Help: I'm standing in the middle of a yellowing newspaper called "the education business."
This thought as I take a break from marking my share of "resumes and readiness statements" from 160 folks vying to get one of the 75 spots available in the communications program in which I teach.
The good news is that they're all various shades of good; if I had my way, they'd all get a happy stamp of acceptance and I'd have a cordial. The bad news is that I can't do that owing to something called "the scarcity model."
In traditional academia, it means limited space and enrollment. You pay to see an instructor, who has all of the information in his or her head. When you get accepted and pay, you can go to school, and that information becomes available to you too.
As that terrible credit union ad says, "Used to be times were different." And, yeah, they have a-changed: information about everything is now readily available online. It still gives me pause to consider that much of the video, audio, and publishing equipment that I used to have to go to school to use is now available in a crazy gadget called the iPhone.
We've seen what happened with newspapers - disaster in some cases and revolution in others - and we're starting to see the same thing happen with education. Why, for example, would Stanford and MIT offer classes for free to "everyone?" For the same reason that we now get the news - and all of our information - for free online: walled information gets no buzz.
The truth about "learning" is that it can happen with or without an instructor (with exceptions, of course); if it's worth knowing, or you need to know it, you'll find a way to learn it.
This summer, for instance, I'm going to start a podcast. Ya heard it here first. I could enroll in a school somewhere, but instead I'll make plans to meet with a local, successful podcaster to find out how she did it, go online to find out what I need, buy the necessary equipment, and succeed by first experiencing failure: the very definition of "learning."
The program in which I teach is lucky: we've had very little competition in our niche, we've got some brand equity at the local level, and students' education is heavily subsidized by the government - to the tune of 80 per cent of the "actual cost."
Nonetheless, the college lost money last year, which means that something will change. Online education means that we can now enroll students from remote communities around the world, who don't need to come to school to get an education. More students taking up less physical space means more shared experiences and a cheaper education.
Says Internet guru Seth Godin:
"When a million people are taking your course, you only need one per cent to pay you to be happy indeed."Yes, some things are better learned in person. Yes, a new model comes at a risk. However: any good PR practitioner and Spider-Man will tell you: with great risk comes great opportunity.
New alternatives to traditional education keep popping up:
- I'm now taking my master's degree at Central Michigan University, though I've only set foot there once. It's a real education - interactive, engaging, and every bit as much work and effort as one might experience in person, minus the travel time. Incidentally, I bypassed the U of M altogether - too many gatekeepers for me (but that's another blog post).
- iTunes University - Apple sees an opportunity to get into the education business, which usually means there is one.
- General Assembly - Fast Company explains:
"It's an intermediary that gives the postcollegiate crowd real-world skills they didn't get at their alma mater: exposure to the way business is done on the ground. The school focuses on technology and entrepreneurship, covering everything from fundraising to wireframing. Some classes are three-hour one-offs, others are weeklong workshops, and certificate programs, such as the front-end web-development class attended by those 15 students, are 60-hour programs spread over several weeks."
- New Media Manitoba - The local place to be to get info about new-media communication, design, and programming. A new spin on the old "association" model, which has also migrated online.