Post image for MUST READ: Clay Shirky on Disruption

MUST READ: Clay Shirky on Disruption

As you know, we read Clay Shirky religiously over here at SocialFishing, and in the rare moments when he posts an essay or there is a video of him speaking, we always post it and it’s always thought-provoking.  This time, however, it’s not just thought-provoking, I think it has direct implications for the association industry.  In this article, Shirky’s talking about the imminent disruption to higher education. (My bold below).

The people in the music industry weren’t stupid, of course. They had access to the same internet the rest of us did. They just couldn’t imagine—and I mean this in the most ordinarily descriptive way possible—could not imagine that the old way of doing things might fail. Yet things did fail, in large part because, after Napster, the industry’s insistence that digital distribution be as expensive and inconvenient as a trip to the record store suddenly struck millions of people as a completely terrible idea.

Once you see this pattern—a new story rearranging people’s sense of the possible, with the incumbents the last to know—you see it everywhere. First, the people running the old system don’t notice the change. When they do, they assume it’s minor. Then that it’s a niche. Then a fad. And by the time they understand that the world has actually changed, they’ve squandered most of the time they had to adapt.

It’s been interesting watching this unfold in music, books, newspapers, TV, but nothing has ever been as interesting to me as watching it happen in my own backyard. Higher education is now being disrupted; our MP3 is the massive open online course (or MOOC), and our Napster is Udacity, the education startup.

We have several advantages over the recording industry, of course. We are decentralized and mostly non-profit. We employ lots of smart people. We have previous examples to learn from, and our core competence is learning from the past. And armed with these advantages, we’re probably going to screw this up as badly as the music people did.

Read the whole post: Napster, Udacity and the Academy

Now, this imminent disruption to higher education that Shirky goes on to describe is not a new topic, at least not in social media circles where we love to discuss the disruption of anything and everything (and, in fact, wrote a book about it).  But the higher education issue is one that I am concerned that not enough associations are thinking about (that I can see).  Associations, most of them anyway, are in the business of professional development for the people in their industries.  Are you positioning yourself to be part of the new world of social learning when it starts to happen overnight?  What happens to the millions of new college graduates in a couple of years who are used to learning online? Will they find the educational resources they need from your association website?  Will it be easy to navigate?  Will they be able to share educational courses, or videos, or quizzes, or anything else with their peers on a topic-by-topic basis?  Will they be able to include their peers, including some who may not specifically be signed up to your webinars, in their learning?  Will they find it easy to conduct online discussions around your educational content with people across the globe and in different time zones?  Will they be able to dip in and out however they please?  Will they be able to get the CE/CME/CPE/CEU and every other continuing education credit they might need in the ways that they need them?

This is a HUGE OPPORTUNITY – not a threat.  What are YOU doing to prepare for the disruption of higher education?


(photo credit)


jcufaude November 28, 2012 at 8:23 am

And since college students are a major pipeline for many associations and faculty are often promoters or gatekeepers of membership and involvement, how do associations need to rethink the relationships they have with those two critical constituencies?  Further, as these social learners enter our volunteer ranks how will they disrupt traditional volunteer training and management, as well as organizational decision-making approaches?  Lots of positive potential here.

maddiegrant November 28, 2012 at 7:52 pm

@jcufaude exactly!!!

John Roberts November 28, 2012 at 8:27 am

Brilliant insights here —couldn’t agree more. I am giving a presentation next week on this issue to a group of graduate school deans. Hope I do well and can convince them to listen.

maddiegrant November 28, 2012 at 7:52 pm

@John Roberts ooh would love to hear more about it afterwards!

Frank Fortin November 28, 2012 at 4:40 pm

As a parent who is just starting to pay the extortion rates  that are known as college tuition bills, Clay’s article hit me squarely in the gut. 
College education is simply overpriced. The bubble can’t last. But it will last just long enough to send millions more middle class students and their families into debt that they cannot repay, based on a promise that the college education machine cannot keep anymore. 
College is not worth the price anymore. The emperor has no clothes.

maddiegrant November 28, 2012 at 8:05 pm

One relevant commenter to Clay’s post:
“EngineerScotty Says: November 15, 2012 at 6:14 pm
One other issue that has to be solved; though I’m sure it will be:
Accreditation and acceptance of MOOC educations in the professional world.
Many employers, in many professions, still view a piece of paper from an accredited college that they have heard of, as a prerequisite for employment. While such paper is no guarantee of competence in the field; employers trust that well-known and accredited colleges and universities do at least some teaching and vetting of the students they graduate, and likewise assume that applicants lacking this credential are unsuitable. Not all employers are like this, of course, but many still are.
That said, many predictions that Wikipedia would fail due to (alleged) lack of traceable provenance have been proven incorrect.
OTOH, if MOOC work becomes broadly acceptable to employers, how soon before we see the MOOC equivalent of “diploma mills”; fraudulent entities which mainly exist to produce bogus qualifications, rather than actually imparting useful skills? Right now, most users of MOOC programs are actually motivated by learning things; but many college students at traditional schools re only there to get wasted, laid, and receive their paper.
One answer might be greater involvement of post-educational examinations, like many professional certifications. If employers were to take the posture of “I don’t care what diploma you have, so long as you can pass this test”; and certification were more broadly decoupled from education, this decoupling might pose the same danger to the traditional college’s business model as Craigslist did to the newspaper business. (There’s a reason colleges and unis don’t permit students to audit four years of coursework, after all, and simply take a test and receive a degree). We already see this to some extent in the IT industry, where many employers care more about professional certifications from system vendors (such as MSCEs) than they do about university degrees.”

ASegar November 29, 2012 at 5:41 am

Hi Maddie, a couple of thoughts:
1) Social learning is not starting to happen, it’s already here and has been for some time. (See, for example, The Teaching Firm report on how people in large companies learn, published in 1998!) Most adults these days learn the vast majority of what they need to know to do their jobs _socially_, not in the classroom.
2) At the risk of repeating myself, the kinds of participant-led peer learning conferences I’ve been running and promoting for twenty years now are the perfect way for associations to respond to the disruptions that Clay so eloquently describes. Providing great ways for association members to learn what they want to learn when they want to learn it from their peers is what associations need to do in order to serve their members’ education and connection needs.

shellyalcorn November 29, 2012 at 9:06 pm

Maddie -
I could not agree with you more.  I have been railing about this for a while. The opportunities are enormous and must be addressed head on if we are to play a meaningful role in this new post-secondary environment.  Rick Rutherford and I are doing a session on this issue next Tuesday at the Affiniscape Connections 12.  Thanks for highlighting this important and timely topic.  

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