What a great metaphor! I saw it in a post by Clay Shirky published in The Awl, enittled “Your Massively Open Offline College is Broken“.
Clay’s point is that the public should not be persuaded by grumpy academics that Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are dangerous. Instead, we might consider that the MOOCs (the lightning in our metaphor) are hitting rotten trees (our universities).
Are things so bad? Well, that depends on the metrics you use. To the extent that one believes that in the 21st century the pace of learning will accelerate (my view), one accepts that universities need to improve their services in helping young people learn faster. Do they?