Reflections on “Clay Shirky on Mega-Universities and Scale” [Christian]

Clay Shirky on Mega-Universities and Scale — from philonedtech.com by Clay Shirky
[This was a guest post by Clay Shirky that grew out of a conversation that Clay and Phil had about IPEDS enrollment data. Most of the graphs are provided by Phil.]

Excerpts:

Were half a dozen institutions to dominate the online learning landscape with no end to their expansion, or shift what Americans seek in a college degree, that would indeed be one of the greatest transformations in the history of American higher education. The available data, however, casts doubt on that idea.

Though much of the conversation around mega-universities is speculative, we already know what a mega-university actually looks like, one much larger than any university today. It looks like the University of Phoenix, or rather it looked like Phoenix at the beginning of this decade, when it had 470,000 students, the majority of whom took some or all of their classes online. Phoenix back then was six times the size of the next-largest school, Kaplan, with 78,000 students, and nearly five times the size of any university operating today.

From that high-water mark, Phoenix has lost an average of 40,000 students every year of this decade.

 

From DSC:
First of all, I greatly appreciate both Clay’s and Phil’s thought leadership and their respective contributions to education and learning through the years. I value their perspectives and their work.  Clay and Phil offer up a great article here — one worth your time to read.  

The article made me reflect on what I’ve been building upon and tracking for the last decade — a next generation ***PLATFORM*** that I believe will represent a powerful piece of a global learning ecosystem. I call this vision, “Learning from the Living [Class] Room.” Though the artificial intelligence-backed platform that I’m envisioning doesn’t yet fully exist — this new era and type of learning-based platform ARE coming. The emerging signs, technologies, trends — and “fingerprints”of it, if you will — are beginning to develop all over the place.

Such a platform will:

  • Be aimed at the lifelong learner.
  • Offer up major opportunities to stay relevant and up-to-date with one’s skills.
  • Offer access to the program offerings from many organizations — including the mega-universities, but also, from many other organizations that are not nearly as large as the mega-universities.
  • Be reliant upon human teachers, professors, trainers, subject matter experts, but will be backed up by powerful AI-based technologies/tools. For example, AI-based tools will pulse-check the open job descriptions and the needs of business and present the top ___ areas to go into (how long those areas/jobs last is anyone’s guess, given the exponential pace of technological change).

Below are some quotes that I want to comment on:

Not nothing, but not the kind of environment that will produce an educational Amazon either, especially since the top 30 actually shrank by 0.2% a year.

 

Instead of an “Amazon vs. the rest” dynamic, online education is turning into something much more widely adopted, where the biggest schools are simply the upper end of a continuum, not so different from their competitors, and not worth treating as members of a separate category.

 

Since the founding of William and Mary, the country’s second college, higher education in the U.S. hasn’t been a winner-take-all market, and it isn’t one today. We are not entering a world where the largest university operates at outsized scale, we’re leaving that world; 

 

From DSC:
I don’t see us leaving that world at all…but that’s not my main reflection here. Instead, I’m not focusing on how large the mega-universities will become. When I speak of a forthcoming Walmart of Education or Amazon of Education, what I have in mind is a platform…not one particular organization.

Consider that the vast majority of Amazon’s revenues come from products that other organizations produce. They are a platform, if you will. And in the world of platforms (i.e., software), it IS a winner take all market. 

Bill Gates reflects on this as well in this recent article from The Verge:

“In the software world, particularly for platforms, these are winner-take-all markets.

So it’s all about a forthcoming platform — or platforms. (It could be more than one platform. Consider Apple. Consider Microsoft. Consider Google. Consider Facebook.)

But then the question becomes…would a large amount of universities (and other types of organizations) be willing to offer up their courses on a platform? Well, consider what’s ALREADY happening with FutureLearn:

Finally…one more excerpt from Clay’s article:

Eventually the new ideas lose their power to shock, and end up being widely copied. Institutional transformation starts as heresy and ends as a section in the faculty handbook. 

From DSC:
This is a great point. Reminds me of this tweet from Fred Steube (and I added a piece about Western Telegraph):

 

Some things to reflect upon…for sure.

 
 
 

Online directory of college alternatives launches — from educationdive.com by Natalie Schwartz

Excerpt / Dive Brief:

  • Prospective students interested in nondegree credentials can look to a new online directory of more than 200 companies and other organizations providing apprenticeships, boot camps, short-term online courses and other credentials.
  • Called Alternatives to College, the directory was launched as a joint effort between leaders at higher ed investment firm University Ventures and WhatsBestForMe, a platform for applicants to connect with postsecondary education providers.
  • “The last-mile training sector moves quickly,” said Cassidy Leventhal, a vice president at University Ventures, in the announcement, adding that the directory will provide an “online ‘home'” for nondegree options.
 

Has Technology Made State Regional Universities Obsolete? — from campustechnology.com by Richard Rose
While SRUs do some things well, the current model is not sustainable, with students taking on enormous debt and receiving relatively little income benefit in return. Here’s how technology can help change the equation.

Excerpts (emphasis DSC):

What if the State Board of Higher Education assembled a team to create one exceptionally fine Official Texas Version of the sophomore Western Civilization course? The team would include brilliant subject-matter experts, the best graphic artists, senior instructional designers, professional film editors and sharp-eyed text editors, who could produce a 48-clock-hour video course of previously unimaginable quality.

When technology is fully embraced because the need for a better and cheaper product finally trumps the political protection of the status quo, the state regional university will be replaced as part of new state university systems in which local institutions will play a very different role. These new local institutions could be called Learning Satellite Centers (LSCs).

Much content will take the form of high-budget, high-quality multimedia productions with delivery available to all popular devices, from desktop computers to cell phones. Access to learning materials, from course movies and podcasts to reading materials, will be through an expanded electronic distribution system that will eliminate the need for paper-based academic libraries.

The goal of the University Center plus Learning Satellite Center model is to transfer agency back into the hands of the students, where it belongs. No longer will a self-appointed privileged group of professional academics with their arcane degrees and funny ceremonial robes be dictating to the rest of society what we all need to learn and how we need to learn it. Technology will be the great leveler and the marketplace will help individual students decide what choices are best.

Of course, a brief sketch like this one will raise many questions that cannot be explored in a single article, but the conversation must begin. The current State Regional University is not sustainable and can only be propped up by politics and sentiment for so long. Too many students are piling up huge debt to earn dubious degrees that don’t lead to marketable skills or significant economic benefits. Technology has made more effective models of higher education attainable and at a lower price. We need to fearlessly explore such models before our charming old regional campuses drift into irrelevance.

 

From DSC:
While the article has a bit of a bite to it (which I suppose readers of this blog would say they might see in my writings/comments as well from time to time), THIS is the kind of innovative, creative thinking that will get us somewhere. I really appreciate Richard’s article and the deep thought he was put into this topic.

In fact, as readers of this blog will know, I have long been a supporter of a TEAM-BASED approach. And listed below are some graphics that prove it — as well as this article I wrote for evolllution.com (where the “lll” stands for lifelong learning) back from 2016.

This page* lists those graphics plus the list of team members that I thought of in December 2008:

  • Subject Matter Experts
  • Instructional Designers
  • Project Managers
  • Recruiters
  • Legal Counsel
  • Researchers / Mind Experts
  • Digital Audio Specialists
  • Digital Video Specialists
  • Streaming Media Experts
  • Mobile Learning Consultants
  • Writers and Editors 
  • Programmers and Database Specialists 
  • Web Design and Production Specialists
  • Interactivity Designers
  • Multimedia Specialists including Multi-Touch Experts/Programmers
  • 3D / 2D Graphic Designers and/or Animators
  • MindMappers / Visual Learning Experts
  • Personalized Learning Consultants
  • Security Experts
  • The students themselves
  • Other

*BTW, I renamed this idea from the Forthcoming Walmart of Education
to the Forthcoming Amazon.com of Higher Education

 

.

While I’m at it…below are a couple of ideas that I documented back in 2009 that Richard might like…

 

.

As of today…I would simplify that last graphic to
include a subscription model to streams of content.

 

Ok…one more graphic from 5/21/09 that describes what I thought would happen if institutions of traditional higher education maintained the status quo through the years. I feel pretty good about how these predictions turned out, but I wish that we would have made even more progress along these lines than we have (since the time I created this graphic).

 

 

 

 
 

Report: Over 60% of college students face hunger or housing insecurity — from educationdive.com by James Paterson

Excerpt:

Seven out of 10 students at two-year colleges and six out of 10 students at four-year colleges indicated that they faced food or housing insecurity sometime in the last 12 months, according to The Hope Center’s latest #RealCollege report, which surveyed almost 86,000 students last fall.

 

Also see:

  • Tuition or Dinner? Nearly Half of College Students Surveyed in a New Report Are Going Hungry — from nytimes.com by Kaya Laterman
    Many routinely skip meals and take ‘poverty naps’ because they cannot afford groceries. Campus food pantries are helping, but are they enough?
    Excerpt:
    Although the college food-pantry movement is well underway, as there are now over 700 members at the College and University Food Bank Alliance, efforts have recently expanded to include redistributing leftover food from dining halls and catered events, making students eligible for food stamps and other benefits, and perhaps most important, changing national and state education funding to cover living expenses, not just tuition.
 

This will be the biggest disruption in higher education — from forbes.com by Brandon Busteed; with thanks to Mr. Reid Gough for his posting this on LinkedIn

Excerpts (emphasis DSC):

Instead of going to college to get a job, students will increasingly be going to a job to get a college degree.

When asked about a potential new pathway for their children to get a college degree, 74% of all parents of K-12 students would consider a route where their child would be hired directly out of high school by an employer that offers a college degree while working. (Nearly four-in-ten gave the strongest level of endorsement saying they would “definitely” consider this.)

 

From DSC:
Here’s a ~4 minute piece from CBS News re: student loan debt.

Here are two excerpts from that video:

the cost of higher ed is out of control; 43 million borrowers now owe 1.5 trillion

the cost of higher ed is out of control; average household with student loan debt = $47,671

 

From DSC to potential college students:
You need to know that the ramifications of this type of debt can last for decades! Do everything you possibly can to either not borrow anything or to minimize these types of loan amounts.

This is another reason why the United States desperately needs a ***next generation learning platform*** — one that’s convenient, very inexpensive, and one that can also help people quickly reinvent themselves! One that is highly social, features human Subject Matter Experts (SME’s), and is backed up by #AI – based apps/features as well.

Along these lines…no longer are we running sprints (i.e., get a 4-year degree and you’re done). We’re now all running marathons (i.e., we’re now into lifelong learning in order to stay relevant and employed).

 


Also, the following item was announced today:

  • Cengage and McGraw-Hill to Merge, Providing Students with More Affordable Access to Superior Course Materials and Platforms — from businesswire.com
    Excerpt:
    NEW YORK & BOSTON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–McGraw-Hill and Cengage today announced that they have entered into a definitive agreement to combine in an all-stock merger on equal terms. The transaction, which has been unanimously approved by the Boards of Directors of both companies, will bring together two premier learning companies that will deliver significant benefits for students, educators, professionals and institutions worldwide.“The new company will offer a broad range of best-in-class content – delivered through digital platforms at an affordable price,” said Michael E. Hansen, CEO of Cengage. “Together, we will usher in an era in which all students can afford the quality learning materials needed to succeed – regardless of their socioeconomic status or the institution they attend. Additionally, the combined company will have robust financial strength to invest in next-generation products, technology and services that create superior experiences and value for millions of students.”

Also see:

 

From DSC:
Along these lines, I don’t think Cengage/McGraw-Hill will be the largest company on the Internet by 2030 as predicted by Thomas Frey (a prediction I think he’s right on with…by the way). They were on watch when the prices of learning-related materials soared through the years. As such, they’ve likely burned through a great deal of good will…but we’ll see. They might be able to persuade myself and others that they’re the platform of choice for the future. Time will tell I guess.

 


 

 

Legal Services Innovation Index

 

Legal Services Innovation Index

Excerpts:

“This index should also be a resource for law schools and law students. It will help law schools better understand the evolution of the legal landscape, which will help them better prepare their students for the future. Law students can use this index to learn more about how the profession is changing and the knowledge and skills that they should develop for long-term success. The index also aims to provide law students information about the law firms recruiting them as well as a framework for assessing each law firm’s strategies for the future. Again, I caution that this index is simply an initial attempt to measure indicators of innovation and various weaknesses have been acknowledged. That said, the index and this initial information provides a starting point for very important discussions.”

 

“The problem to be solved is the lack of access to legal services. Experts estimate that approximately 80 percent of the impoverished and 50 percent of the middle class lack access to legal services.”

 

 

Minerva’s Innovative Platform Makes Quality Higher Ed Personal and Affordable — from linkedin.com by Tom Vander Ark

Excerpt:

The first external partner, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), loved the course design and platform but told Nelson they couldn’t afford to teach 15 students at a time. The Minerva team realized that to be applicable at major universities, active learning needed to be scalable.

Starting this summer, a new version of Forum will be available for classes of up to 400 at a time. For students, it will still feel like a small seminar. They’ll see the professor, themselves, and a dozen other students. Forum will manage the movement of students from screen to screen. “Everybody thinks they are in the main room,” said Nelson.

Forum enables real-time polling and helps professors create and manage breakout groups.

Big Implications
With Forum, “For the first time you can deliver better than Ivy League education at absurdly low cost,” said Nelson.

Online courses and MOOCs just repackaged the same format and just offered it with less interaction. As new Forum partners will demonstrate, “It’s possible to deliver a year of undergraduate education that is vastly superior for under $5,000 per student,” added Nelson.

He’s excited to offer a turnkey university solution that, for partners like Oxford Teachers Academy, will allow new degree pathways for paraprofessionals that can work, learn, and earn a degree and certification.

 

Perhaps another piece of the puzzle is falling into place…

 

Another piece of the puzzle is coming into place...for the Learning from the Living Class Room vision

 

 

The Growing Profile of Non-Degree Credentials: Diving Deeper into ‘Education Credentials Come of Age’ — from evolllution.com by Sean Gallagher
Higher education is entering a “golden age” of lifelong learning and that will mean a spike in demand for credentials. If postsecondary institutions want to compete in a crowded market, they need to change fast.

Excerpts (emphasis DSC):

One of the first levels of opportunity is simply embedding the skills that are demanded in the job market into educational programs. Education certainly has its own merits independent of professional outcomes. But critics of higher education who suggest graduates aren’t prepared for the workforce have a point in terms of the opportunity for greater job market alignment, and less of an “ivory tower” mentality at many institutions. Importantly, this does not mean that there isn’t value in the liberal arts and in broader ways of thinking—problem solving, leadership, critical thinking, analysis, and writing are among the very top skills demanded by employers across all educational levels. These are foundational and independent of technical skills.

The second opportunity is building an ecosystem for better documentation and sharing of skills—in a sense what investor Ryan Craig has termed a “competency marketplace.” Employers’ reliance on college degrees as relatively blunt signals of skill and ability is partly driven by the fact that there aren’t many strong alternatives. Technology—and the growth of platforms like LinkedIn, ePortfolios and online assessments—is changing the game. One example is digital badges, which were originally often positioned as substitutes to degrees or certificates.

Instead, I believe digital badges are a supplement to degrees and we’re increasingly seeing badges—short microcredentials that discretely and digitally document competency—woven into degree programs, from the community college to the graduate degree level.

 

However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the market is demanding more “agile” and shorter-form approaches to education. Many institutions are making this a strategic priority, especially as we read the evolution of trends in the global job market and soon enter the 2020s.

Online education—which in all its forms continues to slowly and steadily grow its market share in terms of all higher ed instruction—is certainly an enabler of this vision, given what we know about pedagogy and the ability to digitally document outcomes.

 

In addition, 64 percent of the HR leaders we surveyed said that the need for ongoing lifelong learning will demand higher levels of education and more credentials in the future.

 

Along these lines of online-based collaboration and learning,
go to the 34 minute mark of this video:

 

From DSC:
The various pieces are coming together to build the next generation learning platform. Although no one has all of the pieces yet, the needs/trends/signals are definitely there.

 

Daniel Christian-- Learning from the Living Class Room

 

Addendums on 4/20/19:

 

 

From DSC:
First a posting that got me to wondering about something that I’ve previously wondered about from time to time…

College of Business unveils classroom of the future — from biz.source.colostate.edu by Joe Giordano

Excerpt:

Equipped with a wall of 27 high-definition video screens as well as five high-end cameras, the newest classroom in Colorado State University’s College of Business is designed to connect on-campus and online students in a whole new way.

The College of Business unveiled on March 29 the “Room of the Future,” featuring Mosaic, an innovative technology – powered by mashme.io – that creates a blended classroom experience, connecting on-campus and online students in real time.

 

From DSC:
If the pedagogies could be worked out, this could be a very attractive model for many people in the future as it:

  • Provides convenience.
  • Offers more choice. More control. (Students could pick whether they want to attend the class virtually or in a physical classroom).

If the resulting increase in students could bring down the price of offering the course, will we see this model flourish in the near future? 

For struggling colleges and universities, could this help increase the ROI of offering their classes on their physical campuses?

The technologies behind this are not cheap though…and that could be a show-stopper for this type of an experiment. But…thinking out loud again…what if there were a cheaper way to view a group of other people in your learning community? Perhaps there will be a solution using some form of Extended Reality (XR)…hmmm….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also see:

 

Also see:

Learning from the Living Class Room

 

 

Is Thomas Frey right? “…by 2030 the largest company on the internet is going to be an education-based company that we haven’t heard of yet.”

From a fairly recent e-newsletter from edsurge.com — though I don’t recall the exact date (emphasis DSC):

New England is home to some of the most famous universities in the world. But the region has also become ground zero for the demographic shifts that promise to disrupt higher education.

This week saw two developments that fit the narrative. On Monday, Southern Vermont College announced that it would shut its doors, becoming the latest small rural private college to do so. Later that same day, the University of Massachusetts said it would start a new online college aimed at a national audience, noting that it expects campus enrollments to erode as the number of traditional college-age students declines in the coming years.

“Make no mistake—this is an existential threat to entire sectors of higher education,” said UMass president Marty Meehan in announcing the online effort.

The approach seems to parallel the U.S. retail sector, where, as a New York Times piece outlines this week, stores like Target and WalMart have thrived by building online strategies aimed at competing with Amazon, while stores like Gap and Payless, which did little to move online, are closing stores. Of course, college is not like any other product or service, and plenty of campuses are touting the richness of the experience that students get by actually coming to a campus. And it’s not clear how many colleges can grow online to a scale that makes their investments pay off.

 

“It’s predicted that over the next several years, four to five major national players with strong regional footholds will be established. We intend to be one of them.”

University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan

 

 

From DSC:
That last quote from UMass President Marty Meehan made me reflect upon the idea of having one or more enormous entities that will provide “higher education” in the future. I wonder if things will turn out to be that we’ll have more lifelong learning providers and platforms in the future — with the idea of a 60-year curriculum being an interesting idea that may come into fruition.

Long have I predicted that such an enormous entity would come to pass. Back in 2008, I named it the Forthcoming Walmart of Education. But then as the years went by, I got bumbed out on some things that Walmart was doing, and re-branded it the Forthcoming Amazon.com of Higher Education. We’ll see how long that updated title lasts — but you get the point. In fact, the point aligns very nicely with what futurist Thomas Frey has been predicting for years as well:

“I’ve been predicting that by 2030 the largest company on the internet is going to be an education-based company that we haven’t heard of yet,” Frey, the senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute think tank, tells Business Insider. (source)

I realize that education doesn’t always scale well…but I’m thinking that how people learn in the future may be different than how we did things in the past…communities of practice comes to mind…as does new forms of credentialing…as does cloud-based learner profiles…as does the need for highly efficient, cost-effective, and constant opportunities/means to reinvent oneself.

Also see:

 

 

Addendum:

74% of consumers go to Amazon when they’re ready to buy something. That should be keeping retailers up at night. — from cnbc.com

Key points (emphasis DSC)

  • Amazon remains a looming threat for some of the biggest retailers in the country — like Walmart, Target and Macy’s.
  • When consumers are ready to buy a specific product, nearly three-quarters of them, or 74 percent, are going straight to Amazon to do it, according to a new study by Feedvisor.
  • By the end of this year, Amazon is expected to account for 52.4 percent of the e-commerce market in the U.S., up from 48 percent in 2018.

 

“In New England, there will be between 32,000 and 54,000 fewer college-aged students just seven years from now,” Meehan said. “That means colleges and universities will have too much capacity and not enough demand at a time when the economic model in higher education is already straining under its own weight.” (Marty Meehan at WBUR)

 

 

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