How The Creator Economy Is Disrupting Higher Education


Emad Kazi is the VP of Product & Lifecycle at Kajabi, an all-in-one platform helping Knowledge Entrepreneurs grow their businesses. 

The landscape of higher education is changing. Rising tuition rates, the ongoing pandemic and the emergence of massive open online courses (MOOCs) have all influenced students’ decisions when considering a degree. Since around 2012, enrollment in both undergraduate and graduate programs has been on the decline. Even online colleges saw a drop in enrollment numbers after the peak of the pandemic.

While the number of students seeking higher education falls, the creator economy — the comprehensive term used to describe the millions of independent content creators — has been booming. Though fairly new on the scene, creator economy businesses raked in over $1 billion dollars in 2021 alone.

As I’ve watched the creator economy grow, its power to serve as an educator has become increasingly apparent. Content creators are educating followers on not only how to become content creators themselves but also on skills necessary for jobs outside of the creator economy. In conjunction with other influences, the creator economy may very well contribute to the ripening disruption of higher education.

The Creator Economy: Education’s Newest Rival

Modern students are opting for inexpensive or easily accessible learning alternatives that often produce the same outcome as higher education: a successful career. I believe the creator economy could be an enticing alternative. Let’s take a look at five areas where the creator economy is undercutting higher education and capitalizing off of its weaknesses:

• Free or inexpensive. By monetizing content via sponsorships, affiliate campaigns and creator economy tools, content creators are able to distribute their content for free or at a low rate. This is advantageous for students who don’t want to subject themselves to years of debt. Instead, they can receive an education at a fraction of the price provided by content creators.

• Easily accessible. YouTube, social media, MOOCs — wherever content resides, learners can seek it out on their own time since it’s available online, 24/7. While higher education has introduced plenty of online courses and majors, it’s still often constrained by deadlines. The creator economy offers true self-paced education, which is ideal for the consumer who may not be able to attend a traditional college.

• Provides access to experience. Most job descriptions request several years of work experience from a potential hire. Yet, there’s no real place for a student who has been immersed in years of institutional learning to turn to for experience. Whether you’re learning how to code or build your own personal brand, the creator economy can provide the learner with the means of gaining experience immediately.

• Always fresh content. If there is anything true about the creator economy, it’s that content is constantly being churned out, meaning consumers can discover content that fits their needs. Higher education takes months to create new programs, while through other means, content can be created on the fly, easily keeping up with consumer desires.

• Content creators’ influence and authority. Content creators exhibit authority and expertise on their subject matter, naturally building a following of trusting consumers. Rather than attend a class from a no-name professor, consumers are taking acting classes from the likes of Natalie Portman and learning how to build a startup from the founders of Canva.

Are Content Creators Teachers For The New Age?

Covering topics ranging from fashion and fitness to science and coding, content creators have skills to share but many may not be considered traditional teachers. Despite the sometimes lack of formal credentials, content creators can still provide a valuable learning experience. 

Content creators share a number of similarities with teachers. Both prepare content, offer expert knowledge in a given subject area and disseminate that knowledge to groups with varying levels of expertise. The similarities don’t stop there; every instructor should also be held to a high standard of ethical behavior to ensure they’re serving their audience to their best ability. 

Content creators are masters at building a community around their knowledge and transferring that knowledge through engaging content. If teachers are to rival such social skills, they too will have to build a personal brand and curate a following.

What Happens Next

Already, the creator economy’s effect on higher education is becoming evident. Colleges across the United States are introducing entrepreneurship-focused courses and majors, plus hackathons. Teachers are monetizing their knowledge and creating a new type of classroom that weaves in social media and online engagement strategies. Students are forgoing higher education to avoid debt, yet are still thriving in the workforce by becoming content creators or utilizing online education to teach themselves and gain experience.

Although there are many positive influences, as more students opt to use the creator economy over the traditional classrooms, downsides could emerge. Potential drawbacks I’ve identified include:

• Credentials may lose esteem.

• The rate at which new doctors, nurses and other clinical professionals entering the workforce may decline as fewer people seek out occupations that require higher education.

• Because the creator economy can only prepare individuals for certain professions, this may lead to a saturated and competitive market in certain fields.

Applications In Business Settings

Business leaders, specifically, can take advantage of the educational creator economy in the following ways:

Continued education: By offering both inexpensive and easy-to-access educational content, the creator economy serves as an ideal form of continued education for employees. 

Advertising and brand awareness: Adding your own free educational content like podcasts to creator economy platforms is a relatively quick and simple form of advertising that can lead to successful brand awareness. Good content has the power to establish an organic relationship with your audience that can lead to life-long customers.

As the creator economy continues to grow, it will exert more pressure on educational institutions to conform to not only what students want to learn, but how they want to learn and even who they want to learn from. The end result will likely take years to see, but what’s clear is the creator economy is going to have widespread ramifications on higher education.


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