Plays Vs. Movies Vs….Online Educations?

Reposted from my personal tumblr, because it’s still resonating with me.

The Inspiring Quote:

“Teaching today is like a stage play. A play can be seen by at most a few hundred people at a single sitting and it takes as much labor to produce the 100th viewing as it does to produce the first. As a result, plays are expensive. Online education makes teaching more like a movie. Movies can be seen by millions and the cost per viewer declines with more viewers. Now consider quality. The average movie actor is a better actor than the average stage actor. If you were making a movie with a potential audience in the millions wouldn’t you hire the best actors? With more viewers it also makes sense to substitute capital for labor, adding special effects, scenery, music and other quality improvements resulting in a movie experience unlike any that can be created on stage. Is there something ineffably great about a live performance? Occasionally, but the greatest stage performances are seen by only a handful of people.

The parallel between movies and plays and online and offline education has further lessons. First, the market for teachers will become more like the market for actors, a winner-take-all market with greater inequality and very big payments at the top. A principal player on Broadway might earn $62,500 a year, perhaps twice what a minor player might earn.[3] One of the biggest stars in the world, Julia Roberts, made $35,000 a week, or $1.62 million in a 50-week year performing in Three Days of Rain. Nevertheless, her stage salary pales in comparison to her typical payment of $10–$20 million per movie for much less work. Bigger markets support larger salaries, so the best teachers will earn much more in an online world.

Second, movies are better in many respects than plays, but no one doubts that a taped play is worse in all respects than a live play. Many of the early online forays into education were simply taped lectures, boring, flat, and worse than the same in-class lecture. To take full advantage of the online format, an online lecture has to be different from an in-class lecture. Different mediums demand different messaging. I turn to some of these differences now.”

Alex Tabarrok on why online education works. Tabarrok is the author of the TED book Launching The Innovation Renaissance: A New Path to Bring Smart Ideas to Market Fast.

The Rebuttal:

Well this is the biggest load of bullshit I’ve read since the election ended.


  1. Start off by saying you have a huge bias against plays if you do, in fact, have a HUGE bias against plays/live performance and a HUGE boner for movies. Just start by saying that so I know not to waste my time with you.
  2. “Consider the quality.” Yep, it’s obvious that the people who make the most in Hollywood are, in fact, the best actors. Among those movie actors, according to Forbes, who are WAY BETTER than any stage actor are: Taylor Lautner, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Adam Sandler, Will Smith (god do I love him so you know I’m being real with you right now), Kristen Stewart, Cameron Diaz, Kristen Wiig, and Jennifer Aniston. These people are obviously doing way better acting than anyone that has ever decided to perform. Also, IF ANYTHING, the Hollywood market does not show us that mass appeal will guarantee that the best actors will be hired, consequentially the online education market does not show us that the best TEACHERS will be hired and paid millions of dollars. He also admits that there will be a HUGE salary gap, which he somehow seems to think will be a good thing for teachers.
  3. “Second, movies are better in many respects than plays.” Uh, what respects? Are we talking about the writing? The acting? The production value? Are we talking about overall enjoyment? You can’t assert that movies are better in many respects than plays and then…not name any of those respects. Are we talking about art films versus Broadway plays (I’m thinking David Lynch anything versus Scarlett Johansson in “A View from the Bridge” because obviously Lynch would trump)?

I furthermore don’t think that the online education market has proven in itself to be better than the classroom education market. Perhaps this man is speaking purely of potential, and not what’s already in existence. Online education is its own valid form of education, except for when you have universities like University of Phoenix, which runs up the most student loan defaults with an education that does not meet any high-level standards. If we want to talk about the changing market of education and how online classrooms could possibly benefit us in the future, let’s do that. I’m all for that conversation. But let’s not treat the audience for that conversation like idiots who need a “metaphor” to understand the discussion, and let’s certainly not use the argument of setting a high standard by using the economic market of mass appeal.

Also then I clicked on the link in that quote, and here’s another quote from the same article written by that guy about his own teaching, italics are my own:

“The best way to increase the quality of teaching is to increase the number of students taught by the best teachers. Online education leverages the power of the best teachers, allowing them to teach many more students. Moreover, online education means that we also see the best at their best. I won’t comment on my teaching quality but what I can say without fear of dispute is that the 15 minutes of teaching in my TED talk was among the best 15 minutes of my career. Knowing the potential size of the TED audience, I honed my talk and visuals with months of practice. I’d rather be judged by my best 15 minutes than by my average 15 minutes. My offline students get my average 15 minutes; my online students get my best 15 minutes.”

That—though it is just my opinion—is all I need to read to know this man and I would probably agree on very, very little.

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