Creator Economy: Imperatives and Challenges for Higher Education

Content creation has moved from the margins to the mainstream economy with a variety of monetisation models. What are the imperatives, impacts, and challenges of the creator economy on higher education?
Written by Salil Sahadevan

Your mobile phone transforms into a recording studio and social media becomes distribution platforms. Over fifty million people make videos, write blogs, record podcasts, share photos and upload content over the internet. This represents the rise of a creator economy - a digital marketplace for passionate individuals to share their skills, ideas, and artifacts.

The creations come from artists, musicians, journalists, comedians, actors, singers, dancers, writers, designers, coders, independent scientists, and more. They use different revenue models that range from subscriptions to courses and affiliate links to special events.

Creator economy and platform economy are overlapping subsets of the digital economy. A report (Yuan & Constine, 2020) calls the creator economy the fastest-growing small-scale business in the world. For more than a million individuals, creation is their primary source of income. It opens new platforms and businesses that have implications for higher education.

The higher education imperative of the creator economy is apparent at the levels of curriculum, employability, and collaboration.

Curriculum Imperative

Information is ubiquitous. Marketplace values innovatively conceived academic creations to deliver learning outcomes. Digital natives may find themselves building digital products and converting their passions to professions. Mindful of this interest, many institutions are keen to provide creator education.

The purpose of a creator curriculum is to empower creators by familiarizing them with the tools, business models, and frameworks for creation and monetisation. The skill coverage includes the general components of start-ups, digital marketing, creator segments, motivations, and spotting pain points. Special areas entail scaling up, personal marketing routine, platform mechanisms, and measurements used in creator economies such as effort-earnings ratio, growth loops, referral conversions, and other indicators. The challenge is to prepare students for the new forms of wall-free and hierarchy-free, yet socially connected workplaces.

Employability Imperative

Companies are increasingly recognising the potential of creators to engage with customers. They can tailor and fine-tune their marketing message using influencer marketing and social media - particularly with Gen Z and millennials. The global size of influencer marketing has increased eightfold in the last five years and is poised to grow further. This is a departure from our current educational habits surrounding career tracks and career progressions.

As career ladders shift to career squiggles, the linearity of career planning is already precarious. The change should be seen in the light of growing gig-careers and speculations that the creator economy will be the future of work. Employability imperative is also linked with the upskilling market that is currently capitalised by many edtech firms.

Collaboration Imperative

Facilitating collaboration and building communities of creators across campuses is one way Universities may benefit from the emerging creator economy. Many campuses are pondering on providing capital investment for promising creators, as an extension to the current incubator and entrepreneurship initiatives.

Collective Impact

The collective impact of the above imperatives forces us to rethink the systemic changes and the role of educators as creators.

Systemic changes

The creator economy is education's newest rival (Kazi 2022). Practitioner-academics, coined as Pracademics, who have valuable skills to share but are away from academia, may find new ways to scale up and monetize their expertise. This will force existing professors to bring a creator mindset to teaching. Educational institutions are likely to allow more pracademic ways of conducting courses in an attempt to address the competition from creator economy.

Platforms offer opportunities for professors to create cohort-based programmes which are more sustainable, scalable and affordable than the many traditional instruction methods. With engaging design for interaction, it can be more compelling than MOOCs. The twin trends of the rising of cohort-based platforms and growth in edtech firms together reiterate the need for University actors to create, even in unconventional ways.

Professors as creators

Under the creator economy, professors will take a larger role in designing their courses. From a neoliberal lens, it is debatable whether a professor can be a brand. But good professors have always enjoyed strong personal brands founded on their demonstrated abilities in subject expertise, teaching and research. Presented an opportunity to reach a wider learner base, it becomes important for professors to rethink what ideas and topics they want to be known for. To do so, it is essential for them to find authentic ways to differentiate themselves.

Platform Challenges

Academic work is increasingly mediated by platforms with institutional push and market pull. Platforms in the creator economy pose a variety of challenges. Some platforms may end up by locking the creators in with algorithmic monopoly. Low-quality content camouflaged from different web sources is another persistent challenge that questions the credibility of the creator economy. The influx of inexperienced teachers and poor pedagogy with high marketing decibel are also possible grey areas.

Another issue related to the platform challenge is that of evolving disparity. For example, platforms like YouTube have a few big winners while most YouTubers struggle to generate any revenue. The dissemination platforms impact the disparity and inequality between creators, and some argue that the creator economy needs a middle class (Li Jin, 2020).

To mitigate the platform risks, many creator communities build their own hosting platforms from the ground up, enabling direct engagement with their audiences. This is where an established institution can build upon its existing brand and academic expertise through its own portals of micro-learning. By extending creator support for its professors and students, this is an immediate possibility. The use of crypto tokens is also beneficial for creator-driven platforms, though exemplars are currently limited in higher education settings.

Games Creators Play

Criticisms abound that the worker protection and volatility issues related to the gig economy will plague the creator economy, too. Considering the economic exchange between hired Uber drivers and passengers, for example, ethnographer Lindsey Cameron (2022), questions the narrative that the gig economy is truly exploitive and argues that drivers play two different games to keep themselves engaged.

The relational game represents the bond between driver and passenger(s) as reflected through customer service ratings and feedback in the app. The efficiency game denotes the quickness of service with minimal effort and least passenger contact.

In the context of the creator economy, I hypothesize that creators play a more obvious game, the creative game. This reflects the balance of the creative effort and market requirements. In other words, it extends the role of an Uber driver, who is dealing with a single platform, to the need to manage multiple platforms. The creative game considers diverse revenue streams and multiple interactions depending on the business model. This understanding and subsequent action will develop a meaningful creator curriculum and a range of nano-entrepreneurs in our campuses.

Creator Capabilities as a Strategic Agenda

Higher education has been operating in an intellectual and economic space where information surplus and attention deficit co-exist. After industrial economy and consumer economy, we are entering a third age in which the central economic actor is someone who both produces and consumes in the same act (Saffo, 2009). There are several connections between the creator economy and other areas of national economies (Radionova & Trots, 2021). Most of such linkages and interfaces with higher education are not yet apparent due to the informal nature of creation and the presence of multiple actors. Yet, the required responses are clear.

Higher education can respond to the curriculum imperative via meaning through creator courses and making creator educators. Employability imperative demands methods to integrate with the job market while collaboration imperative elicits opportunities to meld selective areas of educational workflow with external actors, such as platforms and creators.

Building creator capabilities finds space in the strategy of higher education providers. Academia has the advantage of accommodating heterogeneity among creators and capitalising the effort to new revenue sharing models. By playing the relational game, efficiency game, and creative game in the space of collective impact, educational institutions can capitalise on the new network of creators in the evolving creator economy.


Cameron, L. D. (2022). “Making Out” While Driving: Relational and Efficiency Games in the Gig Economy. Organization Science, 33(1), 231–252.

Jin, L. (2020). The Creator Economy Needs a Middle Class. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from

Kazi, E. (2022, February 4). How The Creator Economy Is Disrupting Higher Education. Forbes. Retrieved February 21, 2022, from

Radionova, I., & Trots, I. (2021). “Creator Economy”: Theory and Its Use. Economics, Finance and Management Review, (3), 48–58.

Saffo, P. (2009). Get Ready for a New Economic Era. McKinsey Quarterly, 26.

Salil, S. (2022). The New Creator Economy. Deccan Herald.

Yuan, Y., & Constine, J. (2020). SignalFire’s Creator Economy Market Map [web log]. Retrieved from 


Creator Economy Higher Education Curriculum Employability Collaboration Marketing

About the author

Salil Sahadevan
Education Officer, University Grants Commission

Salil works on the intersection of management, higher education, and education futures. He is particularly interested in alternative pedagogy, affordable education models, and learning experience design. He has written for Current Science, The Management Accountant, University World News, Deccan Herald, and The Hindu, among others. Salil holds a doctoral degree in Strategic Management and Masters in Business with experience of two decades in teaching, research, and administration in higher education. On the official side, he works with the University Grants Commission, one of the regulatory bodies of higher education in India. His research and writing represents personal views and inquiries.

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