Netflix and 3 Ways New Tech Can Diminish Quality

Content, experience and commitment.

May 15, 2016

My edtech tribe is vulnerable to the disease of techno-enthusiasm. Our faith tempts us to believe that technological advances equate with advances in learning.

But what if we are wrong?

Or wrong sometimes.

The case of Netflix may be cautionary. There are always limitation in jumping verticals - in going between say entertainment (Netflix) and education (us). Still, it can be informative (and kinda fun) to think across industries.

The example where technological progress has resulted in a diminish quality is the transition from DVDs to streaming. I'm now a Netflix streaming only subscriber. No more DVDs by mail. You?  

This change, from physical DVDs to streaming, has increased convenience while decreasing quality.  

Here's how:

1 - Content:

The biggest reason that streaming Netflix is worse than DVD Netflix is content. There is much less of it.  

About every movie was available on DVD within a year of release. Streaming - not so much.  

Streaming rights must be expensive for Netflix, as they don't seem to stream movies that I really want to see. Nor does streaming provide the breadth of choice available on DVD.  

The main reason to stay with Netflix streaming is not the movies - but the original programming. House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, Marco Polo, Daredevil, Narcos .... this is why I pay the monthly Netflix streaming bill.  

2 - Experience:

Back in those pre-historic times when Netflix DVDs would come by mail - I watched those DVDs using a DVD player hooked up to a TV. Or maybe I popped the DVD in my laptop's DVD drive.

Today, I watch Netflix Streaming on my iPhone 6S Plus.  

Video watching has moved from an immersive to a convenience experience.

Streaming is something that I do in short chunks and bursts.  It is rare that I sit for an entire hour or two and watch a movie on my phone.

3 - Commitment

Have you noticed how easy it is to stop watching streaming video. If the TV show or movie is not great - then stop watching. Since it is as easy as tapping on the screen a couple of times to watch something else - then why not watch something else?

With DVDs you were committed. Returning a DVD meant waiting a few days to get another DVD. Not watching a DVD mean either returning it unwatched, or living with the opportunity costs of not having another DVD delivered.

Physical discs represented more of a commitment than digital streams. So I'm less likely to invest enough time getting into a show or movie that does not grab me early. Less likely to stay with a show or movie if I think another (better) option may be a click away.

So Why Stay With Netflix Streaming - And What Does This Have To Do With Education?

Fair questions.

The reasons that I stay with Netflix streaming is that convenience trumps quality. Having okay video anytime/anywhere on my iPhone is better than good video on DVD.  The combination of mobile viewing and streaming has changed my relationship to video.  

As for how my Netflix story relates to education - well - I think that you can make the jump.

Technology will allow education - and perhaps even credit bearing classes - to be more convenient.  

As education migrates to digital it will follow a similar path as other services.  

To paraphrase something that Yoda might have said: "Cheaper, faster, and everywhere education will be".

We should be very clear, however, what we may be losing in learning as technology advances.  

A better business model for education is not the same as a better model for learning.

Just because we can follow a similar path in as education Netflix has done in entertainment does not mean that we should.

What other examples do you have where new technology makes things worse - and yet we still go with the new tech?



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