Posted by: crudbasher | April 12, 2012

Searching for a New Model For Learning – Part 3

Part1 is here and part 2 is here.

I love to fly. Well, let me correct that. I love to be in an airplane. I don’t like the airport and security experience. In my search for alternate models for education I came across this article from Inside Higher Education.

The article is called Everybody’s Worried Now and talks about a recent meeting between various liberal arts colleges. In a nutshell they are concerned that A) people think their schools are over priced for what you get and B) students will stop coming. I think they are right to be worried and I think that is exactly what is about to happen. But let me come back to this article in a minute.

(cc) caribb

The airline industry has had a lot of ups and downs in the last 20 years.(another awesome pun!) You might be surprised to find out that even in a good year the airlines don’t make a large profit margin. 3% is a good year. Many years they lose money, which is why so many airlines are state supported or state owned (public universities).

An airline (school) exists to offer a service (degree). It transports people in groups from place to place. It does this with expensive facilities (campus) and highly trained people(teachers). Let’s go with it a bit further.

An airline has many more people involved in its operations than just pilots. There is a huge support staff (administration) involved to keep things flying. Even so, you don’t need an airline to go flying. Many people have their own private planes but they are expensive (private college). Some people even build their own experimental aircraft! (DIY schooling)

You have a choice of airlines of course. Some are low cost (community colleges), and some are expensive (ivy league). Some are just one class and some you can pay (a lot) more and get a better seat (dorm) and booze (booze). They have frequent flier clubs (fraternities). No matter what though, getting you to where you are going is the important point (graduation). How you get there doesn’t matter as much as getting there. (degree vs education)

All of this parallels how education works to a certain extent. However there is something airlines are doing that I haven’t seen in education…until now.

About 15 years ago the first really big airline alliances were created. The way it works is when a person buys a ticket on your airline, often times the trip is split up into two flights. One of the flights might actually take place on an alliance partner airline. By exchanging passengers (called code sharing) the airlines can offer a larger network to their customers. It’s not a bad idea really and helps share costs a lot. So can this be applied to colleges? Back to our article.

Here’s the quote that caught my eye.

Eugene M. Tobin, program officer for the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation noted in his talk Monday night that collaboration is one way that colleges could potentially use technology to cut or maintain costs without harming quality.

By partnering with one another, or with other types of institutions, liberal arts colleges could offer classes or programs that would be too expensive for any individual institution to offer. Languages, which have been cut from many colleges in recent years due to low demand, have often been cited as a place where these types of programs could easily be adopted. But presidents also noted other areas ripe for collaboration, such as upper-level electives in most majors, where on-campus faculty might not have the particular expertise a student seeks. (emphasis mine)

I know from being a college teacher that we tend to be a possessive bunch. We like to write our own curriculum. Colleges are the same way. They think their courses are better than other schools so sharing courses like this is a sign of how desperate they are. Let’s look closer at the implications.

Every time mention was made in the article about reducing costs, the word “quality” was mentioned. If you change the teacher to student ratio, quality would be affected. You can’t have staff teach more or else quality would suffer, etc… Here’s the big question, do students actually care about quality? Teachers think students are buying an education but students think they are buying a degree. Oh sure, in college there are many motivated students, but not in every class. Universities have many classes you must take that students generally dislike. So what if those courses are taken online from a partner university? Right now those courses are being taught by a TA anyway so will the students care? I doubt it. Ok then, once you establish you can take a course from another school and still get a degree, which schools will you partner with? How about a school in India that provides the course very cheaply? Once you are taking courses online, it doesn’t matter where the course comes from. Could we someday see a university that just credentials learning and offers courses from other schools? (see The Disaggregation Of College Begins)

All of this follows the pattern I have been following called Disaggregation. Schools are starting to outsource some of their functions. It will be small things at first in keeping with the Theory of Disruptive Innovation. Non core classes. The type of classes that the “real professors” look down on.

In the end, the education system model already shares some features with the airline system model. A critical similarity is while you can choose where you want to go on the airline, that is really the last choice you get. If you pay extra you can choose a seat on some airlines. They say when they are leaving, what you will eat, when you can go to the bathroom, even when you can use your computer! Come to think about it, that is exactly like school!

Ok, so airlines aren’t a model of what education will become, but food gives me an idea… The conclusion of this series is tomorrow when I share what existing business model I think shows the future of education!



  1. […] Check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3! […]

  2. […] for a New Model For Learning Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part […]

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