When online education scales, you can hire James Cameron to produce Math 101

Marc Andreessen, creator of Netscape, talks about, among other things, online education:

You could probably bring in the whole online-education movement. But for me, the question is, who does the best with online schooling? And it’s mostly ­autodidacts, people who are self-starters. They’ve found that people from low-income communities actually get the least out of it.

It’s way too early to judge, because we’re at the very beginning of the development of the technology. It’s like critiquing dos 1.0 and saying that this will never turn into the Windows PC. We’re still in the prototype experimental phase. We can’t use the old approach to teach the world. We can’t build that many campuses. We don’t have the space. We don’t have money. We don’t have the professors. If you can go to Harvard, go to Harvard. But that’s not the question. The question is for the 14-year-old in Indonesia staring at a life of either, like, subsistence farming or being able to get a Stanford-quality education and being able to go into a profession.

The one other thing that people are really underestimating is the impact of entertainment-industry economics applied to education. Right now, withMOOCS,11 the production values are pretty low: You’ll film the professor in the classroom. But let’s just project forward. In ten years, what if we had Math 101 online, and what if it was well regarded and you got fully accredited and certified? What if we knew that we were going to have a million students per semester? And what if we knew that they were going to be paying $100 per student, right? What if we knew that we’d have $100 million of revenue from that course per semester? What production budget would we be willing to field in order to have that course?

You could hire James Cameron to do it.

You could literally hire James Cameron to make Math 101. Or how about, let’s study the wars of the Roman Empire by actually having a VR [virtual reality] experience walking around the battlefield, and then like flying above the battlefield. And actually the whole course is looking and saying, “Here’s all the maneuvering that took place.” Or how about re-creating original Shakespeare plays in the Globe Theatre?

This is key, folks. Scalability and production values (along with gamification and outcomes focused on significant learning) are going to change everything.

When online education scales, you can hire James Cameron to produce Math 101

Education hasn’t seen true disruption. Yet.

For the first 10 years of “fairly common internet usage,” newspapers were fine.

There was email. There was AOL. There was instant messenger. There were even some news sites.

But for news, the local newspaper still provided a better product than the others.

Last weekend, my wife and I signed up for a six-week newspaper deal at one of those community festivals where you can get insurance quotes, sno cones, and hours of bounce house fun for the kids.  And as I flipped through the paper this week, I couldn’t help but wish I could scroll through a list of headlines and click on the ones of interest.

At some point, the internet won. Once I had a Twitter feed, Facebook, and push notifications, most of the news I wanted found me. Anything else could be found in seconds.

Personalized. Immediate. Convenient. The internet became the better product.

Higher education has faced technology-driven change, but the real disruption is yet to come.

When the choice is either an online classroom that includes lectures and discussion board posts or an in-person lecture and classroom discussion, the in-person option still wins for a number of people. If online is simply a mirror of in-person but a little less personal and a little more convenient, it’s not a clear winner.

But a new form of education is on its way. Predictive, responsive, technology-driven learning will suddenly make a classroom seem antiquated. Why sit in a lecture with 40 students all at different levels of understanding when I can move through a focused, personalized, adaptive curriculum at my own pace?

Universities and colleges can choose to integrate new technology now and create a radical, dynamic, personalized learning environment, or they can wait and insist that in person lectures are better than online videos. There’s an opportunity. And there’s still a window.

When I worked in newspapers, our publisher frequently compared newspapers to the railroad industry. He said if rail lines had realized they were in the transportation business, not the engine and track business, we’d have BNSF and Union Pacific airlines today. Likewise, newspapers had to decide if they were in the information business or the paper business.

What about education?

Education hasn’t seen true disruption. Yet.

Tangible experiences + technology = education’s sweet spot

Ben Thompson writes an insightful post on the cost of software moving toward free, and it ties in with online education.

Ben says “over time the price of a product moves to its marginal cost, and if the marginal cost is zero, that means free is inevitable.”

Online education will move toward free. That’s good for students, but bad for universities (education needs to find a reasonable cost, but “reasonable” isn’t zero, either).

As we move to online information delivery, the pay model will go the same direction as music, books, and software. The additional cost of one more user in a digital setting is almost $0. The sunk costs of creating the knowledge, the video, and the website don’t matter to the user.

Back to Ben:

“This is one of the primary ways that software will be monetized going forward: hardware sold at a significant margin that is justified by the differentiation provided by software. …

On the flipside, though, tangible products, which by definition have marginal costs of greater than $0 – continue to be valued by customers. No one expects a free microwave, or car, or even a candy bar. Consumers understand that making, packaging, and shipping such products costs money, and there is no compunction to spending money for that proverbial latte that is more than an app.

This is critical to understand while thinking about consumer business models: consumers pay money for tangible goods; they don’t for virtual goods (in-app purchases for games is a glaring exception here).”

As higher education experiments with online delivery:

– Cost will plummit to zero.

– Unique experiences still matter.

And that’s the killer app. It’s the secret to success in the online age. To compete with online-only options (especially if and when those online options gain credibility and credentialing abilities), existing universities must provide the tangible good that creates value.

Tangible experiences + technology = education’s sweet spot

Friday Linkage: Gap years, self-care, and student debt

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Just a few things that caught my eye over the past week…

Don’t go to college next year: Take a gap year instead

“Taking a gap year speeds our development by upsetting these patterns. Trying to occupy another person’s way of life in a different culture—living with a new family, speaking the language, integrating into a community, perhaps working with local youth, for instance—these are valuable experiences that help young people understand themselves, develop empathy and virtue, and expand their capacity to see the world from others’ perspectives.”

For SA Pros – How can we do this better through the first-year experience as well? How do we intentionally weave in experiences that create room for growth? 

How to combat a ridiculous work schedule and stop feeling overwhelmed

This part is great: “Sometimes entrepreneurs think they’ll sleep or exercise after they get their work done. This is faulty thinking: “You’re never going to get your work done,” Paine says. “Accept that it’s never going to be done. There’s always something more you could be doing.” So figure out what aspects of self-care make life feel livable. Maybe it’s sleeping seven hours a night. Maybe it’s eating dinner with your family three times per week. Exercising for 30 minutes four times a week isn’t a bad idea either. Block in times for these things to happen, because if you don’t, they won’t happen. And you’ll feel out of control. “If you’re in it for the long haul, you’ve got to be taking care of yourself,” she says.”

Here’s why you’ll be paying for student loans forever

Even Buzzfeed is getting in on the “price of college” action. Higher Ed has to (1) figure out the sustainable model for the service/experience and/or (2) engage in a more compelling conversation about value.

Friday Linkage: Gap years, self-care, and student debt

If online education hasn’t already saved your university, it probably won’t

Online education is absolutely necessary. Excellent online education is even more important.

For many students, it’s going to be a welcome alternative, especially when someone figures it out enough to create a holistic, quality, interactive learning experience.

But universities need to realize that it won’t be the saving grace for every institution. Here’s why:

In an online world, where the cost of switching is almost zero, one or two entities always win out. 

Search engines? Google.

Online shopping? Amazon.

Wasting time? Facebook (kind of).

If you’re going to take online courses, why not take them from the best place to get online courses for the cheapest price? There’s no clear winner here yet, which means a lot of schools can take a small piece of the pie. But in a few years, a dominant player will emerge and the terrain will change.

Some schools will be able to carve out a unique niche with a specialized product. Someone may have the best training for sociologists. Someone else might have the best faith-based online curriculum. But for the majority of students looking for a certain degree online, there will be one or two dominant options.

What does this mean for colleges and universities? When it comes to online delivery, I’m thinking there are a few options:

1. Race to be the best (If you don’t already have a dominant program, you’re way behind).

2. Ignore it and focus on your campus experience (Some folks can do this well. It seems risky, but it depends on the context).

3. Form a network of universities with reciprocating agreements and offer a variety of online courses together (Thinking about scale here. How can you use technology to your advantage in a way that doesn’t require being the dominant player?)

4. ? (I’m sure there are innovative options here. Hybrid courses. Online options that partner with companies to train people to work specifically for them. There are lots of possibilities.)

No matter what an institution decides, it’s clear that each university needs to be able to clearly articulate their unique value proposition.

Why do you exist?

No, not to “educate students to become ethical leaders in a global society.” That’s every college and university.

Why do you exist?

That definition should drive the campus experience as well as the online options. We need to be mission-centered in new initiatives, too.

Technology has the potential to disrupt this whole educational experience. In a lot of ways, for students, parents, and anyone paying for the higher ed experience, that’s needed. But it means campuses need to do the hard work of deciding why we do what we do – why what we do means someone would go here rather than there.

(I think this change holds great opportunity for folks in Student Affairs. But that’s for another post.)

If online education hasn’t already saved your university, it probably won’t