What Online Education Shares with IKEA

Ethan Gach

I write about comics, video games and American politics. I fear death above all things. Just below that is waking up in the morning to go to work. You can follow me on Twitter at @ethangach or at my blog, gamingvulture.tumblr.com. And though my opinions aren’t for hire, my virtue is.

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41 Responses

  1. NewDealer says:

    I don’t think I’ve owned IKEA anything since my dorm room in undergrad. Most of my furniture during my 20s in NYC were hand-me downs from my parents. When I moved to the Bay Area, I got all new stuff and went for the more expensive and yuppie room and board. Largely because it looks better, does not require assembly, and does not ruin the environment by being made out of pressboard. My experience with IKEA is that it tends to break easily.

    When it comes to on-line education, I am also a skeptic that it will be a game-changer. To me MOOC is best for using for personal enrichment more than actual credentialism. I can totally see following an MOOC on Ulysses by James Joyce or Rememberance of Things Past by Proust, etc because it would give me aid in understanding the works and also structure. Joyce is not really a book you can read solo unless you are very dedicated. It would be cool to have group to read it with though and a friendly guide.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to NewDealer says:

      Insert disclaimer about realizing that I was very lucky to get all new furniture at 28. I realize that this is not an option for many people and that IKEA might be their best option.

      Yet I don’t think it is good for the environment.

      I’ve heard people say that the difference between American and European consumption habits is that Americans like owning a lot of very affordable/cheap things. Europeans prefer owning stuff of higher quality and will own less. I can’t comment on the veracity of this observation or not. H&M and IKEA do come from Europe and there seemed to be plenty of department stores selling cheaper goods for lower prices.

      But I think talking about changing consumptions happen into owning fewer but higher quality stuff could be worth havingReport

      • Ethan Gach in reply to NewDealer says:

        I’ve long held this suspicion as well.

        My parents are actually very avid furniture collectors–not necessarily in that they buy and sell, but my dad has been known to drive several states over to get a deal on a particular make by X brand of a hutch or coffee table.

        Likewise, my girlfriend are trying to do a little bit of both. We’ll splurge on certain pieces (bookcase, table) and get second-hand/IKEA stuff to fool in the holes for now. Most likely we should be able to pass on some of that stuff to our siblings when they go through college/graduate and get their first apartment.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to NewDealer says:

        Americans tend to have more space than Europeans on average. Having more space to fill in their homes or even apartments, Americans are more likely to go for the cheap things since most people don’t like the minimalist look. It doesn’t look homey. I suspect that Australians, Canadians, and New Zealanders are similar to Americans in purchsing choices.Report

      • Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

        worse, so much of American’s space goes completely unutilized. Leads to people accumulating crap.
        Have a dance floor, seriously, folks, space wont’ kill you.Report

    • Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

      I got nearly all my Ikea stuff in undergrad. I still have it (yay 10 year warranties!).
      I consider my Ikea stuff to be relatively high end (I like design, and I like stuff that’ll last.
      Ikea field tests theirs in their stores, you just pull the data and decide what you want).

      I’ve never seen any reason to shop at other places for my stuff. I prefer good design over
      “look how expensive we are” stuff. Besides, I figure most people couldn’t find/identify quality stuff if it bit ’em on the ass. And the ones that could are NOT being invited to my house.

      I am very sad that I had to get rid of my loft bed, though… it was really neat.Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to NewDealer says:

      Mrs. Likko finally talked me into getting rid of a glass-topped two-tier coffee table I bought at IKEA in the early 1990’s. It lasted me twenty years, and I thought it still looked stylish enough and was useful. She didn’t mind the look, either, but was tired of seeing paw prints and animal dander accumulating on it daily. A friend’s toddler also crawled into the middle of it once, worrying parents and hosts greatly although she thought it was great fun.

      In its place we now have … no coffee table at all.Report

  2. Will Truman says:

    Re: Furniture – I know Ethan mentions this, but it bears repeating: If you are thrifty (or poor) and live in a major metropolitan area: Craigslist. So many people are getting rid of such great furniture, it’s ridiculous.

    Re: Online ed – I don’t think it’s a game-changer for most people, though I think it may prove a godsend here and a disrupter there. The University of New Mexico will be fine, but schools like Eastern New Mexico may have a tough time of it. And for a lot of people, if done right anyway, it will be a great. If done right, with a lower price tag, failure won’t be nearly as expensive. It will also let people save significant amounts of money for those classes where they need the least classroom environment. (If I needed to, I could have done many classes solo. Others, I would have needed a more substantive MOOC environment. Others, I would have wanted a classroom. Saving money on the first two would have been significant, even if there were no savings on the third.)Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Will Truman says:

      Freecycle.org allows people to give away things they’d otherwise throw away. Most of the time it’s of the “There will be a couch outside my house at ADDRESS from today until the garbage guy comes on Thursday. Who wants it?” variety. I’m sure a lot of it is junk but you can email with the person to get more info on it, maybe even pictures.Report

  3. roger says:

    I suspect it will be a major game change. Vastly superior content, tailored to the individual, flexible pace and schedule, at what will eventually be low or no cost.

    I could be wrong of course. We’ll see.Report

    • J@m3z Aitch in reply to roger says:

      Vastly superior content, tailored to the individual

      Unlikely. I’m not designing 24 American Gov’t classes, one for each student, after figuring out their interests and current level if knowledge. Way too labor intensive, so the students won’t be willing to pay for my time. Accreditation also requires some degree of standardization, so we can plausibly say your 3 credit hours of American Gov’t is equal to another student’s 3 hours of American Gov’t.

      Flexible pace and schedule, yes, within bounds. I can let students finish the course early, but not late (bar the occasional incompete). It’s more about flexibility of life schedule, fitting class time into the rest of your obligations, instead of building your life schedule around inflexible class meeting times.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        I presume you have to do office hours and because you teach at a small college, you grade the papers.

        The reason on-line courses fail is partially the on-line part (surprise people like structure or at least can work with it). But also because of lack of access to a professor or TA if someone needs help. On-line courses are great for auditing but not for actual credit-learning.Report

      • roger in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        I suspect this underestimates the ability of future software to appraise and tailor to the students needs, progress, learning style and such. These are software issues, and it seems to me fairly trivial ones. Some day soon, every student will have a virtual Socrates.

        But then again, perhaps I am wrong…Report

      • It’s not certain that online courses do fail, writ large. They will fail some people, in certain circumstances, but that is different than their being a failure. The notion that “people like structure” is overly broad and simply wrong much of the time. Sometimes structure is necessary. Often it’s not. Consigning structure to everybody because it is sometimes needed is a misallocation of resources.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        I do the online as an adjunct for a CC. It’s different from my liberal arts college work. I’m in a diff state, so no office hours, but I try to be religious about checking my email.

        To respond in full to your comment, though, I’d have to write a whole post. The short is that I share your concerns, but am–from experience–more optimistic than you about its prospects and value.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        Roger, I wouldn’t say that’s impossible, but at age 48 I won’t hold my breath. I think that’s a generation or two down the road.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        I think the issue is the presumed hierarchy of post-seconday educational options. Private college, state college, community college… With online universities somewhere in the lower end. This seems flawed. We shiuld aim students for the ideal learning enviornment. A well designed online school can provide the rigor of an elite private institution, at least in some content areas. And for some kids, online might be better than in person. But instead folks often end up online because they have limited options, not necessarily because they are ideal candidates.Report

      • Kazzy, honestly, if I felt comfortable that the online education had similarly tough standards as the regular, I would probably give bonus points for an online degree, as an indicator of self-discipline and drive. My main concern would be that the online program is acting as a degree mill.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        I do suppose “well designed” was doing a lot of heavy lifting in my statement there.

        In graduate school, I took an online-based class. Same students I was with in my brick-and-mortar classes, offered by the same caliber of professor… just a different structure. It had plusses and minuses for me. Ultimately, I didn’t love it and would probably opt for traditional classes (though that might not be the case with Mayo on board). But the only difference between it and the traditional classes were the structure, not the caliber.

        I don’t really see a reason why Harvard can’t offer a degree that can be taken via distance learning. Not all disciplines will work… I’m not sure you can simulate a lab environment, for instance… but many could. And you wouldn’t have to make it Harvard-lite. You could make it just as rigorous. It would just take work and thought and planning and attention to detail… ya know, all the stuff that goes into a regular program. However, you’d have to do it differently. And therein lies the rub.

        As they exist now, it is very hard to know what you’re getting with online degrees. Zazzy looked at some programs because they would have suited her schedule and learning style, but ultimately decided against them because she didn’t know if anyone would take her seriously. Which really sucked.Report

      • Kazzy, I’ve been looking at possibly going back to school in an online capacity. I honestly feel pretty comfortable with the online component of any reputable B&R institution. For instance, I’m looking at the University of North Dakota and Troy University. Schools with brand names at stake to prevent them from letting unprepared people skate, and that future employers may at least recognize in a non-negative way.

        So that might be something I would consider. There may not be a right program for her, but that would be a place to start. It would be a way to differentiate between a possibly worthless degree and one that might be worthwhile.Report

    • Michelle in reply to roger says:

      I think it depends on the clientele. Most of the people I know who are getting their degrees online are adults, who are motivated to do so for career advancement, are self-disciplined, and value the flexibility because it allows them to fit their education into their work and family schedule.

      I’m not sure how well it will work for the average undergrad, although it’s certainly possible to combine classroom and online work.Report

  4. J@m3z Aitch says:

    shifting the burden of assembly to the customer.

    higher education isn’t aiming to “use labor less intensively” so much as it’s trying to shift the labor costs off of itself and back onto the students.

    Respectfully, this is a dreadfully inaccurate representation of what’s going on in both cases. There’s a presumption that there’s a certain amount if labor the product provider is supposed to do, and that the product purchaser is somehow being “forced” to do it. The presumption has no good basis. Some consumers have more time (and assembly skill) than money. There is a shift of labo, but it’s not being shifted onto them–which implies someone doing something to them. Rather, they are seeking a shift in their own labor allocation, from the time it would take them to earn the extra money to pay for assembled furniture to the time it takes them to assemble the furniture themselves. For some of us ( including me) this is a good trade off.

    And as an online teacher, I can say it’s not about colleges trying to shift labor but trying to meet student demand. That is, many students are clamoring for this educational “labor shift”* and colleges are just giving them what they want. Thereare real problems with online education, but it’s not about some skeezy trick in which colleges make students do the college’s work.

    The post’s argument in each case seems to rely on an assumption that providers have a duty to provide some minimum (and nothing is said about the poor customer who can’t afford that minimum) rather than exchange being about provider and purchaser coming to an agreement in which both are satisfied. This strikes me as a product of a particular type of liberalism in which all–or nearly all–market transactions are believed to necessarily involve exploitation of the consumer by the provider. I’m open to argument that I’m being unfair, though.
    * There are multiple reasons students seek out online courses. What they have in common is that the student sees the online class as personally advantageous.Report

    • from the time it would take them to earn the extra money to pay for assembled furniture to the time it takes them to assemble the furniture themselves. For some of us ( including me) this is a good trade off.

      Think also transportation. The desk I just purchased off Craigslist I got in part because it wasn’t assembled. That meant that I could get it into the basement, which given the narrow doorways would have been a question otherwise. Granted, they could have put it together in the store and I could have taken it apart to get it through the doorway and then put it back together again, but that would have defeated the purpose. And while one might say that my needs are unusual… the ability to get the furniture into a car is not.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Will Truman says:

        Good point. But maybe delivery and installation is part of the supplier’s “true’ responsibility that they’ve unethically outsourced to you. And you, suffering from false consciousness (visible to me, the outsider, although obviously not to you), mistakenly think you’re made better off.


    • Mike Schilling in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

      I enjoy putting stuff together and have pretty rotten carpentry skills, so Ikea hits the sweet spot. (And I’ve never run into Ethan’s problem with pieces not fitting right.)

      As for online education, I’m not sure complete flexibility is a feature rather than a bug. If you can keep putting off writing that paper without any penalties, it quite often doesn’t get written. Yes, people should be more self-disciplined. They should also be less selfish, so we could all live in a socialist paradise.Report

      • Just Me in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        It’s not about putting off writing the paper. It’s about being able to comment on a discussion board or review your assignments and watch videos at a time that is convenient for you. I wish I had had more classes online. Knowing that by Wednesday of each week I had to have initial discussion posts posted, and by Sunday at 11:59 all homework and tests had to be completed meant that I could look at a weekly calendar and decide for myself that at 7pm on Wednesday I would put two hours aside for Psych class or I could start my database assignment at 11 am on Tuesday.

        I found the best instructors had both written and video presentations. They kept strictly to their predetermined time lines and had scheduled: I will be online to help you if you have any question hours each week. They also facilitated students helping each other. If the instructor wasn’t on, more than likely a fellow student would be.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Mike Schilling says:


        So do model airplanes!Report

    • Kazzy in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

      FWIW, I didn’t read it quite this way, Aitch. I read it more or less as, “You get what you pay for.” This is typically invoked in reference to quality, but can also refer to the quality or extent of service.

      We see this elsewhere. Spirit Airlines offers very low base fares, but then charge for literally everything beyond putting your ass in the seat. Is their the potential to get ripped off? Sure… if you buy your ticket via Orbitz and don’t look into individual airline fees. But, well, caveat emptor. If you ask them what they’re doing they’ll explain that they are giving people the opportunity to fly for less by either sacrificing certain amenities or by not charging them for amenities they don’t want (“Hey, if I can save $3 by not taking a pillow I never take anyway, that’s a win!”).

      So long as there is no deceit, I have no problem with the IKEA model. I don’t think anyone slides three skinny boxes into the trunk of their Civic and expects to get home and open a fully constructed bed.

      If Ethan really meant to imply what you’ve interpreted him to be saying, I’d levy the same criticisms. I can certainly see how his word choice might have implied your understanding, but a slightly more charitable reading can get us elsewhere. I’ll leave it to him to explain the basis of his argument.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Kazzy says:

        I readily admit I may have read Ethan wrong. But I think this is a (read: one) strain in liberal thought. I’ve heard McDonalds sneered at as a business that profits by making customers do the business’s cleaning work. And not long ago here at the League (do we have to stop calling it that now?) someone criticized self checkout at grocery stores as customers doing the store’s work. (Granted, there’s no monetary discount there, but there can be a time discount, and time is a real cost, and for unsocial people like me there’s the payoff of not dealing with a human cashier.)

        So I think it’s real, even if I’ve unfairly accused Ethan.

        As an addendum, I meant to mention in my original comment that Ikea’s model us not new. In the 19th century traveling barn salesmen took models of barns around, and farmers would buy a kit of all the materials for the barn, marked for assembly. And into the early 20th century Sears sold kit homes out if a catalogue–buy the kit and assemble your own home (my wife and I considered buying one a few years back). So this “shifting” of labor isn’t a new thing. It’s dubious whether it’s even a shift, since that–i accurately, I think–presupposes an original positioning of the labor.Report

  5. roger says:

    I sense a bit of people judging an infant technology and failing to extrapolate how it will quickly evolve.

    It is like early complaints that nobody would want a computer because it is the size of a warehouse, takes $6000 day in electricity and refrigeration and costs fifteen million dollars.

    Online education tomorrow will be nothing like what it is today. We are at the initial level of online education… The infancy.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to roger says:

      And many people predicted that television would be a huge step toward creating an informed and educated populace. Honestly, you could look it up.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        The difference is that television is an end in itself. Education is a means. That can cut both ways, but I think the consumer decision calculus in the two cases is distinct.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        The early telephone provoked the same sort of breathless responses. Folks were also convinced people would listen to musical concerts and other such events over the telephone.

        Shortwave radio actually was used for education in the Australian outback. Kids out on these remote ranches would huddle around these two-way radios and the teacher would conduct class.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        In the early days of television, news was shown with no commercials. The idea was that, having been granted a broadcast license, which was almost as good as a license to print your own money, the station owners would spend some of the time showing programs that benefited the public rather than what earned the most money per minute.

        I know, how silly people were back then.Report

  6. Burt Likko says:

    Adjunct professor here — supplements the income and is sometimes fun. I’ve taught online classes and I’ve taught live classes. I will not teach online again, at least not asynchronously and not with an entity that has an open enrollment policy.

    In my experience, asynchronous online classes fail to provide sufficient variety in pedagogic methods, lack sufficient interactivity between instructor and students, and most importantly deprive the participants sufficient social incentives to motivate all but the already-most-excellent students to absorb the material to an acceptable degree.

    Open enrollment is a disaster waiting to happen, good for no one but shareholders. I taught online for an online college based in a Major Arizona City That Isn’t Tuscon which has an open enrollment philosophy, motivated in no small part by the need to continually have classes generating cash flow. Half or more of the students I had lacked sufficient written language skills to be competitive in high school, much less college. Many of them found the requirement of logging in five days a week and making two posts to a message board too much of a challenge. These were people who had no business being in college. And the Online College Based in a Major Arizona City That Isn’t Tuscon seemed to care not at all about this fact. They cared only that I delivered a good customer experience for them.Report

  7. Martta Oliveira says:

    I think that online education is actually a great opportunity for many. Its not for everyone, but if you have responsibilities (financial, work, family, etc), maybe earning a degree online is the most practical way to get that promotion, or give you and your family a better quality of life. Online education (earning degrees for example) works if you are an independent learner, motivated to finish your degree, have the discipline to study, and do not require constant assistance from a Professor to complete your readings and assignments. Furthermore, just because its distance education, it does not mean that students get no support what so ever. Good institutions will take care of their students, and accompany their students’ learning. So although students have a higher responsibility in their learning (which also happens in on-campus courses through the Problem Based Learning methodology for example), it does not mean that they have no support, and do all the work by themselves. Talk to a good online Professor, and you will fast see to what lengths online Professors go to supporting their students – online.

    Important to note is that online education is not a one size fits all. Its advantages (flexibility, price, and the fact that geographical location is not an issue) attract many people who do not have the learning style necessary to complete online education successfully. Unfortunately sometimes students only understand this after investing their money (and time and energy), and unfortunately not all online institutions are able to screen their student’s learning style adaptability to their teaching model (and sometimes they might not even want to turn away a sales opportunity).

    So yes, there are some problems with online education, and with the “assemble it yourself” (read: “learn independently”), but I think that generally speaking (if we don’t talk about the universities that are only interested in the sales opportunity) online education is a wonderful way to pursue education when there is a fit with the instruction method and the student’s learning style.Report