Posted by: crudbasher | July 8, 2014

Great Article About Higher Ed Disaggregation

I was sent this great article by my friend on Twitter @dgburris.

In it author Martin Smith talks about how higher education is similar to the music industry. This isn’t a new idea to these pages but it is laid out in the article in a good and clear way. Consider this a primer on what I think is going to happen to higher education.


This last decade of the music industry presages the coming decade of education. Choice is expanding at every level, from pre-k to graduate school. The individual course, rather than the degree, is becoming the unit of content. And universities, the record labels of education, are facing increased pressure to unbundle their services. So what will the future of education look like? 

  • The price of content will freefall over the next seven years. We heard the first rumblings last year when the Supreme Court ruled that U.S. copyright owners may not stop imports and re-selling of copyrighted content legally sold abroad, paving the way for a global market for textbooks.

  • The supply of learning content will swell. This might sound counterintuitive, but as we move toward a global market for content, creators will be price takers, unable to command much negotiating power given the sheer scale of distribution platforms (think iTunes). While it may make less sense for a professor in New York City to write a book, it makes a whole lot of sense for one in Mumbai.

  • Education will be personalized. With learning content available on demand, students will increasingly be able to build degree programs from a wide variety of institutions offering particular courses.

  • Universities will be masters of curation, working as talent agencies. They’ll draw royalties and license fees from the content professors create and curate. In many ways, the role of the best universities will become even more focused on identifying, investing in, and harvesting the returns from great talent.

Yes yes exactly right. The author goes on to say that this will cause great upheaval in the industry. Again, I agree completely. Of course the scenario laid out above is what I think will happen without outside intervention (meaning government). The government is now such a large player in society that it throws off economics trends. For example, the ride sharing service Uber is banned in some cities with taxi companies. There aren’t really any good reasons for this except it will hurt the taxi companies. This is the government picking winners and losers.

The other thing I think the author doesn’t address is the rise of machine generated content. Once computers can generate lessons for students the price will hit the floor.

Barring outside meddling, higher education in 20 years will be marked by a few large learning providers using mostly automated systems with notable brand names (MIT, Stanford, Harvard), plus many many independent providers who will cater to niche markets.

This is the Stormfront of change I have been talking about. Like most transformations it is scary, but in this case it is inevitable.

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