Newspapers and universities are really in the same business. They are in information logistics; they are in the research, creation and transfer of information. The Internet now threatens both institutions. The writing on the wall is already very clear for the newspaper business, but not yet for the universities.
Newspapers have been the logistics channel for journalism. But newspapers have been just as much in the print advertising business, as they have been in the business of selling content written by journalists. On the ad side, newspapers have enjoyed a more or less local monopoly over the market. That money is now gone. It is lost to Google, and in the near future to Facebook.
Universities have been the logistics channel for education. As of today, there’s no Google destroying that. Instead of having monopolies over advertising, universities have enjoyed barriers to competition in the form of local language and accreditation. Anyone can use the Internet to blog or to tweet. Not anyone can sell recognized degrees. But the number of people who associate being informed and learning with following experts they recognize on the Internet is soon reaching hundreds of millions. More and more people think that the most valuable learning takes place in bite-sized chunks, every day, through reading the contributions of people we recognize as being worth following.
We know that degrees don’t signal competence and thus they have less and less true human capital value. However, learning, as a way of life, without beginnings and ends, is becoming more and more valuable.
Leading institutions like Stanford University and MIT are giving lectures on the Internet. Apple iTunes is aggregating those and hundreds more like them into playlists, which may be the new way to see course architectures. The way peer learners have experienced their unique combination of these learning playlists may be the most valuable starting point for any individual learning path. Is the Amazon recommendation system then the way classes should be filled?
Is iTunes the Google challenge for universities?
People will argue that the best university courses are superior to any online offering, and they are often right. There is no substitute for a live meeting of minds. But that’s far from the experience of the student sitting in a lecture hall. All she’s getting is a live version of what iTunes offers, without the ability to rate, to discuss with peers, rewind, bookmark, return to later and forward to others.
People in the traditional print media have dismissed online writing because of its low average quality. The average quality of the writing online isn’t what the print media are competing against. They’re competing against the best writing online. And they’re losing. This is what is going to happen next with teaching. Universities are going to compete against the best bloggers and the very best curators of learning content. The sad truth, both when it comes to the newspapers and to the universities, is that if you are used to being a monopoly, you create habits that are hard to overcome when you suddenly face competition. The Internet is now transforming the consumption habits of newspaper customers. There is an even bigger change happening in the learning related habits of people. Hopefully, the universities won’t fight as much against their customers’ new habits as the newspapers do!
Thank you Riel Miller. Special thanks to Kevin Carey. Mimi Ito and Paul Graham