Saturday, April 13, 2013

Fifty shades of cheap: the unlikely link between porn and online education

According to a recent survey, approximately two-thirds (64%) of adults with internet access view porn sometime each year.

Two-thirds of those only visit free porn sites, and not quite a third prefer to view their porn on DVDs.

Less than only about 6% of the people who view porn do so through pay websites.

This is responsible, the porn industry says, for a drop in revenues from a peak $13-14 billion in 2006 to just $5 billion last year.

"You just can't compete with free," says one industry analyst.  [I always wondered which courses I should have taken in college to become a porn industry analyst.]

This is one of the unanticipated social (and economic) changes wrought by the internet in a perilously short time:  universal social media and broadband capacity unravels certain profitable bottlenecks of information.

The porn industry is effectively being crowd-sourced.

This is also about to happen to higher education.  Strike that:  this is already starting to happen to higher education.

With the average debt for completing a bachelor's degree hitting six figures, a radical approach to learning that values what you learn over where you learn it or what credential you receive is starting to rear its head not only in competition with brick-and-mortar institutions, but also in direct competition with the University of Phoenix paid online model.

Free universities are beginning to proliferate like free porn sites.

Yep, I went there:  compared online higher education with online pornography.

But the comparison is becoming more compelling by the day.  Smaller universities are discovering that--despite the hype--they cannot turn online learning into a major profit center, and have instead paid a great deal of money to create a technical infrastructure that merely allows their own students to avoid attending early morning classes.  For all but a few universities, online learning is an expensive dead end--they just don't know it yet.

Within thirty years (possibly much sooner), I would guess that as many as half (possibly many more) brick-and-mortar universities in this country will be out of business, and the way we measure competence in most fields will have so radically changed that a college degree or even a doctorate won't have anything close to the cachet it enjoys today.

While education is generally seen as pushing toward the future, educational institutions have always been conservative and oriented toward past traditions rather than future trends.  I have seen this time after time as I have worked on committees at institutions or among national organizations where the people in charge are simply incapable of even imagining massive change in their industry.

They are, in effect, producing the buggy whips to fight the last war.

[Eventually this will all trickle down to public education, but that's so much of a profit and authority center for the Powers That Be that it will be much more strenuously defended than universities.]

Think of a world wherein the SAT [Scholastic Aptitude Test] is replaced by employers using a new SAT [Scholastic Achievement Test] wherein you can challenge the actual requirements for a job rather than having to certify how you got the knowledge.  We are already half-way there:  to teach in almost any state it is not good enough to acquire a BA in Education--you have to pass the Praxis II.  For Nursing you have to pass National Boards.  How long until you can simply pay your money and take a comprehensive examination and receive your entree into the field of your choice, with or without a piece of sheepskin?

Good professors will thrive in this environment because students will seek them out whether they have institutional affiliations or not.

Ironically, it will take longer to transit to a much flatter hierarchy of higher education than it did to transit to a flatter hierarchy of porn only because there are fewer government research grants distorting the porn market than distorting the education market.

But eventually we will discover that the higher education bubble (followed by the public education bubble) is in fact as unsustainable as the defense budget or the notion of paying to watch Jenna Jameson take it up the ...


Anonymous said...


Delaware Watch said...

I know people who have, on their own, studied the law (including computers ase law) and court procedures to such an extent that they could almost certainly pass the DE bar exam. Why shouldn't they get the opportunity. Many years ago when I lived in NY it was discovered that a local surgeon, who had practiced surgery for years, had fraudulently claimed he had attended medical school. By all accounts, he was an excellent surgeon. I frankly hope that higher education is reconceived in ways that are less expensive, more democratic, and more amenable to students' lives and schedules. The entire system is worth questioning.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for comparing online higher education with online pornography. As I agree with your article, I cannot wait for the day that the education system is flipped on it's head. The last of these liberty-limiting monetary bubbles will pop and humanity will move towards a resource based economy.