In my continuing rant about the end of the course as we know it I offer further evidence. Yesterday’s Washington Post included a story about the revival of the music single in the digital age. According to Post writer J. Freedom du Lac (don’t you just love that name?) more than one-third of all music sales transactions are now for legally downloaded singles (353 million of 972 million in 2005). Of course, the full-length CD is still king, accounting for the other 619 million transactions and, obviously, the vast majority of revenue. But, as evidence that the “album” is fading as a delivery system, despite the popularity of digital singles, only a few more than 16 million digital full-length CDs were sold last year.
Music consumers want what they want and they don’t want the other stuff the music industry is trying to force them to buy. Can students who, in case you haven’t noticed, can’t live without their iPods, be far behind?
Here’s one way that this trend in content acquisition will reshape the educational landscape. Once upon a time, music consumers bought singles (for those of you too young to remember, on 45 rpm records). Then, slowly the album replaced the 45, but now we see the digital equivalent roaring back. Well, on college and university campuses professors used to teach courses and deliver lectures that were not part of courses. As recently as the early 1970s an historian at my grad school alma mater used to give a regular Thursday afternoon lecture on the historical antecedents of contemporary world problems and these lectures typically drew between 100 and 300 students.
Why did they come? Because they wanted to know something he could teach them.
They didn’t want to take his courses (well, maybe they did, but couldn’t), because they were majoring in chemical engineering or mathematics or physics or nursing, but they wanted to know something he could teach them.
Don’t be surprised if the lecture comes back–maybe not roaring back like the music single, but back nonetheless. And, don’t be surprised if these lectures also become podcasts that interested students will download and listen to/watch while working out, driving (no watching please!), or riding the bus to campus.
Will this kill the course as the primary delivery system in higher education? Not any time soon, because the course, like the CD, works for us as a way to sell content. But will it signal the beginning of the end? I think so.