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Good point Pete. And good thing my wardrobe has improved since grad school. You still wearing those New Balance long-sleeve tees?

Top professors will have to be like Carson Daly - to keep with your MTV analogy. They will likely have to function as outgoing, sociable humans (if the course is to be live or videotaped) as well as be able to write their own material without the help of a so-called writer's guild (or graduate assistants in this case). However, I think most of the top professors will likely need help with the former rather than the latter.

Are the success stories of Madonna and Michael Jackson a plus or a minus for the cultural content of the music industry? I think Tyler Cowen would say a plus in the same way that he would say restaurants are better and more competitive with the rise of national chains. Despite the loss of some (less competitive) Mom and Pops, on net more people eating out means better food. Does more people tuning in mean better profs? I think it probably will, and furthermore profs judged as better according to slightly different margins.

This is something that I've been curious about for a while. While watching videos and listening to podcasts is certainly no substitution for reading books and actively participating in discussions, it does add an interesting aspect to my continuing (or the beginning of my) education. While I am a very lazy person, I'm also a very curious person. Educational discussions in video or podcast form have opened doors for me that I might have otherwise never gone through. Before I discovered these new forms of learning, the only new material that I absorbed was from the 10 to 12 books per year that I read. Now, after discovering websites like this, Mises.org, EconTalk.org, and the YouTube channels, I go through many more books (I find myself reading books just to be able to understand the discussions) and have become exposed to subjects which I never gave any thought to (who knew that good coffee came from Rwanda and that it was helping to end poverty and oppression?).

Being exposed to lectures and these podcasts has raised the question of deliverance in my mind. I've noticed the stark differences between some of the professors in the podcasts that I listen to and the videos that I watch. I find myself converting video to audio many times because watching the video is distracting. Some people simply don't belong in front of a camera. Other times, I find it annoying not to have video because you can't see presentations. And still other times, I find myself just stopping the podcasts and videos altogether because the presenter is so unlistenable (is that a word?). What's interesting is that all of these problems are problems that I'm having now in my classes. Some professors, while being very intelligent and thought-provoking, distract us from the content of class by their appearance, weird mannerisms, or style of teaching. Others are so incredibly dry that we have to have voice-editing software put the lectures in PDF form so that we can move on.

I'm not so curious about the changes this will have on the quality of education or the quality of the professors. Much like how cassette tapes, CDs, and MP3s haven't changed the quality of music, I imagine the delivery method probably won't change the quality of education. What I'm curious about is the over-all effect this will have on learning for the masses. As Professor Jackson noted, this isn't a solution to the inequities in education, but it is a start. People like myself with little formal education can listen in on intellectual debates and learn new material and pick up on new thought processes; we can find a new lens through which to view history and life.

So I guess I do have a question. Education is progressive. In the same way that today's common knowledge is based upon the discoveries of the past, today's research will, hopefully, be the common knowledge of the future. Of course, there are obvious disparities when you look around the globe. Africa and parts of Asia and South and Central America are behind the learning curve because of the availability of information. What impact on third-world cultures will this newly available information have? Will the newly available information have the same impact on developing nations as the freeing up of markets has had? Will professors who like others to hear what they say (or perhaps who just like to hear themselves talk) be able to bring the third world out of poverty and ignorance by putting their lectures on the internet?

I think it is wonderful. I expect that in the future we will have very few college professors, but the few we have will be the best in the world, and will paid and treated like rock stars. Imagine a scenario where every professor has thousands of classrooms spread around the world and they communicate with their classes through electronic means. You can have the worlds best professors teaching in every community college in the world. I think Ivy league colleges will become much less relevant. These classes will be recorded and will be accessible after first airing to anyone interested in the subject. Imagine if this had been around years ago, we may have a record of every single class Einstein or Mises taught! Or any other great professor. In that world, professors would have to be the best in the world in their fields, they would also have to be charismatic, well spoken and able to deliver complex ideas in a clear concise manner. I think we are on the cusp of an educational revolution and these are only the first signs.

I have to say that this discussion is fascinating for someone like me who teaches at a small school where direct interaction with students is prized AND where lecture-oriented pedagogy is going the way of the do-do.

I would argue that the most important skills young people will need this century are the following:

1. What Tyler C calls "judgment" - the ability to sort information and decide which is more or less reliable.

2. The ability to write, speak and use communications technology clearly and accurately. In a knowledge/service economy, communication skills are at the top of the list.

3. Putting 1 and 2 together, the ability to construct persuasive arguments out of scattered information. This is not just what academics do, it's what people in the business world do all of the time.

4. A flexible structure of human capital that allows them to take these critical thinking and communication skills and adapt them to the particular jobs and other activities they find themselves in.

5. Last but not least, an understanding of the foundational ideas of Western civilization and a familiarity with the "great debates" in the world of ideas and the worlds of policy.

My question for those who think higher ed will become a world of distance learning with rock star professors, or even one in which technology begins to substitute for the real human classroom presence more generally, how exactly will 1-4 get taught that way? Watching Pete give the world's best lecture on the flaws of socialism will not, in and of itself, give me the skills I need to be a lifelong learner nor to be able to navigate the worlds of the market and civil society, nor to help me, in and of itself, contribute to political discourse in a responsible way.

In a world where the explosion of "content" has made it impossible to learn a canon in the way generations past could, concern with critical thinking and communication skills has, rightly in my view, come to dominate the way in which a liberal education is provided. I just don't see how the technologized view of higher ed is going to deliver on that goal.

My own prediction is, unfortunately, that the sort of education I'm talking about, and that places like mine aspire to provide, will increasingly become the province of a smaller number of students (majority female, if current trends continue) who have the interest and who can afford it. Human capital intensive education will become increasingly expensive as the value of human labor continues to rise. As it stands, only a very small fraction of US college students attend places that do this sort of work intensively, although they do tend to be disproportionately represented in corporate management and some academic disciplines (e.g., liberal arts colleges send a much higher proportion of their science majors to PhD programs than do large research universities).

So I don't necessarily disagree that the rock star vision of the future is where we might head, and I do agree it would have benefits for non-traditional students and those who are already lifelong learners, but I think, overall, it's a bad thing for liberal learning.


I agree with you, but the real question is how educational entrepreneurs will try to find a way to combine the technologies with the goals you lay out to try to provide the right educational bundle. For example, superstar professor lecturers, but break out small group discussion leaders. Or on-line break out sessions with video technology.

I don't really know, but I imagine what we will see is a proliferation of Teaching Company type stuff and the use of podcast technologies to get that seminar feeling.

The world is changing and those of us in the education field need to be nimble just like everyone else in a dynamic thriving economy and adjust to changing circumstances. The problem, of course, is that both structurally (the tenure system) and tempermentally (the academic mindset) we are not prepared to be nimble.


Just think would Madonna or even Michael Jackson have become the cultural icon they did without music videos?
Curse you, music video! Like Saint Vitus, I was born too late.

I agree with you, only I think the foundations you are referring to should be learned prior to fully utilizing the more lecture oriented podcast-professors I envision. Once the foundations of critical thinking and communication have been laid, I believe a student could get great results from a podcast-professor.
A certain percentage of students will always desire and require a live professor at their disposal. I really don’t think the two ideas are mutually exclusive, even for the same professor. I don’t see why a professor could not have a class that is broadcast and also have smaller more personalized classes with a lot of interaction. It may be that the introductory type classes are the ones that are broadcasted and then the upper level classes are reserved for those who have shown a great interest and ability in the subject.
I have never attended a college class and am entirely self-educated, with the exception of a few distance learning classes I once took for a certificate program in my field (telecommunications). So that might explain why a person like myself finds the idea of a podcast-professor exciting and full of possibilities. It allows someone like me who really doesn’t have the time or desire to attend regular college classes an opportunity that until recently would have been impossible. It also would allow for a more personalized education in the direction the student really wants to go, for instance in the world of economics a student could choose professors who teach from the Chicago school, the Austrian school, or the Keynesian school, etc, regardless of the options available locally.

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