Education is next. Are we prepared?

education is in disruptionEducation is next, as western civilization’s second Gutenberg moment moves along, and those readers with universities in their markets need to be pursuing this story with all seriousness. I’ve been saying it for years, but now Bill Gates is saying it, so people will have to pay attention (the guy’s pay grade is a little above mine!).

For the unfamiliar, when Gutenberg printed the Bible, he tossed a significant monkey wrench in the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, because access to the Bible was what gave “the church” its role in the culture. There were kings and lords, but all feared the church, because the church controlled the masses. They were the ones who published the Bible, and here was Gutenberg defying them. Damned heretics! When you add John Wycliffe’s common language translation, anyone who could read could access formerly protected knowledge.

This event dramatically changed everything in the West, and the modern age was born.

The same thing is happening today, because the Internet is making formerly protected knowledge available at our fingertips, and any institution — there are NO exceptions — whose authority is based on protected knowledge is threatened. The 21st Century will be one of disruption upon disruption, and what comes out on the other side won’t even resemble what we have today.

Media was first, because it’s so visible. Media controls life’s narratives, and that has worked just fine for culture’s elite, but no so much for everyday people. Journalists like to think that we have some sort of “special” knowledge that enables our trade, but as the tools of personal media have advanced, that knowledge doesn’t seem so special after all.

A lot of writers think that technology is doing the disrupting, but my view has always been that it’s disgruntled people USING technology that’s doing the job. This is why the second Gutenberg moment is so important to understand. Hyperconnectivity is something very new under the sun, and it’s going to continue to get very ugly for the trappings of modernism as this chugs along.

Bill Gates at the Techonomy conferenceAccording to TechCrunch, Bill Gates told the Techonomy conference in Lake Tahoe over the weekend that “five years from now on the web for free youÂ’ll be able to find the best lectures in the world. It will be better than any single university.”

He believes that no matter how you came about your knowledge, you should get credit for it. Whether itÂ’s an MIT degree or if you got everything you know from lectures on the web, there needs to be a way to highlight that.

He made sure to say that educational institutions are still vital for children, K-12. He spoke glowingly about charter schools, where kids can spend up to 80% of their time deeply engaged with learning.

But college needs to be less “place-based,” according to Gates. Well, except for the parties, he joked.

I think Gates’ five year prediction might be a little soon, but I am absolutely convinced that advanced education in the latter half of the 21st Century will be far different from what you and I have known. And when the disruption takes place, thousands upon thousands of people who exist to support the institution of higher education will lose their jobs, and most university buildings won’t be needed. Sound familiar?

Just as we have with media, we’ll hear plenty from education “experts” about why this will be a bad thing, but as they make these claims, the financing for education will begin slipping away. It will be slow. It will be painful. But in the end, our culture will be better educated than it ever has been, which will also be something new under the sun. How can that really be bad?

There’s already an assault on so-called “education for profit” with bureaucrats calling for special regulations for this class of higher education. A recent Frontline report on private sector education was conceived, written and produced from a “this is God-awful…how we gonna stop it” perspective, completely missing the point of the disruption. I expect we’ll see much more of this, because in the minds of higher educators — just as it was with media companies 15 years ago — there’s just no conceivable way that anything disruptive could ever impact them.

Every institution under disruption will, of course, fight for its life, and that will include legal challenges galore. It’s here when the biggest unknowns exist and why seemingly simple concepts like net neutrality are so profoundly important for the future. Net neutrality opposition is nothing less than modernism’s status quo trying to hang onto power that no longer belongs to it. This includes the whole fiasco this week with Google and Verizon “partnering” on self-centered recommendations for net neutrality.

My advice to news departments in markets with a university is to assign someone to this as a beat. Every university in America has had discussions about this, but it’s not something they’re prepared to talk about publicly. We need to talk about it, however, because we are a culture in transition, and our role ought to be one that informs and prepares.

(Originally published in AR&D’s Media 2.0 Intel Newsletter)

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