I procrastinated for a long time tonight trying to find the perfect material for my first substantive post. Surprisingly, this procrastination did not end up being wasted effort as I did finally come across something that really captures the tone of much of what I plan to write here:
In a recent post Jeff Jarvis describes very colorfully how backwards our current educational system is. Not only does it not serve our students well, but it is also a huge waste of resources:
In news, I have argued that we can no longer afford to repeat the commodified news the public already knows because we want to tell the story under our byline, exuding our ego; we must, instead, add unique value.
The same can be said of the academic lecture. Does it still make sense for countless teachers to rewrite the same essential lecture about, say, capillary action? Used to be, they had to. But not now, not since open curricula and YouTube. Just as journalists must become more curator than creator, so must educators.
The implications of the journalist and the educator becoming more curator than creator are profound. What this means is that other schools are no longer your competition. They are your allies, your collaborators. If educational institutions can adapt to this reality, share material, stop wasting time replicating work, and truly educate their students, then they might be able maintain their role for some time. But, competition will come from somewhere. If other traditional educational institutions are no longer your competition then your true competition is from completely new and different models of education. Your competition is the group of students who spontaneously organize themselves, download free courseware, and make a pact to learn collaboratively and hold each other accountable for completing the necessary work.
This argument can be extrapolated to many industries beyond just traditional media and education. In economic terms competition can come from either existing competitors or the threat of new entrants. In other words, a company that might appear to have a monopoly position might actually behave as if it was operating in a competitive market if the threat of new firms entering the market is sufficiently great. I want to argue that this type of competition is much relevant today than traditional competition. Increasingly, dominant firms topple because the market shifts away from them, not because a similar firm with similar product simply outdoes them. Microsoft is losing relevance to Apple and Google not because those companies built a better operating system or office suite, but because the action moved from the desktop to the phone and the internet.
The lesson I think is that imitation is becoming increasingly futile. To bring this back to Jeff’s argument about education, teaching kids to memorize and regurgitate, or in other words imitate the same things that the class before them memorized and the class after them will memorize is also becoming increasingly futile.