How On-Demand Culture Affects Learning

tv viewerI wrote recently on another site about "cord-cutting" and about the rise of the group I call "The Disconnected" My Millennial son has cut the cord to his cable provider. He did it not only to save money, but because he simply doesn't have time to watch everything that is out there. Like many people, he mostly watches things on demand, either via a DVR or sites that allow on-demand viewing. He hasn't cut all his viewing bills to $0. He purchased Sling services which currently starts at $20 a month and offers streaming options. He still has his Netflix streaming account and can get movies and shows using his Amazon Prime account. He thinks I am a dinosaur for still getting Netflix DVDs in the mail. Netflix probably feels the same way and I am sure mailing DVDs will disappear entirely in the near future. I'm getting all kinds of offers (see bottom of post) to alternatives to my cable subscription.

I picked up a book in the library recently called On-Demand Culture that focuses on how this is changing the movie industry. Media is not my focus on this site, but it is a good example of on-demand culture.

It is not just about people watching films at home, but how the movie industry is changing because of digital technologies. Most people don't think about that film distributors now send films to theaters electronically. But consumers not only purchase or rent movies instantly online, but they are streaming them to high-definition televisions, their laptops and often to small mobile devices. When TV made its entrance bigtime in the 1950s, the movies reacted by going big with wide screens and color that TV couldn't compete with in quality. TV has caught up in many ways with that quality issue. (You can download parts of that book at

Amazon is offering me an Amazon Channels Free Trial and suggests using Prime to watch thousands of movies and TV shows on demand. They even asked me to try an HBO Free Trial, which I would think is almost their competition these days.

With all these deals, why wouldn't everyone cut the cord? One reason people hang on is because many of these other services don't offer your local channels and some "basic" cable channels like CNN or sports channels.

modern HDTV antenna

A friend of mine was in that situation and started to investigate the HDTV antennas that are available. This seems like a throwback to the 1950s and 60s when every home had an antenna on the roof or a "rabbit ears" antenna on top of the TV.

The current generation of antennas allow you to pull in HDTV network programming for free - just like in the old days - with no monthly fee or subscription. It sounds ideal, but you are not going to get all that cable content, though you should get your local CBS, NBC and ABC affiliates and some other channels.

Adjusting your TV antenna 60 years ago had become a kind of art. You learned which way to turn it for channel 2 as opposed to how to get channel 7. People hooked up additional wires, tin foil and other things to them to increase the pickup. The new 360º multi-directional designs eliminate constant adjustments and they support up to 1080i HDTV broadcasts. But they have limits.

Many products say they can pull channels from towers that are within 40 miles of your TV. I live well within that range of New York City, so I probably could get all the local channels. Most of these products also have disclaimers that reception quality and channels received will depend on not only your distance from towers, but broadcast power, terrain and other factors like buildings and power lines. 

modern, old-style, outdoor antenna

I found that you can still buy rooftop TV antennas that look a lot like the ones from 50 years ago, though they are much more sophisticated and include amplifiers and other devices.

All of this media movement is part of the "on-demand" movement that started with VCRs that allowed us to "time shift" our viewing habits and terrified the TV industry. We still have some live event TV that is rarely watched at a later date. The upcoming Oscars and certainly the Super Bowl are perfect examples of "event TV" that is viewed live and that advertisers and channels love because they can easily measure the audience share.

I still like to go to a movie theater, but I go far less than I did in the past. Going to a theater has also become a kind of event. I go to films that I don't want to wait to see in a few weeks or month when they make it to my TV.

An “on-demand culture,” is shifting not only our viewing habits but many of our other expectations. When do people want to shop, or fill in an application? Any time at all is the answer. On demand. Even education, which has been my life's work, has gone on-demand with online content and online courses that allow student to time shift their education and pick and choose what content they want to view and when they want to view it. Most college professors have had to become proficient at creating digital content even if they still teach face-to-face in a classroom. Am I ready to cut the cord?  I'm watching the examples of my friend and my son. Maybe this dinosaur sees an asteroid headed his way.


Event-Based Internet

Event-based Internet is going to be something you will hear more about this year. Though I had heard the term used, the first real application of it that I experienced was a game. But don't think this is all about fun and games. Look online and you will find examples of event-based Internet biosurveillance and event-based Internet robot teleoperation systems and other very sophisticated uses, especially connected to the Internet of Things (IoT).

HQWhat did more than a million people do this past Sunday night at 9pm ET? They tuned in on their mobile devices to HQ Trivia, a game show, on their phones.  

For a few generations that have become used to time-shifting their viewing, this real-time game is a switch. 

The HQ app has had early issues in scaling to the big numbers with game delays, video lag and times when the game just had to be rebooted. But it already has at least one imitator called "The Q" which looks almost identical in design, and imitation is supposed to be a form of flattery.

This 12-question trivia quiz has money prizes. Usually, the prize is $2000, but sometimes it jumps to $10 or $20K. But since there are multiple survivors of the 12 questions that win, the prizes are often less than $25 each.

Still, I see the show's potential (Is it actually a "show?") Business model? Sponsors, commercial breaks, sponsors and product placement in the questions, answers and banter in-between questions.

The bigger trend here is that this is a return to TV "appointment viewing."  Advertisers like that and it only really occurs these days with sports, some news and award shows. (HQ pulled in its first audience of more than a million Sunday during the Golden Globe Awards, so...) 

And is there some education connection in all this?  Event-based Internet, like its TV equivalent, is engaging. Could it bring back "The Disconnected" learner?  

I found a NASA report on "Lessons Learned from Real-Time, Event-Based Internet Science Communications."  This report is focused on sharing science activities in real-time in order to involve and engage students and the public about science.

Event-based distributed systems are being used in areas such as enterprise management, information dissemination, finance,
environmental monitoring and geo-spatial systems.

Education has been "event-based" for hundreds of years. But learners have been time-shifting learning via distance education and especially via online learning for only a few decades. Event-based learning sounds a bit like hybrid or blended learning. But one difference is that learners are probably not going to tune in and be engaged with just a live lecture. Will it take a real event and maybe even gamification to get live learning? 

In all my years teaching online, I have never been able to have all of a course's student attend a "live" session either because of time zone differences, work schedules or perhaps content that just wasn't compelling enough.

What will "Event-based Learning" look like?

Bleeding Edgy Deep Learning

Deep learning is a hot topic right now, but it is not lightweight or something I would imagine learners who are not in the computer science world to take very seriously. But I stumbled upon this video introduction that certainly goes for an edgier presentation of this serious subject and obviously is trying to appeal to a non-traditional audience.

That audience would be part of what I refer to as both Education 2.0 and also that segment of learners who are The Disconnected.  I see these disconnected learners as a wider age group than "Millennials." They are the potential students in our undergraduate and graduate programs, but also older people already in the workplace looking to move or advance their careers. The younger ones have never been connected to traditional forms of media consumption and services and have no plan to ever be connected to them. And that is also how they feel about education. You learn where and when you can learn with little concern for credits and degrees.

The video I found (below) is an "Intro to Deep Learning" billed as being "for anyone who wants to become a deep learning engineer." It is supposed to take you from "the very basics of deep learning to the bleeding edge over the course of 4 months." That is quite a trip. 

The sample video is on how to predict an animal’s body weight given it’s brain weight using linear regression via 10 lines of Python.

Though the YouTube content (created by and starring Siraj Raval) is totally free, he also has a partnership with Udacity in order to offer a new Deep Learning Nanodegree Foundation program. Udacity will also be providing guaranteed admission to their Artificial Intelligence and Self-Driving Car Nanodegree programs to all graduates. 

Is this a good marketing effort bu Udacity? Will it reach new and disconnected learners? Will they simply use the videos and resources to learn or make that connection to some kind of degree/certification that might tell an employer that they know something about deep learning? I don't have the deep learning program that can predict that. I'm not sure it exists. Yet.


This is the code via GitHub for "How to Make a Prediction - Intro to Deep Learning #1' by Siraj Raval on YouTube

This lesson uses simple linear regression. "Simple" is a relative term here, as many people would not find it simple, as in "easy." It is a statistical method that allows us to summarize and study relationships between two continuous (quantitative) variables. This lesson via Penn State introduces the concept and basic procedures of simple linear regression.

You might also want to look at this tutorial on the topic via

Where We Work

workplaceThere have been at least two decades of people meeting online. Face to face meeting went the way of face to face classes - moving online. Then there was a reaction to too many online meetings. People wanted to be with people again. 

Enter Meetup, whose purpose is to connect people to one another in the real world around interests (learning Spanish, writing poetry, political activism etc.) Meetup has 35 million members and now it will merge with its new owner WeWork

WeWork is a global network of workspaces. They offer people spaces for creativity, focus, connection. Spaces to work. WeWork is now valued at close to $20 billion - that's the tech startup land of Uber and Airbnb.

This merger news got me thinking again about learning spaces. The WeWork/Meetup models are not irrelevant to the ideas of face to face, online and especially hybrid learning models - and the spaces that work best for those modes of learning.

Think about how much talk there is about the importance of informal learning. That is a kind of learning that is not best suited for a classroom with rows of desks facing an instructor up front. Online learning is effective when learners have a sense of a space, virtual though it ma be, and a sense of community online. Hybrid or blended learning need to use the best of both those worlds.

It might be fruitful for educators to study what Meetup and WeWork do well and see if it can be applied to educational settings.

This post first appeared on

Education and the Gig Economy

gigI mentioned the Gig Economy to a colleague at a college last week and he said he had never heard of the term. I said that "gig" is a term I associate with musicians who move from job to job, gig to gig. Now, it is being applied to a labor market characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs. "But it has nothing to do with education," he commented. That got me thinking. Is it affecting education?

A study by Intuit predicted that by 2020, 40 percent of American workers will be independent contractors. Most discussions of the gig economy talk about job sharing apps like Uber, Instacart and TaskRabbit. There has long been short term, contract and freelance work being done in the labor market. But the type that is being done by college graduates is said to have grown by more than 50% over the last decade.

Jeff Selingo referenced studies that contend that all the net job growth since the Great Recession has been in the gig or contract economy, and that 47% of college-age students did some sort of freelancing work last year, along with 43% of millennials.

My first thought about gig work in higher education is adjuncts. With more and more adjuncts (and fewer full-time faculty) being used in colleges, many adjuncts put together gigs at several schools. If teaching is your only job, that means trying to get three or more classes per semester fall, spring and summer.

I pulled some books off the bookstore shelf this past weekend and looked at what is being written about The Future Workplace ExperienceThe Gig Economy and Thriving in the Gig Economy are examples. 

They talk about dealing with disruption in recruiting and engaging employees A lot of the popular of the media focus is on the low end of the skill spectrum. Less attention is given to college grads and professionals who have chosen this independent employment route.

I found so many different stats on the size of this gig workforce that I hesitate to link to a source. One book says more than a third of Americans are working in the gig economy. That seems high by my own circle of friends and colleagues, but this includes short-term jobs, contract work, and freelance assignments 

I am now officially in retirement - or unretirement as I prefer to say. I have written elsewhere about unretirement and freelance work which is part of the gig economy. I take on teaching, web and instructional design gigs on a very selective basis. I choose things that interest me and allow me the freedom to work when I want to work and from where I want to work.  Sometimes the work comes from traditional places. I did a 6-month gig with a nearby community college that I had worked at full-time in the past. I have two new web clients for whom I am designing sites and e-commerce stores.

But let's return to what this might have to do with education. Higher education as preparation for a job has always been a topic of debate. "It's not job training," is what many professors would say. Employers have always played a large role in the training and professional development of their workers whether they have degrees or not.

In a gig economy, freelancers have to be self-directed in their learning. They need to decide what knowledge they’re missing, where to acquire it, how to fit it in to their day and how to pay for it. The free (as in MOOC and other online opportunities) is very appealing. Do schools that charge tuition and have traditional classes have any appeal to these people?

Certainly, driving for Uber doesn't require a degree, though having some business training in order to be self-employed would be beneficial. But my interest is more with "professional" freelancers. Take as an example, someone who has some college, certification or preferably a degree, that makes them able to promote themselves as an instructional designer or social media manager. I choose those two because I have done both as a freelancer and I know that if I look right now on a jobs site such as Glassdoor I will find hundreds of opportunities for those two areas locally.

Businesses and colleges save resources in terms of benefits, office space and training by employing these people. They also have the ability to contract with experts for specific projects who might be too high-priced to maintain on staff.

For some freelancers I know, a gig economy appeals because it offers them more control over their work-life balance. In that case, they are selecting jobs that they're interested in, rather than entering the gig economy because they are unable to attain employment, and so pick up whatever temporary gigs they can land. The latter is often the case with adjunct faculty. 

To someone mixing together short-term jobs, contract work, and freelance assignments, where would they go to find additional professional development?

Books like The Gig Economy - with its appealing subtitle offer of being "The Complete Guide to Getting Better Work, Taking More Time Off, and Financing the Life You Want" - is more interested in real-world corporate examples (Airbnb, Lyft, Uber, Etsy, TaskRabbit, France's BlaBlaCar, China's Didi Kuaidi, and India's Ola) as crowd-based capitalism.

The freelancer may not be much concerned with emerging blockchain technologies, but she is certainly part of the changing future of work.

The future is always a land of questions: Will we live in a world of empowered entrepreneurs who enjoy professional flexibility and independence? Will these gig economy workers become disenfranchised, laborers jumping from gig to gig, always looking for work and paying heir own health benefits? How will this affect labor unions, self-regulatory organizations, labor law, and a new generation of retirees who have a more limited social safety net? Are long-term careers at one or two companies a thing of the past?

Robin Chase, founder of Zipcar, the world’s largest car sharing company, said, “My father had one job in his life, I’ve had six in mine. My kids will have six at the same time.”

The one thing all observers seem to agree on is that the way we work is changing.

Jennifer Lachs writes on about that changing working world and the possible impact it may have on education. I hadn't thought of it as a gig economy job but of course substitute teachers in K-12 education have long been employed on a freelance basis. The education and training industry is among the top 5 highest demand industries for freelance workers due to the high level of specialization and rise of virtual education.

I know of a dozen or so teachers who do online teaching and tutoring as a way to supplement their income. For decades, professors have done freelance writing and thesis editing and much of that has moved online. My wife and I are currently editing a dissertation via email and shared files along with the occasional phone conference.

The writing center I helped build at a community college has relied on online tutoring for student writing as a way to supplement the face-to-face tutoring. Online appealed to students, but it also offered additional work for some of out part-time tutors and others who added it to the gig list.

Are we preparing students for the gig economy once they graduate? No. 

A friend pointed me at "It’s a Project-Based World" which was a thought leadership campaign by Getting Smart to explore the economic realities of a project-based world. The purpose of the campaign: to promote equity and access to deeper learning outcomes for all students. There are blog posts, podcast interviews, publications, and infographics around the preparation of students, teachers and leaders for a project-based world. The focus there seems to be less on obtaining deeper knowledge, and more on teaching skills that students will need in the modern working world.

Finally, I think that the gig economy will have a greater impact on traditional education than traditional education will have on the gig economy. It accounts for employment growth statistics, but secondary or post-secondary schools don't prepare students for this type of work.