May 22, 2012 at 6:33 am, by Carl
I have been saying for some time the education industry (and it is indeed an industry) is in trouble. The best illustration I can provide is that we are like the RIAA in the first months of Napster, circa 1999. Remember what the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) did back in 1999-2001 when Napster first arrived (June 1999) and then Apple released the iPod in October 2001? The RIAA spent those 2 years suing first Napster, then their customers for using/stealing music digitally. They argued that the CD format was better; they argued legal issues of copyright; they argued that artists created art through the entire project, not just in singles. They largely argued that digital music wasn’t part of their plan for how people were to enjoy music.
In one sense, they were right. Artists were presenting art. CD is better than digital. And it was stealing. Yet, we all know how that fight went down for the RIAA. By the middle part of last decade, Apple had basically destroyed, or at least altered completely, the music industry. For better or for worse is not the point…the point is that an established industry sat around thinking they were untouchable. They weren’t, and they lost everything.
Sounds like a lot of my professor peers. Over the past 2-3 years, I have listened as the majority of my peers have attempted to argue that the culture shift that is taking place around us should not touch them. They’ve tried to argue that something like tenure should be respected by non-professors and untouched by politicians, all the while the world has changed around them (and many people into their second year of unemployment see no reason why professors should not face the same fate…especially when that person’s kid sits in a classroom doing poorly, or is treated rudely or disrespectfully by the professor). The outside world has started to notice, most famously through the Occupy Movement where thousands of former students made the case that their education didn’t help them. Certainly that challenge can be met; the issues of our country’s malaise is multi-faceted, with the value of education only a piece of the situation.
This sea-change is coming and the education industry had better start responding. I wrote about this last April and the warnings keep coming. For now, industry remains on our side, still expecting or demanding a degree from an accredited College or University. However, warnings are even out there imply that is changing too, especially in the tech world. But, with the changes from ideas like iTunes U or Udemy (what I wrote about last year), or the new things recently broadcast through Wired: Ted U and a more robust Khan Academy, the signals are there that a day is coming soon when some business (perhaps someone hiring an accountant, maybe someone in Marketing, or even a field like Engineering), will hire a person whose “degree” comes from a non-traditional, non-accredited school.
When that happens, look for enrollment to plummet and tenure or no tenure, schools will have to reduce payroll. What to do about it? Well, the Wired blog post stated both the issue and part of a solution. They wrote, “Faculty are likely to struggle finding their place in this new paradigm. With the increasing availability of lecture content, many will need to bring more value to the educational experience in other ways.” Like what? Well, for starters “Educators can be content creators, content consumers, or both, depending on the needs of their students.”
What if you don’t–”But we are likely to see a smaller number of high-profile faculty providing content to a larger audience than in the past.”
Think it can’t happen to the education industry? The publishing industry thought the same thing (as did Blockbuster, but that’s another story). Thus, read this latest Fast Company blog post. Writing about the possible negative or positive fallout from the reject Department of Justice’s lawsuit against Apple (FC basically comes down saying this is the wrong move, that the DoJ is going after the wrong monopolist), the authors make my same point possible coming extinction:
Amazon could, by sheer pressure of business, force a breakup of the old guard of publishers in the U.S., and make them adapt to the new digital realities or face extinction. In short, [the old guard publishing houses] will have to radically adjust their business models, and also embrace writers who can deliver new rich-media books, if they’re to keep the book-buying public enthralled and thus make money. Amazon’s quick-growing self-publishing enterprise is an example of how the publishing business may evolve without them if they don’t do this. [emphasis added]
With the coming of powerhouses like Apple, Ted and even Youtube (who also launched their own education enterprise), the education industry will also probably evolve without education leaders, unless we realize the change is upon us.