Just as entertainment has now been time-shifted thanks to the DVR, there are similar efforts underway to time-shift the educational experience, making course content available on-demand, any time you want, any place you want, on any device you want. This is either the greatest thing that has happened in the history of education or, conversely, just another way for predominantly white, high-income, college-educated elites to maintain their dominance via technology.
Perhaps no innovation better showcases this broader trend towards time-shifting the educational experience than the phenomenal rise of “lecture capture” technologies for the university classroom. At its core, “lecture capture” refers to the concept that every university lecture should be automatically recorded via video and/or other multimedia. Once it has been captured, this content can then be transformed into a more active learning experience. And, as the latest innovation from Arizona State University and edX shows, this content can even be bundled into an entire year’s online curriculum and offered to anyone in the world.
According to a new report from ResearchBeam, lecture capture could be a $672.25 billion industry by 2019, and from 2015-2019, it’s projected to grow at a 20 percent compound annual rate. All of the biggest educational players — even the elite educational institutions that you might think would be opposed to it — are involved in one way or another, and the scope of some of the test cases has been staggering.
Ohio State, for example, has already time-shifted more than 7,000 academic videos. Arizona State just introduced an entire year’s curriculum bundled up as part of the Global Freshman Academy, available to anyone in the world. Echo360, one of the biggest players in the lecture capture market, lists 600 partner institutions, including Princeton, Michigan and University of Texas on its Web site. Sonic Foundry claims to have 1,250 educational partners in 58 countries.
The problem is, the more that students are allowed to time-shift the educational experience, the more that the market for education could begin to resemble the time-shifted market for entertainment content.
Take, for example, the latest Nielsen study of global viewing habits. One key insight from that study is that 64 percent of people who watch TV now identify themselves as binge-watchers as a result of being able to time-shift content. Instead of tuning in at a specific time on a specific night, it’s much easier just to save all the episodes of a particular show for later and watch them back-to-back-to-back.
You can see how this dynamic might play out in the university context. Binge-watching lectures will become the new “cram the night before the exam.” Supercuts of class lectures will become the new Cliffs Notes for the online video generation. From this perspective, it’s easy to see how time-shifting the classroom experience will fundamentally change the university experience. Would anyone really attend class on campus if everything can be watched later on a laptop or tablet or smartphone?
The other problem is that time-shifting entertainment may actually lead universities to de-emphasize high-quality content that simply isn’t getting a big enough “live” audience (i.e. what people back in the day used to call “going to class.”) Again, an example from the world of time-shifted entertainment content is instructive. As Ad Age pointed out, time-shifting may actually be responsible for your favorite TV shows being canceled. Ultimately, it’s all about ratings, and the shows that get time-shifted the most are the ones that are, unfortunately, also the ones most likely to be canceled.
Extend that example to academia — and it’s easy to see how some small, high-quality classes might be shunted aside in favor of those that attract bigger audiences. This “MOOC-ification” process is already starting to be the case in academia, where some professors and academics complain about their need to transform into “performers” rather than teachers for their video audience. Lecturing becomes a performance art, and attendance for courses becomes, in essence, a form of ratings. If some university MOOCs are getting 1,000 signups and others are getting 100, will that matter? Sorry, we canceled Philosophy 101 this year, great class, but Kierkegaard just didn’t get the ratings we were expecting…
Which is not to say that there’s anything wrong with time-shifting educational content. In the era of the “flipped classroom,” there are obviously a compelling number of arguments for why online video works. Lecture capture, for example, creates new accountability and makes professors step up their game. Theoretically, it would also be great for anyone attending a university who misses a high number of classes – perhaps to sickness or athletic commitments or simply being in a different geographic location. Shouldn’t a sick kid who is paying $60,000 a year have every chance to attend a lecture on his or her own terms?
Ultimately, the classroom experience should evolve to create more value so that kids have to come to class to get the full experience. College costs outpace inflation, if the product is getting more expensive, it should evolve and improve. According to flipped classroom proponents, lecture capture frees up professors to spend more time with students, giving them one-on-one attention in the classroom. By embedding quizzes or learning assessments into online video content, moreover, universities can make sure that certain learning goals are met along the way, instead of just at test time.
Obviously, the issue is more complex than just deciding whether or not to flip a switch in the classroom and start recording. At the heart is a more fundamental issue of how we think about education in the digital era. If lecture capture leads to more learning, then it’s a fantastic innovation. In some classroom settings, it can work. However, people are now realizing that just throwing technology at the classroom may not actually work.
Case in point: the high-profile decision by the Los Angeles United School District (LAUSD) this week to publicly part ways with Apple and Pearson over the shortcomings of a $1.3 billion iPad program. Educators felt they just weren’t getting the returns they were expecting from putting iPads loaded with software into the hands of students.
The same thinking can be applied to the idea of lecture capture and the MOOC-ification of the university experience. Going the MOOC route just seems to be so innovative, but the results are mixed. For every MIT that says online learning works, there’s a Harvard suggesting that online learning really only works for people who arguably need it least — people already with a college degree, people who are fully employed, or people who hail from higher-income brackets.
If, as Peter Thiel argues, college isn’t worth it anymore at a time when kids are still getting face time (not Facetime) with their professors, the further time-shifting of the educational experience would seem to suggest that, at some point, higher ed really won’t be worth it. Perhaps by taking lessons from the entertainment world, which has already been time-shifted, educators and technologists can come up with the optimal mix of live and time-shifted content for the classroom.