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Digital technology is changing other knowledge industries much faster than higher education, but universities are still undergoing tremendous changes. Therefore, observing consumer behavior in music, movies, and newspapers from the side can provide an in-depth understanding of the development direction of higher education and what leaders can prepare for the future.

Once upon a time, the music industry meant phonographs, Victrolas and record players, as well as large companies called record companies that controlled the content of recordings, the talents who recorded them, and the sales of records. The advent of cassette tapes allowed consumers to record the music they wanted without having to buy entire albums sold by record companies, and the power of record companies began to decline steadily. But it is the digital revolution and the introduction of the MP3 audio file format and music file sharing service initiated by Napster that have changed the industry dramatically. Today, consumers-thanks to online streaming services like Apple, Spotify and Amazon-can play all the music they can handle for a small subscription price.

The film industry is also dominated by a few studios that control talent, production and distribution. Studios face competition and antitrust regulation, breaking their control over production and distribution. The development and widespread adoption of new technologies (VHS tapes and DVD discs) have enhanced consumer capabilities. But the digital age has brought the rise of Netflix and other streaming services-so many that it is difficult to track all these services today. Some people even extend their activities to film production. Most importantly, consumers can control where, when and media they consume.

National newspapers started earlier than these other industries and differed in two main ways. They grow locally, and most of their revenue comes from advertising rather than customers. With the advent of radio and television, newspapers tried to adapt and control the market by purchasing radio and television stations. By 1953, newspapers owned 40% of television stations and 64% of operating radio stations in the United States. The Federal Communications Commission enacted regulations restricting cross-ownership of media in 1975. Then there is the Internet, and other news sources, social media, podcasts, blogs, etc. The circulation of newspapers fell by nearly half between 2005 and 2018, from 53.3 million copies to 28.5 million copies, and advertising revenue fell by more than 70% over the same period, from US$49.4 billion to US$14.3 billion. Consumers can place classified ads on Craigslist and other sites for free, and advertisers can reach target audiences more effectively through digital advertising through Facebook or Google. Once again, digital disruption has disrupted an industry.

Of course, higher education is obviously different from those areas of consumption. Many universities are non-profit organizations. Quite a part is public. Students only register at different times in their lives, although the benefits last a lifetime.

Our universities must of course adapt to the changes brought about by digital technology, but they have not suffered as much damage as other departments.

In other words, higher education will not be affected by these consumer-driven digital age forces similar to the music industry’s belief that listeners will reject easily accessible MP3 files because they lack the high-fidelity quality of vinyl records. A small group of audiophiles still choose these recordings, but most listeners clearly chose to access, choose, and control.

With the development of the second wave of digital advances, including greater use of big data, machine learning, artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, and more and more broadband technologies, higher education should look forward to the emergence of alternative methods to challenge current models . Early signs include the recent growth of alternative certificates, the need for continuous learning and skills upgrading to stay up to date, and increasing attention to the cost and value of higher education.

Horizontal observation can help higher education avoid some of the mistakes other industries make when facing digital disruptions. To this end, higher education leaders need to:

  • Recognize that higher education is an education business, not a campus, degree, or credit business.
  • Knowing that tomorrow will not be a repeat of yesterday.
  • Consider long-term rather than mainly short-term.
  • Shift the focus from the current industrial era model of higher education, which focuses on organization and production, to the digital era, which focuses on consumers and consumption.
  • Understanding the early failure of innovation and reform initiatives does not equate to a comprehensive verification of traditional models.
  • Carefully monitor emerging competitors, changing consumer tastes and new technologies, and learn from them.
  • Research and study the history of higher education, social forces acting on higher education, and knowledge organizations outside higher education.

Looking at other knowledge industries, we cannot tell us what higher education will look like, the exact nature of the changes it will experience or provide an exact timeline for the changes, but it does help. Because the digital revolution is likely to put more power in the hands of learners, and lead to anytime, anywhere, student-oriented choice, and may transform our current model into a more unbundled, ” All-you-can-eat” model. “(May be based on subscription) personalized education.

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