oro|oro Teacherslab | From Copyright to Cryptolopes: How to Exploit your Knowledge Assets
saturday 27 january 2001
| Introduction: John Thackara, an expert
on design, innovation, and new media, is Director of Doors of Perception,
the conference and knowledge network based in Amsterdam; he is also Visiting
Professor of Computer-Related Design at the Royal College of Art, London.
I started working on Oro-Oro with Caroline Nevejan and her colleagues at the Society for Old and New Media about a year ago. Then I imagined that the main problem would be how to challenge the myth that technology is the answer to the learning market explosion. But I think it has become clear over the last three days that nobody has any illusions that technology is going to replace teachers. There is, however, a slightly different question that has not really been raised, so I'd like to raise it now, and that is about the commercial dimensions of it all.
I'm going to do three things: I'm going to ask, 'Why do I have to think about learning as a market? Maybe I don't think it's interesting, so why do I have to think about it?' Secondly, 'What kind of work might I be doing in the future, once all these developments start to come true, if they do?' And thirdly, 'How can I do well in this new situation?' Why do we have to think about this story?
Because - and I think this is the thing that I want to add to what other people have said - learning has become a market, and not just an academic market. It could also be institutional or official.
There are two other gigantic areas where the subject of learning is becoming important. There's the corporate: what companies do, for themselves or teaching and training that they buy from other people. And there's the consumer market; individuals buying learning experiences of different kinds.
We have to think about it because it's a big market.
I found this great story to illustrate why this is important. The numbers are American, but the ratios (I checked) are roughly the same in Europe. In America, 10 million people per year buy tickets to sporting events, 97 million buy airline tickets, and 200 million people buy continuing education. This is absolutely not what you might expect. Most people would assume that sport would be top and maybe education at the bottom. So education is a very big market, and I'm going to explain why this money is important.
If you add up the amount of money spent by all the organisations in America, or all the money the world has spent on education in all its various forms, it doesn't matter how you interpret the numbers, it's just a lot of zeros. Let's just remember the zeros. Now imagine yourself to be a red-blooded capitalist. I know we're all Dutch, or friends-of-the-Dutch, so we are all red-blooded capitalists, even though we pretend not to be. You look at those numbers and you think, 'There's a market there.'
The next thing you do is to ask: 'How can I make a buck, or preferably lots of bucks, out of this market?' And you think, well, either I improve quality, or I reduce costs. When you look at costs, the first thing that most people in the investment community say, is 'Do you have any idea what percentage people costs are in education? It's 80 per cent!' In services, which is most of the new economy, it's 60 per cent and in manufacturing, the old economy, it's 20 to 40 per cent. So these people are simple, and they say, 'OK, if I slice 30 to 40 per cent off people costs and put that stuff in to a computer, I can keep the 40 per cent.'
I do not exaggerate, that's more or less how the e-learning market has developed over the last period. When investors and developers started looking at those numbers, those zeros, and then started looking at those costs attributed to people, they figured out that they could put those people costs into websites. That's when the money started to pour into so-called e-learning.
Why do we have to think about it? I want to emphasise that, when large amounts of money start moving around, you have to be aware of it, and things change, even when they should not. But the other thing that we have is a whole pile of new people who want to be taught, who want to learn stuff. Most of the time, it's not because they have some kind of enlightened vision that they want to be more educated. Many are required by law to keep up-to-date in their professional knowledge, whether an accountant or a veterinarian.
We've heard from various people that knowledge is changing so quickly that we all have to learn for life. Life-long learning; it sounds a tremendously nice phrase, but it's a real hassle in practice. Where are we supposed to do all this life-long learning? We've already got 101 new things to do. If you add in life-long learning to what is already a busy life, it's going to be rather hard to fit it in. Therefore, we want to learn in new ways.
The other thing is that those professionals are getting older as a proportion of the population, so our customers, the students of tomorrow, are getting older. And when you get older, you become more difficult. It's possible that when a child of eight says, 'Please can I learn at lunch-time, or in my car?' You reply, 'No, you cannot. You come to school, and you learn when it's convenient for me.' But if a 35-year-old accountant says, 'Please can I learn at lunch-time?' And you say, 'No,' he'll say: 'Ok, I'll go somewhere else where I can learn over lunch, or in my car, or on vacation.' It's just that people get very difficult and picky as they get older.
So we have this changing market; people want things, and we have this great wall of money from the private sector coming along, thinking that there's some easy money to be made. We'll see whether that's true or not. In learning as a market, what kind of work might I do? The people here who are currently university teachers - what other ways could you think about yourselves? There are three ways: there's content: that is to say, what I learn. There are services, all the different ways that I help people learn. And there's technology, which is all the stuff that we're going to need.
Harvard Business School - the world's most expensive school - spends 10 per cent of its entire budget on technology. So money is needed, but so are lots of people to spend it. I'm not going to talk about what these three might mean in practice; I don't have time, and other people can do it better. But I'll say one thing about content: content is something you do, not something you put onto a website. Once you think about that, it has consequences about the nature of the business.
'Services': it's one of those small, innocuous words, but if there's one thing I've discovered during this last period of 12 or 15 months, learning about the world of education, it's that it is unbelievably complicated. To run it, to combine people, courses, technology, buildings and who knows what else. If anybody tells you that they can personally redesign your whole education environment, be careful, it's a complicated business.
The third business you can go into is technology. Technology is becoming a rather broad thing. The major companies that are spending some of those millions of dollars on learning started off making technology platforms: Oracle would work with the Hogeschool on a platform for the Internet. They started off thinking of themselves as technology companies. But then they realised two things: they themselves have hundreds or thousands of employees who have to be trained - and trained all the time.
Secondly, they are selling products to people in the world that are of growing complexity, ever harder to understand. You have to train consumers to use your products. So, IT companies have suddenly realised they're not only making infrastructures, but they can become content providers and they can become service providers. And you can be damn sure that these companies, once they've got their own act together will say, 'Well, we've learnt how to train our 400,000 people, let's go after the market from the Hogeschool from Amsterdam, with their 20 or 30,000 students. We can do it better, we've more experience, we have more money.'
There will be competition from them, I promise you. It may not succeed, but it will come. So, if we have to become more competitive or have to think about competition, what are the success factors? These are words you've heard various times from various speakers: customisation, feedback, sharing and play. And the beautiful thing about those four subjects is that they're all incredibly labour-intensive - which the e-learning market does not understand.
They're beginning to, but they do not understand how much labour is required to customise, to provide feedback, to share and to support sharing and to help people play. You can play on your own if you're a rich venture capitalist, but you may not be a happy person while you're doing it. You need people to do these things.
Customisation: you're all here now, so this is a kind of a shared experience; but if I were to give everybody in this room exactly the same course on how to be a teacher, I don't think you'd be pleased. Everybody has different needs, a personal situation, a history, and a future. There is no limit to customisation. It's one of the basic dilemmas of the economy, but the logical end of customisation is one-to-one, or one teacher for one student. That's not practical, but there are degrees between one-to-one and one-to-a-million, which is what you get with those e-learning models.
Feedback: sounds simple, but it's not. This is the plastic.com site, a state-of-the-art, friendly, site. Study not just what it looks like on the screen, but also how it changes through time. I don't know whether it will last for 100 years, or two years, but it's where you can see feedback, and this notion of the community creating it's own environment. I'm quite fascinated by the fact that there are some things that machines can do.
There are thousands and thousands of tests online, where people pointlessly do tests about themselves and get ratings about their emotional intelligence, or how good they are at dealing with stress and all that stuff. 'Spiegel' is professionally done and leads to all sorts of interesting discussions with the teachers. Yes, you can test yourself, your teachers, a book, but the testing is a means to an end. So ratings, judging things and filling in polls, you can do brilliantly as things on the web. But they just set a process off. They are not the end; they are the beginning.
Peer-to-peer: sharing, delen in Dutch. We thought about putting on a presentation of Napster. My partner, Kristi van Riet, spends half the day on Napster. We work 15 hours a day for the Hogeschool and the other eight hours she spends in Napster. It's just the most wonderful thing.
Have you heard of Napster? It's where your students spend all their time swapping music, when they should be doing your assignments. I recommend that you go and do it yourself, or get one of your students to show what they're doing there, because it's not just about getting free music. It's not just about ripping off a music industry that richly deserves to be ripped off. It's about something else - spotting people who share your interest and using these jumps from person to person, or from song to song, or from track to track, to make completely new connections. Not just with other people, but with music that you did not know before.
There has been a tremendous row about Napster being the death of the music industry - which I hope it is - but the point is, Napster, as a concept of sharing, individuals sending files to each other, why does it have to stop at music? It doesn't. It can be course material, a lecture, a list of restaurants. Anything that can be recorded can be shared. So you have these tremendously dynamic, global situations where people get tremendous fun out of discovering new things. Imagine that your course materials are in there, or your ratings. Anything. There is no limit to what can happen. The consequences are remarkable, and we have to think about them because, as the peer-to-peer thing starts to take off, then we have to rethink once again what it is to be a teacher.
Play: we did a project 18 months ago, about children and visual wireless telephones. The whole story is about how children would take pictures of butterflies and nature and tell each other using their phones. Only we find that this 10-year-old boy was taking pictures of naked Barbie dolls and sending them to his friends via the network we had constructed with large amounts of European Union money. The point was they learned something - what, I don't know.
My lecture was originally entitled 'Five ways to earn.' This notion of the 'free agent' you've probably heard about. Part of the rhetoric of the Internet is that we all become self-employed enterprises and make gigantic amounts of money because of our networking abilities and our ability to sell ourselves and our services all over the world. It's probably going to be true for about one in a million from the world of education and learning. But they are not going to be typical. I had thought that I would be a free agent and all the scattered work that I do would make sense, but I began to realise that it doesn't make sense for most of us. Copyrights and royalties - the notion of making money out of what you write. It's OK, but it's kind of a static model.
As I said, content is something you do, not something you put on a web site. That's the problem with the copyright model, that plus Napster is going to smash it. The same problem applies to fee-per-use and micropayments. It's possible, but it's not going to be a big part of the learning value chain. So how about voluntary payments? In America, more money is spent giving tips to people in restaurants than is spent on the whole of the music industry; records, concert tickets, and so on. So voluntary payments, getting ten per cent tips from your students, could be one of the business models to operate in the future. Maybe you could have a job. Maybe you could stay right where you are but change everything, which would actually avoid the problem of having to deal with this question. But you're all going to be navigators, so every success as you do that.