Print Media: Residential Education / Digital Media : Online Education

For years we have been print Newsweek subscribers. Now that Newsweek has abandoned print and gone to all digital I have abandoned Newsweek. 

January 23, 2013

Is print to media what residential is to education?

Is digital to media what online is to education?

Where do these analogies work and where do they fall apart?

I've been thinking this through as I prepare to never read Newsweek again. For years we have been print Newsweek subscribers. Now that Newsweek has abandoned print and gone to all digital I have abandoned Newsweek.   

Even with a "carryover" subscription (free online until my subscription runs out), I will not read Newsweek online.

Why? Because I can get general news much faster and easier from Google News. Because general online news is a commodity.   

Perhaps my continued print subscribing to Newsweek was a holdover, but I enjoyed the experience of reading the magazine on glossy paper.  I like reading my print magazines from front to back.  Sharing stories with my wife by carrying the magazine to the couch where she is sitting.  Watching my kids carry the magazine around, and in years past occasionally turn the pictures into school posters.

What media do I participate in online?  The key word here is "participate".  I participate in InsideHigherEd because the community (you) is at least as important as the content.  The discussions around the articles and blogs are one-half of the value equation.   

This sort of participatory media requires specialization.   A community of practice.  I go to InsideHigherEd for all things higher ed.  Specialized news and an informed and active community.   Perfect for online.

I'll keep subscribing to the paper version of the Economist.  The Economist is a premium brand, a reliably high quality experience.  The Economist is media which I consume, rather than interact with, and the high cost of the print subscription is justified by the high fidelity of the reading experience.

Where does this leave our analogies?

A few thoughts:

  • Online programs will succeed to the extent that they are specialized and targeted at a particular community of practice. I will pay for an online course or an online degree if I am working with the best faculty in my specific field or discipline of interest. The other students in my class are at least as important as the professor, as the online class will help me form my professional networks.   
  • The success of residential campus based programs or degrees will largely hinge on the brand quality of the institution. The non-academic experience of campus life, the amenities and physical structures, will also be extremely important.    
  • Residential institutions that do not have strong brands or high levels of amenities (the campus experience) will face significant challenges in the coming years. Since branding is somewhat a zero sum game, we will see much more investments in campus amenities (dorms, student unions, residence halls, athletic facilities) in the years to come.  
  • Online education that is not specialized and does not appeal to a cohesive community will have a very hard time attracting the tuition dollars necessary to support the costs of running these programs.   

Can you improve and build upon (or demolish) this line of thinking?


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