Distance Education Solutions for Colleges and Universities: Creating Added Richness on Campus in response to the Growing Richness and Reach in Distance, Distributed and Asynchronous Education of† an Internet driven by† Moore=s, Metcalfe=s, and Gilder=s Laws.
The next big thing will be the Entertainment Internet, which of course means the Broadcast Video Internet, which of course includes production values appropriate for the Education Internet
†††††††††††† Robert Metcalfe
Post† the AOL/Time Warner merger and Michael Porterís piece, Strategy and the Internet, the value of proprietary content for the Internet is settled.. Everyone should now accept that proprietary educational content is very valuable.† Hopefully, we can focus on how universities can produce content which will be in demand and will add to the richness of the on-campus experience.† And, following that merger, who can argue that the Internet isn=t quickly making good on the ancient Chinese curse, AMay you live in interesting times.@
Universities are Ideally Positioned:
It seems to me that every university is ideally positioned for the Internet future.† The opportunity is extraordinary for two reasons:
First, every university is ideally positioned to continue to act as Anavigator@ on behalf of its students through any flood of Anew@ education Internet Distance course offerings. The University=s mission has always been to put Dewey=s theory of learning and growth into action.† What is exciting is that, in the very near future, the available tools for doing such will Aexplode,@ making it possible for University to personally coach each student with a custom education.
Second, broadband Internet is going to create a demand for substantive content and University is ideally positioned to become a producer of substantive proprietary content.
Let me talk a moment to talk about each proposition.
University=s Role as a Navigator Should Continue:
One doesn=t have to spend much time reading the Chronicle or searching the web to find faculty authored attacks against a perceived administration intent to use computers and the Internet to de-employ thousands of lecturers, nationwide.†
There is something missing, however, in every one of these analyses.† They start in the wrong place, focusing on the lecturer. The starting place should be the point of view of the student.† When one looks at the Internet through the eyes of individual students one quickly sees that students do not have the time, tools, and skills (search engines and browsers) to accurately evaluate which Internet Distance courses to choose from the tens, hundreds or thousands that may end up being offered.† Students know this.† This navigator function is exactly what colleges and universities have being doing from the start: evaluating the skills of the teachers.† It seems to me this core function of every college or university is at the heart of Anavigation@ and is not going to change or go away.
What may change is that University may in the future outsource for courses. Up to today, the University=s reputation depended upon the faculty it hired.† In the future, Distance Education may mean that University=s reputation may depend more on its ability to customize the education for each student, by (for example) selecting a creative writing class from Yale for one student and screen play writing class from UCLA for another.† The University=s role as navigator won=t change. What may change is that students may have the opportunity to take classes from teachers other than faculty members at University.
The greatest danger to University may be the Corn Flakes phenomenon.† Sales of Corn Flakes has gone up for Kellogg, during the time that the number of cereal brands on store shelves has expanded several fold.† Why?† Because consumers choose old established reliable brands, when faced with confusing choices about which they have inadequate information.† The challenge, it seems to me, is, How to make University an ever more recognized brand?† It is this challenge that leads me to the second opportunity to University, which is the area where we offer some unique solutions.
Universities are Ideally Positioned to Use the Internet To Build Their Brand:
Supporters of Distance Education frequently make part of their case based on the truism that today=s students learn from computers because they have already spent so many hours in front of a TV, game, or computer screen or on the Net.
Doesn=t this observation miss an important marketing point? Tomorrow=s students, being Net savvy, will expect excellent colleges and universities to be Net savvy.† Are we not now in a situation where the more that a college or university is identified with the Internet, the stronger its brand? Isn=t the race in the next few years going to be about who can brand themselves as being Anet savvy@ other than Stanford?† And, other than Stanford, who has a real head start in this race?
Some UNext Lessons:
Mr. Milken has an extraordinary business mind. It seems to me likely that he sensed the weaknesses in education and that his actions were a clear, public signal to the markets that he intended to make profits out of those weaknesses.† His methods and thoughts are well understood in the financial world and are even subject of popular titles, such as Barbarians at the Gates. Of course, his investments could be forced, rather than natural, but the objective case would appear to argue against such a view.
Second, many colleges and universities were (at least implicitly) planning to defend against distance education by simply refusing to collectively to offer distributed asynchronous education at prices that would draw students away from brick and mortar campuses, before the UNext story appears. University must now plan on the real likelihood of facing for-profit competition from national universities, shortly.
These for-profit universities intend to be very strong competitors.† They may even intend to use the Internet 2 as a competitive weapon. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported as early as November, 1997, at page A29 about these plans (reporting comments at EDUCOM=s annual meeting by Douglas S.† Gale, vice president for information systems and services at George Washington University):
One solution, he said, is Internet 2, the high-speed network being developed by more than 100 research universities.† The faster network would allow universities to teach more students with fewer faculty members and would permit institutions to reach new audiences through distance-education programs, he said.
Gale appears to think like Jim Clark, of Silicon Graphics, Netscape, and Healtheon.† Clark† is proud of having made Aanarchy respectable@ and for having† three times teaching established businesses that, Athe Internet Changes everything . . .@
Recently Clark told Business 2.0:
The real joy of this age is that you=ve got places that are paralyzed by the emergence of new ways of doing things.† They don=t know how to respond.† It=s one of the classic things that causes businesses to have problems.† They refuse to cannibalize their own business.† I confronted this at Silicon Graphics.† There are countless examples of people that refuse to come out with a new product or process, lower prices, and cannibalize their business.† They don=t know how to do it.† It dislocates their business model. It just presents a hugh opportunity for a startup. I get a total joy out of that kind of dislocation.
Clark=s mission with Healtheon is to cut the cost of health care by one-third by getting rid of the third of health care workers who activities are pure waste consisting of the capturing, storing, processing, and retrieving information, patient records, cost accounting and insurance claims. Barbarians are very ambitious people.† Entrepreneurs like Clark and Milken make it clear that no assault on prevailing business structures of higher education will be left untried for lack of attention, capital, willingness to take risk, or intelligence.
Reach and Richness:
Any evaluation of distance education requires some consideration of the underlying technologies, with an eye toward whether the technologies are going to change the fundamental economic assumptions of the business.
Universities and colleges have enjoyed monopoly status for centuries because of a basic economic law: there was a universal trade-off between richness and reach.† Richness means the quality of the information. Reach means the number of people who participate in the sharing of that information.† Until recently, it has been possible to share extremely rich information with only a very small number of people.† Technologies, such as the printing press, did not allow us to achieve simultaneously as much richness and reach as we would prefer.† A book can reach farther than a classroom reading, but may not be as rich because the tone, the inflection of the voice, the twinkle in the eye is not captured as the poet reads.† Televison goes far toward reach, but still fails because the learner cannot be monitored or forced to respond, nor can the educator be easily questioned.
We have now lived with the Internet long enough to learn the dualities of Moore=s law (the power of the microprocessor doubles every eighteen months) and Gilder=s law (bandwidth trebles every year) compel that over the next five to ten years may relationships throughout the business world will desconstruct as the Internet transmits richer information, at greater reach, at less cost.† Most observers believe deconstruction will happen to higher education, sometimes for unforeseen reasons.
An example of an unforeseen reasons is an odd way that Moore=s law impacts distance education.† Critics of Distance Education often challenge that one cannot assure that the distance student is actively involved, sitting and listening to the lecture and taking notes.† To the contrary, Moore=s law permits the network=s software to record such and shutdown when the distant student becomes inactive. As such, a Networked learning environment is more effective at this sort of monitoring than a face-to-face lecturer.
Some argue against wholesale change, reasoning that screen quality will never permit distance education to be as rich as face-to-face lectures.† I am no futurist, but it seems to me that this hope is a very slender reed on which to wager so much.† For starters, it confuses the familiar with the necessary and assumes there have to be screens.† It is my understanding that, in the near future, we may have direct beaming of a low power laser into the eye, with no distortion whatsoever.
Moreover, doesn=t the argument fail to consider Metcalfe=s law?† Bob Metcalfe, the inventor of Ethernet, first observed that the power of any network is proportional to the square of the number of people using it.† Double the number of participants, therefore, and the value to each participant is doubled, and the total value of the network is multiplied fourfold.† In sum, Metcalfe=s law is a self-fulfilling prophecy which means that as educators and learners are added to a network, at some point the power of the network will make it richer than in-person communication, any technical difficulties notwithstanding.† This is especially true when one factors in the math of simultaneous two-way communication, which is assured with the coming bandwidth.
Metcalfe=s law also works in unexpected ways.† For example, Metcalfe=s laws may permit Internet Distance Education to use testing to replace accreditation.† Rank in a class of ten likely means little.† Rank in a class of two hundred may mean something.† However, rank in a class of ten thousand will mean a lot.† CISCO Systems is already using this kind of power, world wide, to measure both it students and its teachers.
In sum, University must assume that the reach and richness of Internet Education is a disruptive technology.
Naturally, the question arises, should University be on the front lines or a Afast follower@ There is a very respectable body of business research that fast followers are always too late.† In fact, the measured window of opportunity is two years.† Some have written it is better to be too early five times than to be too late once.† I prefer what my Dad taught me, AIf you are first you have the opportunity to make mistakes and to learn from them.† If you are late, you may never even have the opportunity to make mistakes.@
The Importance of University Owning Its Intellectual Property:
Why does a lawyer have an interest in Internet Distance education?† Let me progress from the most narrow of reasons to the broadest.
First, University has no role in the content side of the Internet if it accedes to the historical view that teachers are the copyright owners of their lectures and other content (Hays v.† Sony Corporation).†† Faculties want to take the position that ownership is a facet of academic freedom.† Thus, the issue is a matter appropriate for serious management attention and through legal counseling, because the positions are facially diametrically opposed.
A broader set of reasons is that the demands for flexibility, capital, distributed responsibility, strategic and tactical alliances, commercial contracts and higher rewards means that University must very likely migrate, over time to having a substantial for profit component or aspect.† It is unlikely that University can plan within its existing organization to deconstruct and it absolutely certain that the existing organization will subvert whatever it can that undermines its historical structures and rewards.† As University moves toward a for profit side, it will have legal stress a every step, whether it is raising capital in the equity or debt markets (there is no reason to believe that University can raise the necessary funds in any other way) or designing incentive based compensation programs.
My broadest reason, however, has to do with those Barbarians.† Blown to Bits: How The New Economics of Information Transforms Strategy (Evans and Wurster, 2000) concludes:
The devastating truth is that for the vast majority of deconstruction opportunities† that have emerged to date, some large corporation was actually the best positioned to exploit it.† Almost invariably it failed because to do so, and a few young entrepreneurs became billionaires in consequence.† It failed to do so because it failed to think like insurgents; it was not aggressive enough; it was not greedy enough.† It was still studying the situation.
Colleges and universities will have no reason to survive if they become wholly commercial.† But, colleges and universities will not survive unless they become more commercial, more aggressive and ambitious.† The legal challenge is to design new solutions that reach a proper balance, in light of the new Internet realities.
First Gage the Results, Then Gage The Effort
The critical thinking necessary to bring ideas into action plans only comes from reducing ideas to written business plans.
However, before talking about those steps, it seems to me that we must first have agreement about University=s goals.† It seems to me that University must act so as to meet the following goals, all measured against a larger over riding goalB increasing† the value of University=s educational product, while aggressively controlling and cutting costs:
Avoid the losses likely to follow from engaging in ruinous competition worked by offering courses via distance education, in direct competition with larger, better financed competitors.†
Offer an educational product that is only and totally customer focused, delivered by an organization that is only and totally market driven.
Provide any community service that the University can provide which will promote local economic prosperity and development and which, over time, could build tens or even hundreds of sound economic business partners for University and employ hundreds or even thousands of workers in better paying jobs.
Offer all of the computer and Internet tools necessary to recruit the caliber of students that University otherwise wants to recruit.
Offer asynchronous or distance education or both, whenever such appropriately increases the value of the educational experience from University
Offer all of the computer and Internet tools necessary to retain or recruit the faculty that University wants to retain or recruit
Provide incentives and support to the faculty, so that the Internet or distance education is not feared but is instead viewed as an opportunity.
Think globally, but act locally, by increasing University=s value to the many different kinds of organizations within the region from which University draws students.
Increase the richness of the on-campus experience of University, to combat loss of student population to distance education providers.
Reduce or hold in check the costs of a University education.
Develop the University=s brand.
Make the University the owner of the intellectual property which it supports in development, so that University may fairly participate in revenue streams generated from its intellectual property.
Make the University a world class provider of life long learning, including distance learning,† within all niches where it has or can reasonably develop a core competency and generate profitable revenue streams.
Make the University a world class provider of custom education solutions for business, including distance learning.
Make the University a world class school for entrepreneurship, given that the foreseeable future is a world driven by entrepreneurship and capital adventure.
Assure that University and its customers and its suppliers and co-venturers have adequate bandwidth.
Assure that University and its suppliers have adequate New Media production facilities and that such are used efficiently
Accomplish the foregoing within a structure that provides for rapid prototyping and development, at minimal cost and expense.
Accomplish the foregoing within a structure that provides for maximum flexibility in compensation, benefits, and especially incentives and maximum control on costs.
Accomplish the foregoing† in a manner that most efficiently uses University=s capital.
Accomplish the foregoing outside University=s existing organization, given that such organization may do whatever it can that undermines its historical structures and rewards.†
Accomplish the foregoing† in a manner that most efficiently uses all resources, including human and physical capital.
Accomplish the foregoing† in a manner that promotes effective marketing.
Accomplish the foregoing in a manner that permits University to have the widest range of partners, strategic and tactical.
Accomplish the foregoing† in a manner that does not immediately threaten
the faculty or cause fears of job loss or unacceptable changes in terms or
conditions of employment or tenure.
These are, to be sure, challenging goals. Tools are available which can reach these goals.
†† © 2001 John L. Davidson