I was recently given a question on twitter from a twitter-friend and fellow edtech industry person that I felt was worth expanding into a cohesive blog post.
I really would love to know your deeper thoughts on the economics of education, because it needs to be accessible to all, but value isn't free to create. How can it be balanced? I need to make a living, you need to make a living, professors, teachers, etc - @lastmjs
It came in reference to a blockchain for education credentialling concept that he passed along that I was critical of. As I just did a blog post recently on not just being a critic and instead being a person of action, well, here's why I was critical.
I believe that it is my mission to be here, in this place, in this time, to try and strive towards zero cost education. The tools of production should be free and accessible to anyone and everyone. The content and media and materials produced should be fluid, working anywhere in any combination, being easy to find, easy to remix, easy to learn from anywhere. But, how then do people make money?
Zero cost? I mean really??
Yeah... probably; it is very difficult to legitimately hit zero on anything. But people don't pay for text editors anymore... do they (unless your a developer and you call it an IDE but even those are usually free). But SOMEONE makes it right? It comes from somewhere. Well, the person or organization that says "hey, we can't do our job without a new way to edit text" is the one ultimately paying for it. But if what they're selling isn't text editors it's code, then they can give away their editor without losing out on money.
The unique network effect of this is that you don't see a lot of a market for text editors ;). If people are going to up and give away something amazing for free (because it's what it provides them that generates revenue not the thing itself) then they can afford to do so, but it also depresses the potential for a market to exist. If people clean parks out of their own free-will then no one can make money providing services to clean parks. Whatever your example, there's plenty of examples of markets not being able to exist because "there's no money there". Yeah... but why? What conditions force a market to not be able to exist.
This is what I'm after, and have been for some time. How can we cause network effects to eliminate established markets? How can we accelerate the decline and collapse of corrupt markets. You could call that for-proits, you could call that greedy edtech, or bloated public institutions; whatever you call corrupt, how can we actively work to fix that? The release of all of the materials of production in establishment of educational experiences is my way of fixing that.
If the content is free. If the learning objects are free. If the material is remixable, adaptable, and easy to understand and translate. If the process of production is documented and the tools released. If everything in the creation and production, the knowledge, all of it, is released.... people will still want to get credentialed, validated and certified by institutions and gatekeepers of knowledge and outcomes. Students aren't paying you to produce a video about how to effectively treat minor wounds, they are paying for certification and verification that they know how to treat minor wounds as a result of the entire training. Putting that video on youtube and them saying "Hey but I watched that" isn't going to hold the same weight (ever) as an institution saying "Yes, we verify that
______ knows how to treat minor wounds, among other things".
A child in poverty has access to a 3G based cellphone. They don't have access to quality medical advise (outside of that device), they don't have much in the way of clothing, shelter from the elements. A friend of theirs gets hurt; perhaps the only method of them knowing what to do to best help them is via that cell phone.
They search for resources on how to treat a wound and come up with how to do so on limited supplies. A how to, produced as part of basic medical training which was sponsored by a university for training grad students traveling to remote parts of Africa, demonstrates how to properly treat a wound when having access to limited resources. The child treats the wound, the friend is healed and the wound doesn't get infected.
The child, inspired by the devices ability to provide life altering advise, starts reading through the other materials provided. Maybe this inspires the child to be a lifelong learner, maybe it doesn't. But their friend may not be around if they didn't have free access to quality information able to be delivered at low bitrates in a reasonable amount of time.
That child, no matter how much you charge other then 0, will never be a customer. Them having access to it doesn't remove your ability to make money off of it as an organization. If anything, it creates the possibility for those without access to be lifted up, maybe even being able to dream of attending your university or another. Maybe they want to help and save others and decide the best way to do that is to become a certified or credentialed Dr. Now (as calious as it is) they are a customer.
How many 1000 other children can we save with quality information? How many would never be customers but could still grow, build and leverage the affordances of a Zer0 cost educational experience. The outcome isn't always certification or conversion; the outcome may be far more important then that but we'll never know how many we'll help unless we take the first step.