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.

“Failure almost always arrives in a whimper. It is almost always the result of missed opportunities, a series of bad choices and the rust that comes from things gradually getting worse.

Things don’t usually explode. They melt.”

- Seth Godin

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?

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.

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.

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.)

Tough love on self-care

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You can’t care for or lead others unless you care for and lead yourself.

It’s counterintuitive but true. You think you’re being selfless when you push yourself beyond healthy limits (in time, relationships, rest, working out). But you’re setting yourself up for failure and letting everyone who relies on you down.

In fact, sometimes we wear our exhaustion as a badge of honor. Look how hard I’m working! I’m so noble! But the truth is, we’re settling for something less than our best.

You’re letting people down if you don’t take care of yourself. Your role in your job, your family, your group of friends is too important to settle for a half-strength, distracted, and exhausted version of you.

We owe it to the people around us to be rested, healthy, and present. And most of the time, we can do it without letting (many) people down. You have to prioritize and say no to some things. Saying “no” is tough at first, but once you start, it becomes more clear what is “filler” in life and what really matters.

There are lots of ways to look at self care, but it almost always starts with the physical. If our physical bodies are worn down, we’re going to be pretty worthless relationally, emotionally and spiritually.

Here are a few areas to consider:

Eat – Everyone has an opinion on this. I think something like this or this is a solid approach. But whatever your approach is, find a way of eating real food that works for you – something that is nourishing and gives you energy.

Sleep – That extra hour of work at night doesn’t make you more productive. You need 8 hours of sleep. You really do. Maybe you’re lucky and need 7 or so. But be honest about how much you need. You’ll also sleep better if you go to bed and get up around the same time each day. I know that’s tough. I don’t do it well. But it’s true.

Move – Maybe this is walking every day for 30 minutes. Maybe it’s going to the gym three times a week. Maybe it’s extreme kayaking every evening (yeah, that would be cool, right?). I don’t know how it works for you, but movement increases our energy, makes us happier, helps us live longer, and even makes us smarter.

Reflect and Renew – Some people need to be alone and reflect. Others need to get out and connect. But we all need a way to recharge. So whether it’s coffee with a friend, prayer, reading, silence, journaling, or something else entirely. Find whatever works for you to feel mentally and emotionally renewed.

“People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.” – Samuel Johnson

None of this is new or groundbreaking. The tough part is putting it into action.

We weren’t meant to be “on” all the time. We aren’t best when we’re sitting around doing nothing 24/7 either. Our bodies and lives work best with healthy rhythms of stress and rest. Finding time to take care of the basics can make all the difference.

Focusing on the difficult part of innovation

In creating a new project, the essential step is isolating the difficult part and focusing on that. The easy parts are important and they take work, but they tend to take care of themselves if the core engine is working.

Wikipedia: find people to volunteer to become editors

AirBnB: find people to put great houses up for rent

Typical MOOC: find millions of students willing to take a course (you don’t need infinite teachers, just a few, meaning the students are actually the hard part)

- Seth Godin on the Krypton Community College site

I love Seth’s perspective here. Successful growth and change isn’t about getting every new piece perfect. It’s about putting energy into the most important pieces.

Assessment lessons from The Lean Startup

Assessment is a hot topics in student affairs, but in most places, there may be more talk than action. I think this comes from two problems with the process: Runners Don’t Take Photos and the Dusty Binder Syndrome.

Runners Don’t Take Photos is simple. The woman running the race isn’t the one stopping to document the moment. She’s got something else on her mind. Most people who get into student affairs don’t pick the field because they love filling out reports. They’re likely relators or doers who are busy working in their area of expertise. Stopping to zoom out, plan ahead, and measure is a luxury most people don’t think they have.

The Dusty Binder Syndrome is caused by that feeling you get when you spend time on a project you suspect will just gather dust on a shelf. When we fill out forms because of a process rather than a need, it demotivates and fails to create change.

Are we assessing for accreditation or assessing so we can get better at what we do? Hopefully both, but how we set up the process matters.

You can use improvement-focused data in accreditation reports. But data gathered for accreditation won’t always lead to real change. In fact, gathering info on the same things we’ve always done may insure a lack of change.

The Lean Startup shares a process that can fix both challenges. Derek Sivers has an excellent summary of the book, but here are Derek’s quotes from the part of interest:

Too many startup business plans look more like they are planning to launch a rocket ship than drive a car. They prescribe the steps to take and the results to expect in excruciating detail, and as in planning to launch a rocket, they are set up in such a way that even tiny errors in assumptions can lead to catastrophic outcomes.

The customers failed to materialize, the company had committed itself so completely that they could not adapt in time. They had “achieved failure” – successfully, faithfully, and rigorously executing a plan that turned out to have been utterly flawed.

Instead of making complex plans that are based on a lot of assumptions, you can make constant adjustments with a steering wheel called the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop. Through this process of steering, we can learn when and if it’s time to make a sharp turn called a pivot or whether we should persevere along our current path.

The strategy may have to change (called a pivot). However, the overarching vision rarely changes. Entrepreneurs are committed to seeing the startup through to that destination. Every setback is an opportunity for learning how to get where they want to go.

Too many higher ed assessment plans make the same mistake. It makes sense. The academic mindset is more likely to tolerate forms, processes, and change that takes time. (After all, a dissertation isn’t written in a day) But that mindset is a core reason we’re struggling to innovate or change. Most assessment processes are too specific and rigid.Image

It’s the rocket ship instead of the car from above. This leads to people who spend their days filling out forms instead of leading, creating value, or connecting with students.

As student affairs begins to value assessment, we need to consider how we assess what we’re doing. We need to build a process that encourages innovation.

The Lean Startup’s Build-Measure-Learn process is a good starting point. Have a vision. Create it. Test it. Adapt. The 20-year plan is gone. The 5-year plan doesn’t work, either.

So know the “what” of your organization: Have big vision and values, and know what your department or organization stands for. But the how has to be flexible. So assessing the “learning outcomes” may need to change from year to year, too.

“The only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else.” Seems like an appropriate mindset for an educational institution, right?

Dan Ariely on MOOCs and the future of higher education

Behavioral psychologist Dan Ariely, author of books like Predictably Irrational, speaker at TED, and professor at Duke, just kicked off a MOOC through Coursera with 144,000 participants. He talks about the experience in an insightful interview. This section on the future of higher education was particularly interesting:

I don’t think that the future of the university is doomed for a few reasons. First, having a scheduled class with obligations, deadlines, exams, real consequences and real rewards is incredibly important for human motivation and getting people to spend the necessary time and effort to really understand the material. The second reason is that the model of many universities, in which students study and live together, is a particularly helpful model for creating the environment that people need to take their education seriously. It is not just about the particular classes, but about being immersed in an academic environment for a substantial period of time.

I also think that some of the teaching in traditional colleges could be transferred to video lectures, but rather than serve as a replacement, they could be used as a supplement to free up the regular classroom to have higher level discussions and debates. This is the “flipped classroom” approach that has been getting so much hype. In essence, it could make the undergraduate college experience more similar to the graduate experience, at least in terms of the quality of the discussion.

And finally, video lectures are incredibly time-consuming to create. The team that worked on the videos for “A Beginner’s Guide to Irrationality” figured out that we spent about 150 hours on each hour of video that was produced. Of course, we could have spent much less time and effort, but then the quality would have suffered and the learning experience would have taken a toll. This initial effort was worth it to me, but I think that spending so much time revising the lectures, improving them, and creating more classes, is something that very few professors and universities will be willing to do long-term.

Innovation in student affairs – where do you see it?

I’m looking for examples of innovation in higher education – particularly student affairs/student life – and I need your help.

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Not this.

Innovation is a tricky word. Maybe it brings to mind images like Disney’s “house of the future,” sending a rocket to Mars, or Steve Jobs introducing a phone that will revolutionize the mobile phone and computer industries.

But I think innovation is more basic – and more important – than those once-every-20-years examples. Innovation is being clear about what you do and why you do it and then finding the best way to do those things regardless of what has been done in the past. It’s looking at a situation in a context, addressing the needs, and creating the best possible solution.

Sharing ideas at conferences is great, but this kind of contextual change doesn’t come from copying the best practices of a college across the nation.

Innovation is needed in student affairs.

I’ll be honest. I have an agenda here. I want to see student affairs as a field go beyond managing the programs we’ve been given. I want us to clearly define why we exist, take that vision, and move forward in a way that works for each context.

There are books upon books about upcoming changes in higher education, and student life is rarely listed as a driving force or voice in these conversations. We need to effectively communicate the importance of the development, learning, and integration that happens through the entire college experience – inside and outside of the classroom. Just like educational practices have to change over time as students, culture, and information changes, the way we do our job must change as well. It may mean large changes, or they may be small. But that growth is healthy and needed.

So the goal is to collect and highlight examples of innovation in student affairs – not so others can imitate, but so we can understand the process, challenges, and lessons learned through innovation and change.

Share your examples here, and pass this along to others!

Quotes: On changing the world and being a leader

Two unrelated but interesting quotes. (And they’re real. I’ll leave April Fools Day to folks like YouTube or Gmail)

“The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.” — Jim Rohn

“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” – E.B. White

Data + Intuition = Success

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Ok, I’ll admit there’s a lot more that goes into that equation for it to work in real life. But it’s a start.

Here’s what Jason Kottke says at the end of a post about expensive products that lose money but show the company cares about excellence (think the Corvette and Mac Pro):

Normally I’m not a big fan of advice like “do what big car companies do”, but what Siracusa’s piece demontrates is one of the things that’s problematic about data: there are important things about business and success that you can’t measure. And I would go so far as to say that these unmeasurables are the most important things, the stuff that makes or breaks a business or product or, hell, even a relationship, stuff that you just can’t measure quantitatively, no matter how Big your Data is.

There are two sides to this. 

1. Most companies, non-profits, and universities don’t measure enough. They make decisions based on assumptions. It’s important to ask questions, gather data, and see what is really happening out there.

2. Data alone won’t do it. Some things can’t be measured (or, we don’t know how to measure them well).

So ask good questions. But don’t let the data distract from the bigger goal. Don’t miss potential big-picture wins by getting bogged down in numbers, satisfaction scores, and focus groups. Every once in a while, take a risk on that thing that doesn’t make sense.