Clay Shirky on Napster, Udacity, and the Academy

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Zan Chandler‘s insight:

Shirky says it well:

“Once you see this pattern—a new story rearranging people’s sense of the possible, with the incumbents the last to know—you see it everywhere. First, the people running the old system don’t notice the change. When they do, they assume it’s minor. Then that it’s a niche. Then a fad. And by the time they understand that the world has actually changed, they’ve squandered most of the time they had to adapt.

It’s been interesting watching this unfold in music, books, newspapers, TV, but nothing has ever been as interesting to me as watching it happen in my own backyard. Higher education is now being disrupted; our MP3 is the massive open online course (or MOOC), and our Napster is Udacity, the education startup.”

In each case, those affected fail to realize that the result of the disruption is not a digital version of what they’ve been providing. It’s something else completely, with familiar elements from our analogue understanding. The digital delivers system enables more people to gain access.

For those who have the privilege of access to a high fidelity recording or a high quality university education (or any kind of university education), this may be a poor substitute. But in reality, we are talking about a small number of people having access to a limited number of offerings. For the rest – too bad, so sad.

For those who have never had access (or had limited access) to high fidelity recording or quality university courses MP3s and MOOCs open up a new world of experience. Let’s not forget this is a tremendously large number of people across the globe.

I was delighted that the digital revolution enabled me to find MPS of cheesy ballads sung by Bread, one of my favourite bands as a 10 year old. I’m equally delighted that I can enroll in a MOOC on Aboriginal Art and Culture – none was offered at the universities I have attended, until very recently.

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