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The NPR Model for Higher Ed
October 10, 2012 - 9:00pm

The idea to use NPR as model for how higher ed could change is not my own. I heard the analogy of how higher ed could evolve to mimic the NPR model from a colleague at a conference, and the idea has stuck in my head.  (Perhaps you have heard the analogy before?).

The idea is that individual colleges and universities could mimic local NPR stations, producing some of the content locally and subscribing to other content from a larger organization.

Individual IHE's (institutions of higher education) would produce some courses or parts of courses locally, supplementing these courses with learning materials (online lectures, assessments, simulations etc.) or and whole courses (perhaps edX or Coursera).

This model works very well for NPR.  The NPR "mothership" receives about half of its funding from local stations.  These local stations get access to programs such as Morning Edition and All Things Considered.  As a listener to my New Hampshire NPR affiliate, NHPR, I get the best of both world's.  A mix between local news, produced and reported by NHPR, and national and world news from NPR.  Member stations also contribute programming back to NPR, which can then be distributed to all the affiliate stations.  

College and Universities, unlike NPR, mostly operate as if we are all the only producers of courses (programming) on the planet.  We produce all of our own courses, share very little of this with others, and strive to offer as complete a range of subjects as possible.  

The higher ed model could never work for public radio, so why do we assume it should work for education? 

Why not create a new organization that produces and aggregates the very best courses and course materials, and then hosts and distributes these courses and course materials to member colleges?  This would leave our local institutions free to concentrate on areas of comparative advantage and expertise, while simultaneously opening up opportunities for students to take courses not offered on campus.  

At first blush, the NPR model for higher ed sounds very appealing.   We all love NPR, so what could be bad with adopting the public radio model as a method to increase quality (best courses from throughout the country, courses designed specifically for introductory or remedial audiences), while reducing costs (by taking advantage of the scale that MOOCs or even centrally designed courses can provide).

The challenge that I see with the NPR model for higher ed is that courses are not like radio programs.  Courses are, by nature, relational and interactive.  A good course is more of a conversation than an presentation.  A quality course is not a transfer of knowledge, but a co-creation of new knowledge and understanding between the professor and the student.   

It may be a good thing to off-load or source some of the course content and delivery.  We actually do this all the time now with our textbooks, simulations, and curricular media that we assign.  

Offloading the production of curricular content to an educational NPR type institution (or a publisher) does not, however, diminish the cost of the course. 

The real value-add in higher education are our expert faculty members, and the educators such librarians, learning designers, media and technology specialists that faculty work with to create student-centered and personalized learning experiences for our learners.

Abundant content does equate to authentic learning.  In an era of information overload, the role of the faculty member and the teaching team is more important than ever.

What the NPR model does demonstrate, however, is that courses that are not build on conversations and relationships will be begin to disappear.  Any course that is primarily a mechanism of content delivery will be replaced by the best massively open online courses.  What will be left will be more seminars and larger courses built around principles of active learning.   This will be a very good change.

What do you think we can learn in higher ed from NPR?


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