Parallels between schools and newspapers

There’s an excellent post on the Union Square Ventures blog about the small Hacking Education conference they had a couple months back. One remark I’d like to highlight:

Fred [Wilson] is suggesting that the education industry may soon face the same challenges that currently confront the music industry and the newspaper industry. Like those industries, education can be peer produced, delivered as bits, and curated by a community. Like the music and newspaper industries, the cost structures embedded in the education industry’s current business models may be very difficult to support in the face of competition from hyper-efficient, web native businesses.

As I’m reading this, a parallel between newspapers and the university system came to mind. Newspapers, as institutions with a business model rooted in a specific project, started uploading their content onto websites in the 1990’s without much concern as to how the Internet would fundamentally change their businesses. They treated their websites as side projects at the very most and minor annoyances most commonly. I think this is very much the case with universities. Progressive schools like MIT have started uploading their courseware, one critical component of their “business model”, to the web for anyone to download free of charge. At the moment, they still have natural monopolies on accreditation and physical space although part of me suspects that those too could change. Considering the newspaper industry isn’t failing gracefully right now, I’d like to think that there are lessons universities can learn from how newspapers dealt with the fundamentally transformative technology known as the Internet.

On a related note, David Wiley argues that OpenCourseWare initiatives are going to have to find a sustainable business model by 2012 or many will fail. To me this says that traditional educational structures that are attempting change will have to show signs of being able to successfully do so in the next few years, or else they will be destined to a downward spiral similar to many newspapers today. This timeframe seems a bit short to me, but I support the assumption.

Conversation from the entire day is up in four parts of video that I’m planning on listening to the entire way through. As someone said in the first hour, the value of the degree is becoming less and less while the cost is becoming more and more. There is a lot of space for this issue to be fixed.

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