Learning, streaming, and the creator economy

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My latest television obsession is HBO’s Mare of Easttown, and rather than wait this one out and stream seven episodes at once, we’re now watching episodes as they air on Sunday nights.

📺It’s like the old days—appointment TV. My two children still don’t get that their Gen X parents grew up in an era when we couldn’t watch a TV show whenever we wanted—or pause, fast-forward, and re-watch whenever we wanted.

📚Perhaps one day they’ll be telling their kids the same thing about school: how education was something you did when you stopped doing something else, such as work. Much like television when I was growing up in the 1980s, education today is still largely something that you turn on at a specific time rather than stream at any time.

But is that the learning model that will carry us into the post-pandemic economy where it’s clear that the workplace is in for a reset? 

Good morning, and thanks for reading NEXT. Today’s edition—1,200 words and a 4-minute read—looks at the future of learning and what the creator economy means for higher ed.

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Learning is episodic rather than the always-on model of streaming entertainment.

‘A Moment of Reinvention’

That’s how Unilever’s chief human resources officer, Leena Nair, described the post-pandemic workforce in an interview this week with Time magazine. The maker of everything from Dove soap to Hellman’s mayonnaise is trying out a four-day workweek in New Zealand and started a program called U-Renew, “where people can choose to get educated and take a sabbatical and Unilever pays their salary.”

“40% of core skills will change in the next five years, and 50% of all employees will need reskilling to support business growth,” Nair told Time.

What’s happening: We don’t really know yet, but the pandemic seems to be resetting the workforce (in what people want to do with their lives) and employers (what work needs to be done and how).

  • While whatever happens will likely take a few years to shake out, it will have widespread implications for how colleges and universities approach their offerings in career and professional development going forward. 

The big picture: Right now, many higher-education institutions follow the old television programming model that was popular until TiVo was introduced in the late 1990s and Netflix started streaming content in 2007. When we need to learn something new, we go “back to school.” Learning is episodic, rather than the continual, always-on model of streaming entertainment.

Why it matters: Other learning providers outside of traditional higher education, from LinkedIn Learning to Pluralsight to Coursera, have developed more flexible platforms.

  • In a moment of reinvention for workers and employers, higher education institutions risk losing this critical base of students if they don’t develop new kinds of programs and credentials to capture these lifelong learners.

Yes, but: The learning ecosystem with hundreds of new players is confusing to employers and employees alike.

  • A third of learners in the U.S. intending to enroll in an online program said in a recent survey that there are too many to choose from, they don’t know what they should be learning to succeed, and want more help with their career path.
  • A quarter of employers in the U.S. said in the same survey, underwritten by Pearson, that they’ve had difficulty finding the right external providers of employee learning and development and are uncertain of the value the programs provide.

The Creator Economy

“What’s the future of journalism when everyone is writing their own newsletter?” a friend texted me recently, asking if his daughter should pursue a career as a reporter like I did 26 years ago when I graduated from Ithaca College.

  • I was thinking of this question during the six-hour drive back from a board meeting in Ithaca last week when I got a chance to catch up on lots of podcasts—including Snap’s CEO on Sway about how the social media platform is building new revenue models for creators.
  • Everyone seems to be a creator these days—and not just in journalism. It’s happening in music, health and wellness, gaming. 

What’s happening: The creator economy represents the “fastest-growing type of small business,” according to a report last year by the venture capital firm SignalFire.

  • The rise of mobile phones that double as cameras and recording studios as well as apps and cloud technology allow anyone to produce content for a wider audience.
  • Individual creators are supported by a network of start-ups and established companies at a time when trust in organizations from record labels to newspapers is falling.

Why it matters: Over the last decade or so, all the rage in higher education has been entrepreneurship, a label that was slapped on basically everything on a college campus. Entrepreneurship centers were created, maker spaces built, events such as hackathons started, and courses developed. Even majors that were meant to bring out entrepreneurial skills in students were introduced.

  • Just like then, the question now is whether you can teach someone to become a creator.
  • Sure, the hard skills matter in becoming a creator. For instance, LinkedIn’s Dan Roth recently looked at the tools creators on the networking platform use—from Descript and Otter to Mighty Networks and Zest.
  • But such skill building must coexist in a college curriculum with a broader set of soft skills that help creators approach problems from many perspectives, experiment and figure out what works, and better understand the consequences of what they’re creating.

The big picture: What college students know about possible jobs remains limited to the occupations featured in books or television shows or those careers familiar to them from their childhood. So when students sift through job openings as seniors, many titles sound as if written in a foreign language.

  • Like entrepreneurship did a decade ago, the creator economy is taking off among college students because most remain unfamiliar with the jobs and careers that currently exist, and those they are familiar with—such as law, medicine, education—are changing in ways that make them less certain pathways compared to their parents’ generation.
  • “It matters for students during school to get more exposure to what jobs look like,” Rachel Lipson of Harvard’s Project on Workforce told me. 

Read more: The creator economy, rather than level the playing field, sometimes worsens the inequalities in the broader economy argues this piece in Harvard Business Review (h/t to Kelsey Donohue for pointing me to this).

Summer Melt

The admissions year that ended is still not over as some colleges have over-enrolled (a few campuses by a lot) and high school counselors report double deposits by more of their seniors than usual.

  • Syracuse University offered accepted students who had yet to commit and needed more time to decide a $1,000 credit if they ultimately chose Syracuse—supposedly to cover their loss of a deposit somewhere else.
  • I want to hear more about the changing enrollment picture over the summer. So if you’re a parent of a soon-to-be college freshman, a high school counselor, college admissions officer, or advise students on the college search, email me what you see happening or message me on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram. I plan to write more about this issue in the coming weeks.

SUPPLEMENTS

The Real Value of the Campus Experience: The Classroom
The Real Value of the Campus Experience: The Classroom

A new survey of more than 3,000 college students by Top Hat, an active learning platform used by schools, found that most want to see elements of online learning carried forward, and that when it comes to the value of their higher education investment, on-campus experiences are not nearly as significant a factor as the role of instructors in the classroom.

Advice to the Class of 2021
Advice to the Class of 2021

Over the summer, I’ll be featuring highlights from advice given in commencement speeches and elsewhere to the Class of 2021. We start here with a lesson I learned about following up.

Farewell to a Remote Year
Farewell to a Remote Year

We dropped the last episode of Season 4 of Future U–our 84th in total—before our usual summer break. As we look ahead to topics for next season, what should we focus on? Reach out on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Remember the U in our title is not just about institutions, it’s about learners, too.

Were Virtual Internships Any Good?
Were Virtual Internships Any Good?

In the last edition of NEXT, I mentioned soon-to-be-released research from the Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions at the University of Wisconsin at Madison that found higher levels of dissatisfaction with virtual internships versus in-person ones. The full research report is out. Here it is.

Until next time, Cheers — Jeff

To get in touch, find me on TwitterFacebookInstagram, and LinkedIn.

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