What Education Should Learn From Napster

Remember Napster? That little peer-to-peer music sharing service that changed the face of the music industry forever?

Sean Parker, Napster’s founder, leveraged the fundamental principles of a new medium which flaunted radical change and the free exchange of information. The Internet brought the world together like never before, allowing us to share and trade the songs we love so dearly with like-minded listeners. In less than 6 months, Sean, with the help of every teen within reach of a dial-up connection, crushed the ivory walls of the music business.

The music industry was in a unique business. They had a business model that was highly lucrative and saw little to no change in over 50 years. On one end stood the music giants, producers [insert company names here]; on the other, a music hungry population with little to no choice in their music choices; and in the middle, the player who carried the majority of the burden — the Artist.

First you spent a lifetime creating music you loved. Then you had to catch the eye of a producer who also had to like your music. “Like” wasn’t good enough though. They would have to like your music more than the thousands of other songs they heard that month. And with close ties between agents and producers, unless you were cutting in an expensive agent (who also had to like you), you were probably never getting in front of a producer or an audience.

But what if all of these pieces fell together and you did find your audience? Well, you relied heavily on the radio DJ to play your song, and play it enough times for it to catch on for people…then you were on your road to success. But if it didn’t succeed, that might be the end of your hopes of ever becoming a music legend. When middle-men are removed, you live and die by your own sword.

In 2004, Justin Bieber, at that time only 12 years old, posted videos of himself singing on YouTube. He quickly became a Youtube sensation, with hundreds, then thousands, and today over 46 millions views on each of his videos. Famous hip-hop artist Usher discovered the young prodigy and helped him grow to the teen celebrity we know today. The people had spoken. YouTube proved to be the ultimate in a democratic rise to stardom.

Today with self publishing, and peer-to-peer learning platforms, such as StudySoup (shameless plug, yes), the world is your oyster – you don’t need anyone’s approval to post, share, and sell your content. Just build a network of people who are interested in your niche, and off you go into the world of virtual business. This has applied to music for over a decade, and just now we’re seeing this happen in the world of education.

Since the beginning of time, passing on stories and knowledge through language has been an intrinsic part of who we are – from the original cave paintings, to Homer’s Odyssey the only elements that stand the test of time are knowledge — and humans are hungry for knowledge. With the new found power of the internet to share, collaborate, and learn in real-time, we are only replicating what is the most natural of human tendencies. Peer-to-Peer learning is reaching a new frenzy in the online space as the social application Twitter is named as the #1 app in education over and over again.

Education is walking down the path of Napster, iTunes and Spotify. As proof, take a moment to change the word “artists” to educators, “producers” to publishers and “DJs” to salesmen in our story above. But you don’t really need to, do you? You’ve already connected the dots.

Platforms such as Youtube, MentorMob, StudySoup, Coursera, and more, are all aggregating knowledge and turning the individual educator into a celebrity. When there are no publishers or salespeople to get in the way, democracy rules in the education space, and the best content floats to the top, just as we saw with Justin Bieber.

SuperSimpleSongs has seen over 56 millions views on some of their videos, generating over $2 million in advertising dollars per year, just from posting on Youtube.

This year, the top teacher on TeachersPayTeachers grossed over $700,000 selling her course outlines, and class materials to other teachers.

The top seller on Udemy has made $453, 000, reaching over 7,502 students.

So it’s working. Marketplace economics are flattening a business model that has been broken for a few generations now. And a great teacher, who might reach a few thousand students in their entire life, can now educate millions. Now that is powerful. And to think, Peer to Peer learning platforms are just in their infancy. We’ll look back one day and gasp at the idea that knowledge wasn’t instantly accessible anywhere we went.

And what does it mean for the student, the learner, you? A world where information is at your fingertips — anything that incites curiosity can be explored immediately at any level of detail.

An early user of Napster explained his experience: “Napster hugely expanded my musical horizons. I felt like one of those mantis shrimps with trinocular vision.” Before Napster, you were introduced to a band by your parents, MTV or maybe peers from school. All of a sudden, a few clicks of a mouse could lead you to the Mecca of music — you could explore millions of new artists in this virtual world.

Just 10 years ago, if you decided to study Biology, then Biology information was all you got in the form of a fixed textbook, or an educated biology teacher. But now, a personal curiosity between the different applications of the word Envy vs. Jealousy, (a long road trip with a friend had us debating this, before Wikipedia was brought out as a tie breaker) encourages you to dive deep into the latin roots, as well as dozens of explanations, quickly becoming a language expert on this term and perhaps even triggering a greater curiosity for the subject as a whole. You are no longer stuck to your decisions — new learning opportunities are everywhere.
This piece recently appeared on Wired: http://insights.wired.com/profiles/blogs/what-education-should-learn-from-napster?xg_source=msg_appr_blogpost#ixzz30skWk25Q

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