The CITE, a blog published by the National Association of College Stores, takes a look at the intersection of education and technology, highlighting issues that range from course materials to learning delivery to the student experience. Comments, discussion, feedback, and ideas are welcome.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Individualized Courses Isn't College

There have been predictions that technology will drag down textbook publishing, just as it did the music industry. Now, some experts suggest that the same consumer demand for single tunes will impact higher education as a whole.

“This last decade of the music industry presages the coming decade of education,” wrote Martin Smith, chief revenue officer of Noodle, a company that creates interactive tools designed to help students with online research, in an essay for Quartz. “Choice is expanding at every level, from pre-K to graduate school. The individual course, rather than the degree, is becoming the unit of content. And universities, the record labels of education, are facing increased pressure to unbundle their services.”

While Smith may have a point, it doesn’t mean he is right. Music lovers may have had little trouble turning away from $20 compact discs in favor buying a song for 99 cents or paying a monthly fee for a music-streaming service, but students deciding on college are not the same sort of consumer.

“The consumer choice is for the bundler—the brand, the label, university—and not the individual course content,” Derek Newton, senior communications director at the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, wrote in an article for The Atlantic. “Consumers buy Stanford or Princeton in a way no one ever bought EMI or Universal.”

To Newton, turning the college experience into individual courses may provide plenty of great content, but also much less to study.

“In the current system, it may not be efficient to maintain fine-arts programs, but most people think it’s important to have them,” he wrote. “It has long been part of colleges’ mission to expose students to new ideas and disciplines. On campus, even business students, for example, are typically required to study literature and other topics in the humanities. Some may call that inefficient; others call it essential.”

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