Episode 4: Higher Education as a Content Channel

by Jan 27, 2020

Welcome to Education and Technology Futures, a videocast that highlights interesting trends and connections in the worlds of education, technology, and culture.

These days, any popular apparatus or device is a good candidate to become a content and services channel. We’ve seen it with computers, smartphones, and cars. Not surprisingly, we’re seeing the same trend evolve with high ed institutions, as their local infrastructure is being transformed into a powerful channel to reach new audiences across the globe.

Full Transcript

Full Transcript

Back in 1988, a friend of mine, an engineer for Motorola at the time, told me that smart money should always flow toward software instead of hardware. In his words, “You have to sell way too many truckloads of computers to make any money.”

I’ve thought about that conversation plenty over the ensuing decades, as different companies have released revolutionary hardware, only to see that hardware transform into a channel for a bigger play in software or content.

We’ve certainly seen that play out with computers. And also in gaming consoles and VR headsets. Over time, companies lower the price of their revolutionary hardware to gain more customers who will consume their software, content, or other services.

We see the same thing happening these days in the smartphone sector. Makers of high-end smartphones, typically costing between $1,000 and $1,300, are introducing new models with most of the same bells and whistles for half the price. To break into the price-sensitive smartphone market in India, Samsung and Qualcomm are introducing models that can compete with an average purchase price of $159. Heck, even Apple has announced that it is beginning work on a smaller and cheaper version of the iPhone.

So how will producers of these revolutionary mobile devices make money? Simple. Through app stores, content subscriptions and other services.

These days, any popular apparatus or device is a good candidate to become a content and services channel. Peloton’s financial growth will be driven by monthly subscriptions to workout videos that are integrated with its bikes and treadmills. Elon Musk envisions every Tesla car as a mobile movie theater.

By the way, it’s not hard to see some parallels with the education industry.

In the traditional models, we have schools and campuses that serve as channels for delivering content to local participants. In these models, institutions and schools and their existing infrastructures, their buildings and classrooms, have served as the traditional “hardware.” And, like other technologies, originally, this hardware was the main focus, the primary way to reach the audience.

It was the thing.

Today, however, we see that model evolving. With new technologies, this infrastructure, for many institutions, is being transformed into a powerful channel to reach new audiences across the globe. Increasingly, that model is evolving to one that is less local — schools and institutions are becoming conduits for new types of learning being distributed to learners on a much broader scale.

This week Coursera announced that, in partnership with the University of North Texas, it will be offering an online bachelor’s degree for adult learners looking to complete their education. This is just another example of how universities and their campuses become channels for delivering their content and services to a much wider and more strategic reach.

As with every other industry, I have to think that this is and will be the new normal for higher ed institutions looking to remain relevant int he 21st century.

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