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Is Education a bundle like TV and Newspapers?

August 7, 2012

A bundle is a collection of things that make something whole. I think you can trace the downfall of industries to the un-bundling of content.

The first bundle to fall was the Record. Napster gets a lot of credit for changing the record

Timeline of file sharing

Timeline of file sharing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

business, but what it really did was un-bundle songs. Prior to Napster, if people wanted the hit, they bought the album. An album was $14-$20 because it had 10-15 songs on it. Concept albums were even better – they told a story in the songs.

Hits no longer sell albums, they sell MP3’s at less than a dollar. So a hit that used to earn $14 in the bundle, earns less than a dollar alone.


The next casualty of the digital era was the bundle we call the newspaper. Prior to the Internet, if someone wanted the box scores or the sports section, they had to buy the bundle.

To newspapers, the bundle was more than just the 50 cents. The bundle was readership of ads. If someone bought the paper, it was assumed that all ads were seen. We know by our own habits that we might only read the sports section, or business, or the front page. But the fact that the paper is in our hands means all the ads could be seen.

And that’s how they were sold.

The internet un-bundled the articles and the sections, and undermined the business model. Aside from the strange notion that online was free and the paper was 50 cents, the real costs came from the loss of potential eyeballs. When someone goes to read an article online, they only saw the ads on that article. No longer could it be assumed that they saw all ads in the bundle.

Cable TV (and radio)

One of the last bundles still holding on is cable TV. In order to get Showtime or HBO we have to buy the bundle. The business model of TV, and the era of incredibly good TV is predicated on the notion of the bundle. People pay upward of $100 a month for the bundle. But that will change.

There will be a time where the Internet is easily accessible from TVs. When that time comes, watching Netflix

(the first un-bundler) and livestreams will stop the need for the bundle. I can buy, and watch all Arsenal games online for about $100 a year. For a little more, one can buy all NHL games. One can see a time wherein the leagues sell their programming directly from around the world. Once that happens, it isn’t far off where records and newspapers went. TV will un-bundle, and when it does, it will require a new model. Incidentally, and off-topic, the new model could advertise to people instead of a demographics, but that’s another blog post.

So what does this have to do with education?

It is my opinion that online learning is an attempt to un-bundle the College. University of Phoenix and other online schools are taking the classes out of the experience.

Think about it: as more schools consider online courses, and open badge systems re-think the ‘degree’, what is lost is the College bundle. The experience of moving in – the experience of joining clubs and teams and fraternities. The parties. The shared experiences that are also a part of the College experience.

There are other bundles out there. This one, in my opinion, is worth keeping.

Full disclosure: I work at a 4-year College, so I’m biased.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 8, 2012 5:27 pm

    I would sort of hate to lose the college/university experience too, but I am wondering if we are not already headed in that direction due to costs? The cost of higher education has gone up dramatically over the past 20 years and keeps going up. We can already see changes in consumer behavior such as students choosing to go to community colleges and then transferring to four-year schools. Picking colleges and universities closer to “home” and living at home with parents/versus going away and paying for room and board. The number of students that work full or part time during the school years versus those in years past.

    • August 9, 2012 3:24 pm

      Good points. I’ll counter with two points:

      1. A school is about more than the classes. What one learns in running a group, or being part of a team is important as well. Un-bundle that and you lose all that. There isn’t a University of Phoenix football team. The players miss that shared experience. So do the fans. Is what they miss out on worth the added the costs? I think that’s a valid question, but it isn’t being asked when price points are the only topic.

      2. How engaged are students at a computer? With online learning, Facebook is a click away (or open on the screen). How engaged are students? It isn’t in the best interest of a for profit school to fail everyone, so what are you left with, really? I’m not arguing that all students can’t focus, but it is an issue. IRL, you have to engage more.

  2. daniel permalink
    November 2, 2012 7:19 am

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