An Open Source Education

Jul 28, 2013 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

So this happened.

More and more universities are starting to be involved in MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) as other open course programs.

This is the way things are going.

California even introduced a bill to encourage universities to offer credit for completed MOOCs earlier in the year.

What does this mean for higher ed? Well it means that we’re going the way of open source software. Things should be free, and income streams come from more non-traditional sources.

Let’s look at software for now. It used to be that you would pay a lot for software that was developed. You would own a copy of it, you’d use it at home, wash, rinse, repeat. This was the model we were used to for a long time.

In 2013, it’s split off. All the big companies with a reliable install base are moving to a subscription-based model. You pay by the month or year to use the same software, but you have access to it in other places, on other devices. See Office 365 and Adobe Creative Cloud. Pretty soon, you won’t be able to buy the software and own it yourself.

The other side of this split is the rise of indie developers. They create smaller versions, more streamlined and parsed out versions of software, and don’t charge as much for it, and still make a pretty good go of it, given that they are usually a company of less that 20 or so people. See Hype, Things, and other products. This is also fueled by the rise of the App ecosystem, where individuals and other small-time developers are finding income streams to appeal to those who don’t want to pay by the month and don’t want to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for a similar product.

So let’s apply this to Higher Ed. Around the country, things are slowly getting better. People are going back to work, meaning the boom in enrollments we had when everyone lost their jobs back in 2008 is slowly dwindling.

And yet we still hold onto the idea that tuition is the only way to make money. Why do you think tuition rates are going up and up and up? Has anyone ever thought of an alternate way of making money?

Some folks have.

  • They’ve started to build their own content warehouses and have started licensing its use, making money from the expertise at the institution.
  • Some schools retain intellectual property and patents based on work done by research students and other groups.
  • Some schools set up a system where employees consult with the private sector for a fee.

The more open education gets, the more brick and mortar schools who have to charge increased tuition rates start to fall behind.

Make education affordable and more people will engage with it. How do you make it affordable? Offer it to more people. Find other income streams.

No one buys CDs anymore. Fewer people are buying DVDs and Blu-Rays now. Why pay a premium for something when you can get Netflix or Hulu?

This is the model we should be moving towards. Making it cheap for those who don’t want to take on massive debt, while at the same time changing the model of how we sustain our institutions.

I don’t have the answer for what that looks like. State funding is dropping all the time, which isn’t cool at all. In most of the rest of the world, there is still strong support for funding of public higher education. It is perceived as a right, but here in the US, it is a privilege, which doesn’t really help anyone IMHO. We can’t count on government support anymore, so it’s almost like we’re on our own, increasing tuition and seeking more grants to make ends meet, but all an increase in tuition does is make education more of a privilege.

I hate the idea that someone will choose not to pursue a degree because they can’t afford it.

In the years to come it’ll be interesting to see how compitency-based education evolves, how MOOCs come into play and how the rest of higher ed deals with these changes. Does tuition continue to increase with the thinking it’s still 1995, or do folks start to think outside of the box for a change. It’s sad that this hasn’t really happened. Aren’t we supposed to be the innovative ones?


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