaper had partnered with a handful of schools, including NYU, Stanford, Mount Holyoke and Towson, to offer online courses with varying degrees of professorial involvement. Some courses were 100 percent online, others held periodic “meeting times” over the Internet with the instructor. The NYT’s main responsibilities in the partnership were technology and marketing; it would supply an online platform for instructors to create a webpage of sorts and link to countless relevant Times articles and media (a clever PR move, at the least).Unfortunately, the Times can’t seem to do much right these days. The Knowledge Network never got off the ground and is closing its proverbial doors in July. Five years on, the Network had only a handful of partnering colleges and education organizations, and all of the aforementioned schools have already dropped the program.But let’s put aside for a moment the Schadenfreude less enlightened souls may feel at yet another failed venture by the Gray Lady: the episode also illustrates a core truth about the never-ending cycle of creation and destruction in the marketplace.Innovation in higher education will profoundly alter the education landscape by reducing costs and enriching the learning experience; indeed it already is. But innovation, we should remember, comes from failure followed up by reinvention. The Knowledge Network’s inglorious failure shows that the Times couldn’t figure out how to use the web to tap into the public’s desire to learn, but out of the ashes of such failures, some educators may be able to pick apart what right and what went wrong, what works and what doesn’t, and use that experience to tailor the next effort.
The NYT Fails to Educate the Masses