In his book The Content Trap, Bharat Anand claims that many businesses and educators have entirely missed the point about the digital age. Content is not king: networks are.
When printed newspapers saw their circulations fall off a cliff they bet the farm on content – more of it, and of higher quality. But, Anand argues, the loss of their position at the locus of networks – as hubs for corporate and private advertising, which moved to Facebook, Gumtree or Ebay almost overnight – was the real problem. Newspapers could have lived with a drop in circulations, but losing classifieds was the real killer.
Content is often a primary concern to many students – ‘we want more videos’, ‘what about lecture capture?’, ‘where can I download the slides?’. But is this because we’ve conditioned them to see content dissemination as the university’s main responsibility? If universities continue to focus their resources on content delivery, are they in danger of falling into the content trap?
Obviously educators still have to create or curate some content (whether that’s journal articles, textbook chapters, podcasts or videos) as the foundation for teaching. But we seem to be approaching a tipping point. The role of the (digital) university might not be developing and disseminating content, but facilitating learning networks and being able to react to what these networks are telling us.
Whisper it, but in digital education content might no longer be king.