Post Industrial Education

Professional media, which in the context my students bring means largely commercial broadcast media, is an industrial model. From preproduction to broadcast it is an exercise in a variety of forms of time and motion management, divisions of labour and expertise, and production control. Skills are very highly specialised, which is what distinguishes it from the traditional assembly line, but under the surface the same principles and logics apply.

This model was essential to professional media because each part of the process was incredibly expensive. When I did a media degree in the mid 1980s the single chip rather large professional quality video camera that we used cost tens of thousands of dollars. The U-Matic edit suite, same. And we didn’t even have any site of transmission or broadcast to actually show what was made outside of our immediate cohert because air time sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars. All of this was expensive, not because the skills were rare, but because the equipment to make, and the possibilities for distribution, were so scarce, and they were scarce because they were so expensive. In such a system each moment counts, and so Taylorist production principles are required to maximise efficiencies.

None of these things matter today. None. Cost of production is literally what you choose it to be. Cost of distribution the same. This is simultaneously terrifying and exciting. For students who still think that traditional industrial media institutions are where their careers lie I show that what underwrites that model is dissolving, and outside of the free labour collected and monetised by YouTube et al, no one seems to yet have an alternative that pays for creative and intellectual media labour in lieu of advertising to newspapers, radio and television stations. It is exciting because previous constraints on media making and sharing, which all involved forms and varieties of scarcity, are gone. We can make, make well, and create an audience if we want.

This is what I describe as post industrial media with new practices, new material forms and emerging institutional regimes, in concert with what I characterise as network literacy, becoming the contemporary media condition. (I think the same argument and terms can be rather usefully applied to the university too.)

In this environment the role of the university needs to change. When I was a student one of the reasons I came to university was to access intellectual expertise and knowledge (the academics), a scholarly library, some media making tools (a video camera and edit suite) and to find a community of people interested in these things. Outside of university all of these things were scarce. Today it is to state the bloody obvious that none of these are scarce anymore. Online I can find and join any number of academic communities of like minded people, in many cases populated by key scholars from around the world. I can find an enormous amount of literature available online, both free and illegal, download course material through iTunesU or even enrol in a free online course. I have in my pocket a phone with a video camera and editor that makes the $40,000 camera and $30,000 edit suite I used in the mid 1980s appear, well, comedic. Given this, what now is the role of a university media degree?

Some answers to this can be found in this course that explores post industrial video. Content still matters, but the experience of learning and being a media practitioner as a mindful, reflective, and critical maker and contributor are explicitly foregrounded. It is this experience, in what is actually a carefully crafted and managed framework (even where all appearances suggest the contrary) that is what a degree offers and needs to enable, now. I think once there was a distance or difference between learning and practice, where you read and thought, and perhaps made, but it happened in contexts distant from ‘real’ media making and ‘real’ knowledge creation. That distinction is gone for all the reasons listed above, and now this subject (and I think media degrees more generally) needs to teach (through how they are performed as much by content, well I’d probably say performance counts now for more than content) how to ‘be’ a critical media practitioner in the network. Not what such a thing is, what it might be about, but what it is to be that. This has direct implications for education. My university is a deeply industrial institution, expressed through things like teachers, units of time called classes, units of making which are premised on explicit measurement through assessment, regimes of standardisation and so on. It requires a move towards a post industrial education which rethinks the experience of being a student, a learner, and a teacher.


Downes, Stephen. “Half an Hour: Review: The Edupunks’ Guide, by Anya Kamenetz.” Half an Hour 8 Aug. 2011. Web. 7 Sept. 2012.

Miles, Adrian. “Quantity and Quality in University Teaching.” Presentation at the Teaching and Learning with Vision Conference, 2011, Gold Coast, Queensland.

Miles, Adrian, ed. Post Industrial Media: Education? Post Industrial Media Publishing, 2012. Post Industrial Media Pamphlets 1.

Miles, Adrian. “Post Industrial Media 2.0.” Staff Presentation Media Research Retreat, Strathvea. 2010.

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