Posted by: crudbasher | February 1, 2012

When Teachers Are Free Agents

(cc) John McNab

If you look at other industries that have undergone Disaggregation forced by improved communications, you will see a natural tendency for people with talent to represent themselves. For example, actors used to be pretty much owned by a single studio for their whole career. This changed and actors can now work in any movie for any studio. Sports is the same way. Players are drafted, play some time with their first team, but at some point they become free agents and can leave.

Perhaps universities will adopt the same model? Hire a promising young teacher, and lock them into a contract for a certain amount of time. After that time though they can leave and offer their services for hire. Of course nothing stops them from leaving now of course, but they tend to go to from one school to another. There are now a few startup online learning companies that have other ideas.

The article below talks about the Stanford professors that created a stir last year by their free massive online courses. Turns out, they are going solo.

Learning only needs two things to happen: A learner and a source of information/knowledge. That source can be an online video, a book, or a conversation with another person. A teacher is a person who is trained to make sure that conversation is as effective as possible in getting the learner to learn what they are seeking. Everything else such as football teams, dorms, classrooms, fraternities, and Assistant Deputy Directors of Diversity, are secondary to learning. They might still be things people want in a college experience, but many other people will want just the learning thank you very much. Like many things in society today, maybe you will be able to ala carte your learning experience?

If you do still want the college experience, perhaps you will choose a campus where you want to live, then assemble your own course of study by registering for online courses from around the world. These would be taught by freelance teachers who use various online platforms to reach their students directly? The initial course would be low cost but offer a lot of “value added” things you can purchase. Things such as textbooks, tutors, and even exclusive lectures for small groups with the teacher? Each student can get what they need in whatever form they want.

This is not the end of universities. It is the beginning of an alternative.

    • Last week, news broke that Professor Sebastian Thrun would be stepping down from teaching at Stanford to launch an online learning company called Udacity. Udacity is an outgrowth of his incredibly popular Artificial Intelligence class offered through Stanford last fall.
    • Now it appears that two other Stanford professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng (Ng taught last term’s massive Machine Learning class) have started their own company, Coursera, one that offers a very similar service as Thrun’s.
    • But rather than leaving the university and the professoriate entirely, it appears as though Koller and Ng are working with universities to extend their reach online. Coursera will be the platform that runs many of the upcoming online classes from Stanford (including CS 101 and Cryptography). It also appears as though the platform will be used by UC Berkeley for its Software Engineerring for SaaS course.
    • Stanford was “none-too-enthusiastic” about the prospect of these massive online courses particularly when it came to the whole question of credentialing for successful completion.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.


  1. “Free agent” is a euphamism for “adjunct” and we are already there. It makes teaching a LOT less attractive for most people. Overall quality might not drop right away because of the proliferation of PhDs coming out of traditional eduation. But two or three generations from now, things may look very different. It won’t necessarily be worse, but I don’t think it will be better.

  2. Heh ok first I like your name. You have a point but I think the problem is an adjunct isn’t hired by the students, they are hired by the universities. By disaggregating the courses out of the university into an independent object, students will directly hire them to fill spaces in a custom curriculum. The independent teachers would then be able to set whatever price they feel they are worth (and the market will bear). It will all be based on reputation. If you are a great teacher and the students like you, word will get around the social networks and those students will want to add your course to their curriculum. Having a direct relationship between student and teacher will help the market set the appropriate value. What do you think?

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment!

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