The Sharing Economy in Higher Education

Higher Education Institution for Sharing Economy Post

By Meg Knight |

There’s nothing like a crisis to stimulate fresh ideas and thinking. What was unthinkable previously suddenly becomes more palatable and unusual solutions to problems find traction.

Back in 2012, Lisa Gansky highlighted an interesting trend developing in business in her book (and subsequent TED Talk) The Mesh: Why The Future of Business is Sharing. At the time, it was a radical new concept as she explored the increasing trend of sharing services rather than each business operating unilaterally. Since the book’s release in 2012, the trend has exploded across multiple industries and offerings. The obvious ones are Uber, Airbnb, and Lyft, but this trend has gained increasing popularity and momentum as people have become accustomed to the mindset shift necessary.

Now in the post-pandemic environment where higher education institutions are facing the need to reimagine their business models, their move to the sharing economy marks an interesting inflection point.

The sharing economy is an ethos and way of thinking whose time has come. While it has its challenges, it offers an interesting new lens through which to look at what could be possible. This recent article by the New York Times sheds light on the significant incentives for both institutions. In this instance, we hear about a smaller college (Adrian College) starting to offer courses that were developed by a larger college (Michigan State University).

‘Using technologies that made major progress during the pandemic — most notably, the delivery of education online — course sharing generally teams up universities and colleges that have extra space in online classes with partner institutions that want to add new programs but can’t afford the time or money to develop them alone.’ 

New York Times

The time and expense of developing online courses are often significant, and it makes financial sense to seek alternative sources of revenue for them. Michigan State University spent considerable time and resources developing courses and started to think about alternative ways of monetizing them. They reached an agreement with Adrian College that they could offer some spaces on the Michigan State courses to their students. This benefited both institutions in that Adrian College was able to attract and retain students with a fuller and broader course offering and Michigan State University was able to benefit from spreading the cost of the development over more students. Students benefit too as they are able to access courses that would otherwise be unavailable to them due to geographical or financial constraints.

This phenomenon is also referred to as a SPOC or Small Private Online Course. As defined in MIT’s white paper Ideas for Designing an Affordable New Educational Institution: “A SPOC makes it possible for other schools to benefit from curricula developed at institutions like MIT.”
IDEAS FOR DESIGNING An Affordable New Educational Institution

There are many iterations of a sharing economy—a few weeks ago we reported on Vermont colleges joining forces and amalgamating their offerings into a single organization. That is a more radical and whole-scale change compared to the relatively straightforward sharing of online course offerings.

We believe that this trend is set to continue and we watch with interest how decades-old norms are questioned, assumptions challenged and mindsets are broken open. The EdTech industry is the ideal partner in this environment, as our expertise and speed of development can expedite the move to online offerings, thereby enabling sharing in a simpler, faster, and more financially viable way. Without the decades-old traditional ways of doing things, we are nimbler and can offer innovative solutions that more established institutions may struggle to take advantage of.

Meg Knight

Meg Knight
GLOBAL COO