Our Napster is Udacity: Quality Doesn’t Beat Access

November 16, 2012 at 8:36 am 8 comments

Clay Shirky’s essay on MOOCs has made the best case that I’ve seen on why the MOOCopalypse is coming.  At Georgia Tech, we’ve used an analogy about universities and higher education as being like Borders. Borders went under quite quickly, in the face of Amazon.com and Kindles.  But there are too many differences in that analogy, e.g., Borders and Amazon sold the exact same product.  Shirky’s essay hits home.  Napster wasn’t better than CD’s, but it was free and easily accessible.  Napster was shutdown, but only after the damage was done.  Expectations changed, and the mechanisms were then established to create the legitimate, for-cost iTunes Store (and Pandora and Last.fm and…) which put the final nails in the CD’s coffin. The key lesson is: Access was more important than quality.  Shirky’s suggestion is that, once established as being available and acceptable, then MOOCs (even when they’re not free, after Udacity, Coursera, edX) could put the nails in the university coffin.

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.

via » Napster, Udacity, and the Academy Clay Shirky.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , , .

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8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. alanone1  |  November 16, 2012 at 8:42 am

    Yep, the pop culture system of values in spades!

  • 2. Greg Wilson  |  November 16, 2012 at 10:25 am

    I think it’s important to notice that after Napster, the for-pay sites were mostly walled gardens (e.g., iTunes). I’m _really_ afraid that after Udacity, we will see Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and the other “big ed” companies establish that kind of lock as well.

  • 4. nickfalkner  |  November 18, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    I wonder if the necessity of sequence is enough of a differentiator for education versus the music analogy? After all, not listening to the 10 ‘filler’ songs on an album will not reduce my enjoyment of the ‘hits’ on the next album. (Although, I am reminded of how much Coltrane you have to listen to in order to truly enjoy and understand ‘Meditations’)

    However, if you cherry pick your path through the MOOCs then you may end up with nothing that can be recognised as a professional qualification. After all, this is why we go through the Strawman routine every so often, to ensure that we are providing the opportunities for a student to be able to practise within the discipline and such reviews take time and effort. How does the MOOC model fund the strategic development of educational pathways?

    I’m not sure that this is a good enough reason but I still can’t quite see a reliable pathway to professional certification made up from the ‘hit’ tracks of education. This may just be me, standing in the waves and ordering back the sea.

  • 7. Mark Urban-Lurain  |  November 21, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    See my comment re: MOOCopalpse as relevant.


  • […] Clay Shirky’s take on MOOCs is highly recommended reading (linked below).  I bought in to Shirky’s “Udacity is Napster” argument, and I still think that access may trump quality.  But Bady really highlights why there […]


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