Last week, two new video services highlighting university lectures and academic content debuted, propelling the medium forward in a dramatic fashion for learners everywhere.
A few days later, YouTube launched a new vertical, YouTube EDU, a site gathering together the educational videos on YouTube and showcasing professors and academic output in a smart and compelling manner.
Both sites make embedding videos easy, and everything is free for users.
It’s an amazing set of resources for students worldwide.
Given all that can be accessed at no cost, how does this change the value and purpose of a university education? In a recent article in SEED Magazine, Neil Gershenfeld wonders, “Is MIT Obsolete?”
His first observation is about the end of the scarcity model:
Today’s advanced research and education institutions are essential to tackling the grand challenges facing our planet, but they’ve been based on an implicit assumption of technological scarcity — advances in those technologies now allow these activities to expand far beyond the boundaries of a campus.
Given the advent of personal fabricators and the ability to create hotbeds of innovation anywhere on a shoestring budget, Gershenfeld wonders about the “specialness” of MIT:
The heart of MIT is its intellectual rather than physical infrastructure: a research culture that creates room for new ideas by emphasizing their evaluation through rapid reduction to practice, and by mixing short-term applications (both serious and silly) with long-term research. It’s much harder, however, to make room for new people by squeezing them into the same limited campus space.
He makes a compelling argument. And for universities without the culture and facilities to set them apart, these video sites are something else again. Now, college lectures are available to anyone, and in a form that allows for curricula to be followed, professors to be seen and experienced, and a classroom setting to be conveyed. The limitations of scarcity and synchrony dissolve.
Looking upon the media and constraints that education has worked within for the last few centuries, and the distribution systems that sustained them, it’s clear we’re in the midst of a revolution in communications and education unlike anything we’ve experienced as a culture.
What will it mean for the university? Will the contrast between education and degrees become starker? What does tuition buy, exactly?
What uncomfortable questions lie in the future for our hallowed halls of learning?