7 Reasons Why Higher Education Is Stuck in ‘Old Media’ Ways

Out of all the industries based on the production and distribution of information, there's one industry that is still partying like it's 1955… higher education, writes Sean Carton at clickz.com.

Here are seven reasons why:

  1. They're rigid about how they want to deliver their product. Teachers deliver content to a group of students and only do so in classrooms (whether physical classrooms or online courses).
  2. There's a very high barrier to entry. Not only is college increasingly expensive but starting a college is incredibly difficult not only from a financial standpoint but also from the standpoint of government regulation and industry accreditation.
  3. They're resistant to changes in consumer demand and behavior. In a world where kids spend as much time communicating electronically as they do face to face, where most of us expect to change careers (or, at least employers) several times during our lifetimes, and where we're exposed to as much information in a day as an 18th century scholar may have been exposed to in his lifetime, colleges are pretty much the same places they've been for hundreds of years. While a demand exists for faster, more flexible delivery, most traditional schools stick to the same models they've used to deliver their product for literally hundreds of years.
  4. They're still bound by physical space and time. Colleges still deliver their "consumer" product in a particular place at a particular time. Like the broadcast networks of the past, if you want something in particular, you'd better be prepared to show at a certain time or expect to miss it. Yes, many offer "online" options, but those online courses typically run within a specific period of time. Miss it and you've missed out.
  5. Differentiation is getting more and more difficult in an increasingly connected world. Today, as more and more schools go "online," those who can't make a case for why they're better than their competition (other than their "convenient" location) are going to have an increasingly difficult time competing in a crowded marketplace
  6. They're rigidly hierarchical. There are "professors" and there are "students," and students are expected to dutifully learn what the professors teach them. While the rest of the world has been transformed by the principles of the open source movement, online collaboration, and "virtual" organizations, the "sage on the stage" is still the prevailing model in many schools. The idea that professors and students might actually be able to collaborate (or that students might be able to learn by collaborating with each other with little or no guidance from an "expert") is unheard of.
  7. They're having their lunch handed to them by their competitors who have responded to the changes brought about by digital communications. The University of Phoenix has over 380,000 students. Arizona State (the largest public university) had a little over 58,000 students in 2010. Even if you count entire university systems, Phoenix's 380,000 students would put it in fourth behind The University System of Ohio (478,000), The State University Of New York (SUNY) system (467,845), and The California State University system (417,000). Not bad for a school founded in 1976

Despite the seeming reticence, there's a lot of innovation going on out there in terms of new models (and an article about this same topic – here) including the free online universities such as Khan Academy and University of the People, Apple's iTunes U, and Sophia, a fascinating startup dedicated to creating a social space for teaching, learning, and education, writes Carton.

"But there's a long way to go and a lot to change. Issues with quality, standards, assessment, sustainable business models, access, pedagogy, and online education platforms are just a few that will have to be addressed if higher education is going to reinvent itself like so many of the other information industries."

While we'll have to wait to see the new face of education, one thing's for sure: it will change. And those changes will impact all of us, writes Carton.

Matthew Tabor

Matthew Tabor

Matthew is a prolific, independent voice in the national education debate. He is a tireless advocate for high academic standards from pre-K through graduate school, fiscal sense and personal responsibility. He values parents’ and families’ rights and believes in accountability for teachers, administrators, politicians and all taxpayer-funded education entities. With a unique background that includes work in higher education, executive recruiting, professional sport and government, Matthew has consulted on new media and communication strategies for a broad range of clients. He writes the blog “Education for the Aughts” at www.matthewktabor.com , has contributed to National Journal’s ‘Expert’ blog for Education , and interacts with the education community on Twitter and Google+.
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