Published on 2013/07/16

The Internet Killed the Classroom Star

The Internet Killed the Classroom Star
As technology advances, industries must adapt or risk being left behind. The music industry faced this with the advent of MTV in the early 1980s, and higher education is becoming affected today.

It was 12:01 a.m. on August 1, 1981 when MTV flickered to life and broadcast its first music video, Video Killed the Radio Star by The Buggles. In the song, Video stands as a marker of the coming technological tsunami that would change everything about how human beings thought about, produced, distributed and consumed popular music.

Today, a similar technological tsunami looms. Technology has made information ubiquitous; the ivied halls of higher education no longer serve as sacred repositories of information. Anything anyone needs to know is only a mouse click away. This transformation in how information is distributed has profound consequences for higher education. But the tsunami racing toward us carries other changes equally profound.

The technological wave also brings with it broadband, affordable portable devices and an ever-growing number of software applications that support learning. Advances like these have destroyed traditional academic concepts of space, time and learning, and have replaced them with flexible learning networks. These learning networks sometimes look like a new frontier as wild and woolly as Dodge City, Kan. used to be not so long ago. Besides, with America’s natural affinity for all things frontier-like, what is one to make of it all?

Because of relatively new and powerful learner markets (adult learners, especially) and of the growing recognition learning is lifelong, distance learning has grown spectacularly by unbundling learning from the accoutrements usually associated with higher learning (quads, resident halls, campus centers, homecomings and so forth). Distance learning is still like all learning, though; that is, it varies in quality. The distance learning frontier is crowded with producers that challenge the monopoly traditional institutions have had on higher learning. Add to this new entities and methods of distributing distance learning — driven by potentially lucrative relationships with these new markets.

Higher learning is being consumed in new ways, many of them more intimate and personal than in a lecture hall with a hundred other individuals: by a single mother at home with her two children at night after bedtime, by a business woman waiting for her flight to Phoenix at the airport or by a soldier called to duty half a world away.  Our industry is composed of producers, distributors and consumers — wild and woolly, indeed.

So we stand awaiting the impact of the tsunami, seeking shelter where it can be found. What will be left and how it will be arranged is unknown at the moment. What’s not unknown is that higher learning will look very different after everything dries out. Learning is about to change.  Like its impact on popular music, technology will change how human beings think about, produce, distribute and consume higher learning.

When all else fails, humor helps to numb the anxiety now coursing through higher education institutions. Whoever named Massive Open Online Courses “MOOCs” knew this. So I offer the following silly anthem as a marker of impending changes, with thanks to The Buggles.

Click to see the lyrics of Internet Killed the Classroom Star.

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Readers Comments

Rob Young 2013/07/16 at 8:49 am

As with any major change, there will be winners and there will be losers. The challenge now is for institutions to move to the winning side by embracing new technologies and ways of doing things while not losing what makes them unique.

Peter Laramie 2013/07/16 at 12:13 pm

I think the impact of “new entrants” into higher education is misconstrued. In the United States, we’re facing a challenge where student demand threatens to outweigh postsecondary options.

Thus, any new higher education providers should be welcomed into the space. Private and public providers, and for-profit and non-profit institutions, have coexisted for a long time. In the same way, low-cost providers will coexist with traditional providers, not eradicate them.

Ryan Loche 2013/07/17 at 3:01 am

I was a bright-eyed 27-year-old in 1981. I remember my friends and I crowding around my then-girlfriend’s TV to watch that first MTV telecast.

Since then, I’ve seen MTV undergo many changes. No longer just a music video channel, the network has branched into series, news and who-knows-what in the future. You see? Even the new providers have to change to adapt to the times, just as traditional providers do. In that sense, higher education is a level playing field.

William Badke 2013/07/22 at 5:38 pm

Technology has made possible the delivery of content in multiple ways, from online seminars/courses to MOOCs. The big challenge with the new technological delivery models is that they are too “old-think” to survive. What do I mean? Simply that they are set up to deliver content with minimal human interaction with the student or with mere peer interaction regarding the content. The new model of education sees the expertise of the professor as more important than mere content. Expertise cannot really be shared without modelling it. While this can be done in an online course (I do it all the time) it takes significant amounts of one on one interaction with students as I assess their work and guide them in the skills they need to do their knowledge-handling and knowledge creation tasks better and better. It’s not what you can place within an empty pot that matters, but consistent guidance in know what to do with what’s in the pot. For that, you need either a complete rethinking of much of online education today or significantly more face time between students and professors, even if it is only virtual face time.

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