Higher Education is More Like Telecommuting and Less Like Newspapers, Part 1

I came across an interesting article in The American Interest magazine a couple of days ago. It was by way of tweet (as it most often is). This tweet came from one of the professors at George Mason University, Prof. Auerswald. He’s done some really cool stuff, so be sure to check ‘em out! The tweet which led me to the article:

Intriguing, yes? Well, it was to me, so I proceeded to read the article from the magazine. As for the argument that universities are going the way of the newspaper because of the internet — I don’t necessarily agree with it.

In fact, I think that higher education will go the way of telecommuting more than it will the way of newspapers. What do I mean? Well, telecommuting first became popular last century. It only existed as a possibility from about the 1970s on. By now, you’d expect that lots of people would telecommute, right? Depending on your definition of lots…

Total Number of US teleworkers

This graphic shows that there are only about 3 million total employees who telecommuted in 2011. If I were asked to guess in 1990s how many folks would be telecommuting in the 2010s, I would have guessed waay more than 3 million — as I’m sure most people would.

Higher education — learning — has, for the most part, been an in-person thing. People enroll in university and spend the next 4-5 years living on- (or off-) campus taking classes. In that time, they may also join student organizations, hold internships, and meet a whole bunch of new people. Some of those people become their friends for the rest of their lives.

MOOCs do not have the same qualities of in-person education. Learning online (or on your own) won’t necessarily reap the same benefits of attending university.

I understand the argument and the correlation between newspapers and higher education makes sense, but I just don’t buy it. I don’t believe that higher education will go the same way as Newsweek or other publications. Higher education is more than just the degree. That’s not to say that some consumers won’t choose to go the way of online learning, but I don’t think that it will pull enough folks away from wanting the in-person learning. This is why I think MOOCs and online education is more likely to go the way of telecommuting.

That being said, I do think that MOOCs present a major threat to the higher education market because consumers will perceive it as a shortcut to a degree.

And more than that, I think that advances in telecommuting could shift the way we telecommute — and by extension — higher education. In fact, I remember during the 2008 election, CNN had a “virtual presence” technology wherein one of their guests was somewhere else entirely, but there was a holographic representation of them in the studio (with which Wolf Blitzer was interacting). That was 4 years ago!

I don’t know what happened to that technology (if it’s being developed for commercial use, etc.), but I think that could seriously change the way we interact. I think if that technology were introduced on a larger scale, that would certainly increase the number of telecommuters. Similarly, I think that would have a chance at seriously changing the face of higher education. This technology, assuming it’s “just as good as being there,” would allow folks to be in the comfort of their basements (or virtual presence studio?), while still being at work or in a classroom.

Just as a closing: anything written about the future is inherently flawed. There’s no way to know (for sure) what will happen or won’t happen in the future. So, while these are some predictions or guesses I’m making about the future, they may turn out to be wildly wrong (or surprisingly right).

Note: After writing this, I realized that there were a few more things I wanted to touch on. Look for Part 2 tomorrow!

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One response to “Higher Education is More Like Telecommuting and Less Like Newspapers, Part 1

  1. Pingback: Higher Education is More Like Telecommuting and Less Like Newspapers, Part 2 | Jeremiah Stanghini's Blog

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