I have a new feature in the September issue of Fast Company which connects with DIY U. I was interested in the idea that TED is creating an education brand that is both OPEN and ELITE.

There are several obvious objections to the Harvard comparison:
-TED doesn’t grant degrees.
However, after speaking to many speakers, attendees, and TED fellows, I feel that association with the big TED conference, in person can confer some of the same benefits as an elite degree. Many participants talked about “having TED on a resume.”
There’s a potential wrinkle here in that the TEDx phenomenon dilutes the brand, not for TED itself but for participants. I spoke to one fellow who was plucked from obscurity to do a TED talk a couple of years ago and while it had great effects on his career, he says that these days when he says he’s done a TED talk people say, “Oh, TED New York? TED DC?” and he has to say, no, the REAL TED.
-TED doesn’t directly sponsor serious research or scholarship. No labs, no libraries.
However, it does connect scholars with donors, directly expanding the resources available for their work; and it gets them massive exposure, indirectly expanding the public’s support for this work. This hinges on the scholars’ ability to make their work vivid and meaningful to laypeople in an 18 minute speech. Should we ask any less of our best and brightest? Is this too trivial a task for a Nobel Prize winner? It shouldn’t be the only way we get resources to researchers because there is important work being done that’s too complicated and boring to be sold in this way, but it’s not a bad question to ask of them.
-TED doesn’t provide LEARNING but simply provides LECTURES.
This is true. Lectures=content and as David Wiley reminds us, content=infrastructure. It’s what you do on top of the infrastructure that counts–the conversations around, before, behind, and online. TED has done a lot to promote and facilitate that, especially by allowing people to adopt the TED structure.
-TED doesn’t pay its faculty!
Hrm. Yes, this is a bit of a problem. Do we want all of the world’s professors to have to operate as intellectual entrepreneurs, pandering for donations or shilling some (ahem) crappy book or another? No! Is there room for a class of really, really good lecturers who make their living in such a way, using free lectures as loss-leaders for the paid in-person appearances? Yes. Charles Dickens, Einstein, and Ralph Waldo Emerson are among many thinkers who did not count themselves superior to conducting public lecture tours as a means of supplementing their income.

I’m interested to see what my ed-tech people feel was strong and what was missing from this account.

One Response to “New Piece in Fast Company: Is TED the New Harvard?”

  1. Melissa says:

    Is TED the new Harvard? No, but it should be.

    Unfortunately, there is a traditional stigma regarding formal education and the perceived value that the framed piece of parchment paper holds. And the college with an unrivaled reputation that amasses the best brainpower perpetuates the notion that no other educational source can parallel it.

    What hasn’t quite fallen into the norms of effective learning is exactly what TED provides it’s audience. It’s the folks in the trenches, the innovators and the free-thinkers who are willing to expound their knowledge and experience on the very people who are eager to go out and implement parts of the lecture into their lives.

    Until change occurs, even in those most resistant, traditional perceptions will remain.


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