I just read George Siemens post Will online lectures destroy universities? He makes the point that despite articles like Why free online lectures will destroy universities – unless they get their act together fast:
Statements like “universities are obsolete” or “universities are dying” are comical. And untrue. Universities are continuing to grow in enrolment and general influence in society. Calling universities obsolete while we are early on in the so-called knowledge economy is like declaring factories obsolete in the 18th century just as the industrial revolution was taking hold. Utter nonsense.
While George does talk about challenges in education, I think he misses part of the point of the article. And this is something that I’ve been thinking (and writing – see Physics Lectures) about for a long time. Here’s the point:
- It’s incredibly easy to capture and distribute lectures.
- Rather than getting a lecture from whoever is teaching your course locally, wouldn’t it be better to get a world-class lecture.
As the article points out:
At the same time, millions of learners around the world are watching world-class lectures online about every subject imaginable, from fractional reserve banking to moral philosophy to pharmacology, supplied by Harvard, MIT, and The Open University.
Have you seen Planet Earth or watched a Professor Lewin physics presentation? There’s basically no way to compete with those sources. And wouldn’t it be better to get the best available lecture with local discussion, studying, testing, etc.?
I’m not quite sure that I buy the article’s contention that:
The simple fact is that university lectures never worked that well in the first place – it’s just that for centuries, we didn’t have any better option for transmitting information. In fact, the success of top universities, both now and historically, is in spite of lectures, not because of it.
Maybe that’s because I’ve learned a lot in schools that way. But even if you keep lectures, but you open up everyone to the Best Lecture available on a given topic … The implications here for education are profound.
Best Lectures in Corporate Training
I also believe the implications here are profound for corporate training. We can continue to hide behind the myth that our content is special and different. Some of the time, that’s quite true. But there’s a lot of content (leadership, management, safety, etc.) that really should not be replicated by every organization.
Instead, we should be looking for the Best Lecture and work our specifics around that. Of course, that’s sometimes made harder because despite the Open Content movement in education, there’s less of a movement in corporate learning (and some barriers: Open Content in Workplace Learning?, Creative Commons Use in For-Profit Company eLearning?).
What’s also interesting about this situation is that there are similar barriers from the content creators standpoint. In the Business of Learning, I talk about the challenges as a content creator and how the business models might work. And every day, I’m talking with people who have great content and could be creating the Best Lecture on a topic. And while they can easily capture it, getting it distributed in a way that pays is difficult. Instead, they need to package it into a unit that is self-contained. They need something similar to an LMS or a course that runs in a corporate LMS. But it certainly won’t look like a Best Lecture model with corporate eLearning professionals being able to act like local discussion, studying, testing.
I’m not sure what any of this will look like in education or in corporate training – but I am sure it will be quite different in 20 years from how we do it today.