I was fascinated to read an article in this week’s Economist on Massive Open Online Forces, looking at some of the economic effects of the rise of online education. In particular the following caught my eye:
The market for instructors will also be transformed. The best teachers will be fabulously productive, reaching hundreds of thousands of students. There may therefore be far fewer of them, each compensated like superstars in the entertainment industry.
It brought to mind a posting I made back in 2009, called How online media helps to create ever brighter stars. I thought I’d bring it back to life here:
September 22, 2009
Webinars, video recordings and podcasts provide the opportunity for experts to share their thoughts and experiences with a wide audience. Of course they can also do this through face-to-face events such as conferences, but are limited in their reach by geography. The cost of flying an expert over and then putting them up while they recover from the jet lag and do a little sightseeing is usually prohibitive. The result is that the vacuum becomes filled by lots of second division experts (and I don’t mean to be derogatory here – these can be fine people), who live more locally, filling in to deliver similar expertise but at a much lower cost.
Online, of course, the situation is quite different. The limitations on using the first division expert are much reduced. You’re paying for a couple of hours at most, rather than a week away and all those expenses. Even if the top expert has an extortionate hourly rate (and if you’re one of them then why not?) then their services are likely to become affordable.
So, what was once a very localised business could become centralised and a star system could begin to operate, as in films, TV, books and sports. The top players get most of the business (or at least most of the money) and attract celebrity status. Those in division two pick up the scraps.
Given the choice, here’s what I would select in order of preference:
- The very best speakers and experts in the world, seen live. Why live? Because you want a piece of that special magic you only get up close and face-to-face. Above all, from that point on you can boast how you saw them live.
- The very best speakers live and online or recorded delivering a live event. You’re still getting great content, but without the hassle of travelling and the high ticket prices.
- The second division of speakers live and online or recorded. Here the utility of not having to leave home to see them is not outweighed by the risk of missing a lifetime opportunity.
- The second division speakers live. Not so good because you’re committed to all that hassle of getting to the event. In these cases it’s the other benefits of a live event, such as the networking, which is going to assume the top priority.
The same dynamics could be seen to apply to training events as well as webinars, but here there is a moderating factor. Whereas you can run a webinar for practically any size audience, a training event is likely to run for 16 people or less, and division one teachers and trainers only have so many hours in the day, leaving plenty of scope for others. So, to summarise, where the star system could operate most noticeably is with presentations, whether live or recorded. The world is becoming a much smaller place, and that makes it easier for the powerful to become more so.
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