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3 EdTech Lessons From the Demise of The Daily
December 3, 2012 - 9:00pm

On Monday we learned that The Daily, News Corp's mobile app only newspaper, will cease publication on December 15th. From the publication's start in February of 2011, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp invested $30 million in creating this short lived digital newspaper.   

Were you a 99 cent per week subscriber to The Daily? (I can't find anyone who are among the 100,000 or so paying subscribers).

What are the edtech lessons from the fast life and early death of The Daily?

1. The Tablet Revolution is Overhyped:  

The Daily's comparative advantage was supposedly its "born tablet" origins. We all know that the future is mobile, right?  Tablets are replacing laptops. Apps displacing the browser. The reality is somewhat more complicated. An iPad or a Nexus or a Fire is good for content consumption, but only as a complement rather than a substitute for the browser.  Subscribers to The Daily could not read the publication on whatever screen they happened to be interacting with.  An iPad is a lousy platform for writing, meaning that commenting and discussion of articles (if this was even enabled on The Daily app, I have no idea), was bound to be a frustrating experience. iPads are also terrible platforms to connect with other content.  How many articles in The Daily contained links to other websites?  How many websites could link back to stories in The Daily?

The edtech lesson here is that the browser and the app will continue to be important platforms for learning. We need to invest in both, and learn how to play to the strengths of each. Communication, collaboration, and sharing are best done with a browser and a keyboard.  Longer form content, such as articles or recorded lectures or class videos, are best consumed on a tablet.  An iPad is great for offline consumption of class content (and students are out of wifi or cell range more than we realize), a laptop and browser for online communication.

2. The Economics of Digital Only are Different:

Would I pay for the digital version of The Economist? Nope. I like to stack The Economist by my bedside, catching up on vacations or other breaks. The articles in The Economist have a long shelf life, they age well when measured in months.  The act of reclining with a couple month old issue of The Economist is a luxurious one.  Finishing an issue is an accomplishment.  The Economist is a tangible luxury good.

We should think very carefully in academia about the relationship between digital and non-digital goods, and how people value both differently. A blended learning experience, one that combines online and residential teaching, may feel more valuable to those paying the bills.  Indeed, the research suggests that a blended approach results in both the highest levels of student satisfaction and learning outcomes when compared to purely online or purely face-to-face.  In an age of the MOOC the intimate, personal, and community experience to be found on a residential campus becomes more, not less, valuable.   We build our online learning initiatives on top of a physical campus foundation.

3. We Will Pay for Specialization:

Almost nobody subscribed to The Daily because we could get something similar for free.  Even on an iPad there is no shortage of general news.  We will only pay for content if similar content cannot be acquired some other place for free. I pay a ridiculous amount of money every year to subscribe to The Economist because of the magazine's in-depth reporting and reliably smart analysis.   There is no free substitute for The Economist.

In what area of specialization does your campus excel? Which departments and faculty on your campus are recognized as thought leaders?  Where has your institution invested in developing expertise?  It is in these areas of specialization, in comparative advantage, that the greatest opportunities exist to develop new educational programs.  A quality niche program, when delivered as a blended (online/residential) degree, can draw in students from throughout the world. It is not necessary (or possible) for your institution to be the best in the world in every discipline. Pick those few areas where you can really excel, where you have strong expertise that aligns with your campus values and cultures, and develop new blended degree programs around these areas of specialization.   

What edtech and higher ed lessons do you take from the demise of The Daily?


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