The unintended consequences of technological change

For quite a while, one of my favorite examples of the unintended consequences of technological change has been the historical relationship between the invention of musical recording and live musical performance. Today that history came up in a surprising and intriguing context.

At the dawn of the age of commercial recorded music, many top musicians refused to go into recording studios and cut records, because they were afraid that audiences would then no longer be interested in hearing their live performances. That’s not how things worked out. As we now know, the artists who made recordings were able to build a much larger following. Demand for their live performances consequently increased.

Today I attended a talk by Bill Gates. During the Q&A, somebody asked him what he thought would be the long term effects of the growing practice of on-line education. He mentioned the historical precedent of music recording, and for me that was an “aha” moment. If music performance is any precedent, the recording and wide distribution of lectures will not kill the live lecture, but rather will result in a greater demand for live lectures by good teachers, as a result of the following they will develop among inspired learners. Bad teachers won’t fare as well.

On the other hand, the history of musical recording and distribution is still being written.

4 thoughts on “The unintended consequences of technological change”

  1. Coincidentally, I am voluntarily working on one of the online course supported by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. But my intention is removing the lecture. So far, I made 25 short math lecture videos (localization to Japanese). Since removing the lecture as much as possible produces an extra time of “real” teaching (as the course said). The real teaching means a mentor activity with students, usually one to one, or one to only a few. The teacher first asks the students to see videos, then asks them to try online practice problems. If there is a problem, the system reports to the teacher, then the teacher would like to teach one to one until the student understand the concept. Every child is different, own pace and mastery seems important factor to learn, especially math. It is an interesting online course for me that the idea is the lecture can be replaced by video’s, but the teaching is not. The online course founder once commented:

    If Newton made a YouTube calculus course, I didn’t have to made such videos… assuming he was good. But I want to my kids taught by human teachers.

    http://youtu.be/gM95HHI4gLk

    I personally want this system in German and Japanese also since I am teaching kids. German people are interested in the system. Many are working on it, but unfortunately, Japanese people don’t believe me (at least my friends don’t)… Maybe this doesn’t work, but I just would like to try it out…

  2. I wonder how well the comparison works between entertainment and education, both in general and in the context of this post.

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