Thursday, September 08, 2005

Long Tail Education

Dan Hunt and I have been trying to pick apart some of these issues around graduate retention, art & design employment, and curriculum design, and I wanted to share a little about how these things are beginning to tie up for us. Dan was a final year student on the Multimedia Design program that I helmed, just at the time that we were beginning to see real changes in our expectations in terms of student employment in our specialism. A couple of years earlier it wasn't unusual for students to see themselves as fodder for the New Media machine, heading from education out into the world of the new media design agency (either freshly-minted or newly-reinvented as such). By the time Dan was graduating the .com bubble had well and truly burst, and the people with the smarts (us, of course) were beginning to bet on a much more fragmented future. We talked a lot at the time about how the bulk of new media-savvy graduates would increasingly enter niche vertical industries, hungry for clued-up employees to help them make the leap. Dan headed for the world of medical IT, but others have turned up in retail, local government, music promotion, video training, and TV production. Of course it's clear we were seeing the long tail in action, where the old behemoth industries would cease to command the bulk of employment opportunities just as big media is less and less in control of the majority of eyeballs. At the same time we were designing a New Media & Performance degree designed specifically to cater to these multiple (sometimes single student) niches, largely at the behest of Gregory Sporton, a firm advocate of such boutique courses as both profitable and relevant. For the most part the structures of Creative HE are still tied into a big head model rather than long tail: We pitch to large uniform student marketplaces, we design courses for big numbers of students, and we prepare them for a big media employment model (even though most of them will now never experience this). Even our eLearning models reflect this thinking, and that's one area where we'll be doing some work over the next few weeks.

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