Fragmented vs. Overpriced – what is the future of online offerings?

I keep seeing a conflict concept which rises up between “tons of cheap but horribly fragmented offerings” and “singular, expensive, but high quality.” I cannot see a clear resolution (so am I blind here?).

For example: my Dad sent this Washington Times article about the death of the university system. He wanted to know what I thought of it, since I’m heavily wrapped up in the future of online education (I make focused games and exercises to support online classes in Oregon State University’s Ecampus). I also recently read Douglas Rushkoff’s CNN editorial on the problem of online education dropping the human element. These two articles are mixed up and mingling in my brain at the moment.

Is Everyone Getting Sick of Overpriced & Uselsss College Education?

I’m not sure how fast this cultural change is really coming, if at all. I read articles from smart/snobby types about how useless universities are, but I don’t get the sense that the average American has really given up on the benefits of a college degree yet. And they’ve got the numbers.  (wait, is there a good resource for hard numbers on this supposed change?)

Giving your kids a massive education debt instead of a massive credit card debt … somehow seems more acceptable? more noble?

I wasn’t proud to run up a massive credit card debt 13 years ago, and my parents discouraged falling into the trap, but I did it anyway. I’ll certainly discourage my son from making the same debt mistake (with better games and examples to try and convey the world of long term tradeoffs). But running up a massive college degree debt seems a much easier trap in which to to fall. If he were college age today, I wouldn’t discourage my son from jumping into the college hole.

But Universities are moving to get in front of the competition

MOOCs (massively open online course) and OER (open educational resources) are the buzzwords of the moment, for massively attended online classes (in the thousands), and for freely shared pieces of content (made with high quality resources), respectively.

The counter argument to “anyone can put up a great youtube explanation or web site”  is that universities will leverage experienced gangs of teachers, and huge budgets for course development, to make demonstrably more valuable products and experiences.

Guess time will tell if Universities are just another bloated idea from an older era that can’t adapt quickly enough. Kind of expect both sides to co-exist indefinitely though.

Something magical is definitely lost in all this change

I’ve decided to stick it out at the University for the next decade at least. I enjoy making new online educational resources within this old system. I can develop skills here, and dissect the psychology of teaching. If our university crumbles and I’m fired, then I’ll probably be able to shift over to no-budget education development with relative ease. Or I could roll the dice on full-on game development. So why worry? Boo ha ha!

I guess the conflict becomes about quality and self-respect instead of just staying employed. But there’s a weird thing about this notion that better stuff is available free out there: It is fucking annoying and time consuming to find, vet, and keep up with the best resources for all this free shit. (for now).

– 10 years ago I spent a lot time and energy on making guerrilla movies. Even traveled to South Dakota each year to meet up with other wanna-be filmmakers who posted in the REwind forums, so we could celebrate our efforts in a video festival. It was great. But then youtube happened and the delightful community dissolved. Everyone on earth was suddenly making guerrilla movies, and they weren’t limited to a festival in one city (or iffy online purchases). So I’m sure cultures can die off as tech shifts.

– We’ve all seen the music industry crippled by freely shared music. And for a few years there I was sad that nobody was making good music anymore. But now I use spotify and pandora to find more obscure bands. Following musicians has become much more low-key, and harder work, but talented people are still making great things. I expect we’ll see similar services for educational resources (and medical treatment histories! but … now isn’t the time to rant about that).

– What’s missing is the mono culture. and with it, we seem to have lost a strong sense of “this is optimal.” Nine Inch Nails will probably be my favorite band for the rest of my life, because this new fragmented music culture won’t support the same fantastic illusions of a true industrial goth designer genius. In the early 90s I could watch the Closer video, and find a bootleg vhs of the Broken snuff video, and really believe that this guy was living in some outrageous other world I’d never seen.
Now musicians are pressured to expose themselves more honestly. The internet killed the video star?
(i’m tempted to counter with a note that Marilyn Manson has gone back to making hardcore videos that offer a niche universe. but I think the illusion is shattered when his friend and collaborator tweets about some geeky pop culture. I think “the illusion” requires a level of privacy and secrecy that’s impossible in the modern internet invasion).

– Star Wars seems to me to be the apex of the worldwide monoculture (thanks to changes in worldwide film distribution technology, and changes in the ’70s studio systems). If that mere movie came out today, despite all it’s folklore mixing hooks and thrilling pacing tricks, it wouldn’t have the same importance (but … now isn’t the time to rant about star wars).

With a zillion offerings, you need a much more sophisticated system for evaluation

Otherwise it becomes so exhausting that most average people won’t have time or energy to sort through it all.

I keep wondering at the similarities between this online education conflict and the ongoing Android vs. iOS gizmo war. Seems a great example of a fragmented cheaper offering failing to topple a higher quality overpriced offering. and vice versa. But I guess it’s still playing out? Does it ever really have to resolve?

It’s possible that despite great online education resources being offered for free, hundreds of thousands of people will end up clinging to the old brick and mortar institutions that they know have physically existed in their country for the last 100 years.



I feel like this conflict comes up again and again these days. Need help finding examples where it was definitively resolved. Anyone?

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