Technological Disintermediation in Design and Higher Education

By Paul Cesarini and Stan Guidera.

Published by The Technology Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Digital tools have revolutionized numerous disciplines, providing opportunities previously beyond the reach of non-digital technologies. However, while experienced professionals can exploit these tools, novices have been empowered, as well. As a result, practices of many disciplines are becoming increasingly subject to disintermediation.

Disintermediation is an economic concept rooted in banking and finance but is now more widely applied. It refers to the removal of “middle men” in a supply chain. Producers bypass traditional distribution channels involving an intermediary and deal with customers directly. Historically these intermediaries functioned as aggregators of information and services, supplying expertise or making up for inefficiencies in the system. By reducing or eliminating intermediaries such as agents and brokers, disintermediation costs less by servicing customers directly. Web-based business-to-customer transactions via the Internet represent common, contemporary examples of this. Additional examples range from online stock trading to real estate and travel agencies, industries transformed by an increasingly Internet-driven society.

Similarly, advances in digital technology are suggesting that other disciplines that have enjoyed special status provided by professional licensure, such as architecture, engineering, and even the delivery mechanisms of higher education in general, are also showing signs of disintermediation. Entry into design disciplines such as architecture and engineering has traditionally been subject to rigorous educational and regulatory restrictions. The value of their services was linked to material efficiencies, optimization of construction sequences, and the ability to navigate the regulatory and legal requirements associated with a particular project. Architects and engineers provided expertise in aggregating the data and knowledge necessary for project delivery.

The same can be said for access to higher education. Long-standing barriers including cost, scarcity of desired programs, geography, and a lack of qualified faculty are being minimized. Now, for-profit institutions like the University of Phoenix and StraighterLine (with its “$99 / month for all the courses you can consume” business plan) stand poised to dramatically lower these barriers. While reducing accessibility barriers is certainly admirable, the disintermediation associated with institutions such as these arguably results in undervaluing the faculty intermediaries traditionally involved.

In this presentation, specific technological innovations driving disintermediation are identified, followed by a discussion of strategies for using these same technologies to “re-intermediate” the societal relevance and economic value of intermediaries in different professions.

Keywords: Design, Education, Distance Learning, Information & Communications Technologies, Engineering, Architecture

International Journal of Technology, Knowledge and Society, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp.51-64. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 776.120KB).

Dr. Paul Cesarini

Associate Professor, College of Technology, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, USA

Paul Cesarini is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Visual Communication & Technology Education, in the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program. His current research and work focuses on digital rights management and the on-going erosion of fair use for audio, video, and text. He has written for a wide variety of academic journals and trade publications, including MobilePC, The IT Manager’s Journal, NewsForge, Computers & Composition Online, OS News, New Mobile Computing, The National Association of Industrial Technology, The Journal of Industrial Technology, The Journal of Literacy and Technology, The Power Book Zone, Go2Mac, the International Society for Exploring Teaching and Learning, The Review, and others. More recently, Paul served as keynote speaker for the Wired for the Future symposium and the 2006 ResNet conference, and recently wrote another column for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Paul is an active member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, The Center for Democracy and Technology, and the Society for Technical Communication.

Dr. Stan Guidera

Associate Professor, Department of Architecture, College of Technology, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, USA


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