Higher education in trouble

There is a tsunami wave out in the ocean that’s headed toward the higher ed shore.

Don’t know exactly how tall it is or how wide. Can’t quite make out the exact form but it is large and it is on the way.

The tsunami is online courses.

In her Wall Street Journal article, Watching the Ivory Tower Topple, Holly Finn provides a partial view of what’s on the horizon.

How does this look for opening up education?

Last fall, a couple of hundred Stanford students registered for Sebastian Thrun’s class on artificial intelligence. He offered the course free online, too, through his new company Udacity, and 160,000 students signed up. For the written assignments and exams, both groups got identical questions—and 210 students got a perfect overall score. They all came from the online group.

Look at the results again – a thousand times more students online than in the chairs. All of the perfect scores were from online students.

There are tremendous advantages to what will develop.

Radically increased availability and accessibility. More students can attend. You can study on the evenings and weekends instead of taking four years off work. Far lower cost – you won’t have to drop fifty or a hundred grand for the degree.  Work through classes at your own pace.

Students who aren’t at the top of the class can keep up:

In this new educational model, the shy and the easily distracted get advantages. You can rewind a video and watch whenever and as many times as you like.

Anyone who wants to do so can get topline courses:

The next big thing, though, is college-level MOOCs and MOOSes: Massive Open Online Courses and Seminars. Harvard already showcases coursework like professor Michael Sandel’s “Justice” lectures online, gratis. Now Georgia Institute of Technology, MIT, Stanford and others are offering advanced online courses, some with accreditation.

Are there obstacles and challenges?  You bet.

Are they solvable?  Count on it.

2 thoughts on “Higher education in trouble”

  1. Jim,

    I think this is more complicated than your analysis indicates. Here are just a few factors to add to the bowl.

    Many 18-22 aged students attend college to grow up. Brick and mortar institutions have proven to be a fairly benign place for students to do so.

    There are still many informal aspects of communication that can’t be duplicated online, you know, the subtle physical body aspects of communication. In my face to face classes, I use these non-verbal communications to produce a super-engaged environment.

    There are many more. I see online education as making inroads, but not being the tsunami. As our population increases, so will the pressure for more social interactions and solutions. There will always be a place for face-to-face.


  2. Thanks for the comment Dave.

    The loss of in-person contact will be one of the downsides. That will be part of the cost for some people that will need to be weighed against the gains. For individuals who can’t afford the accelerating fees, can’t travel to a college, or can’t take time off from work, that will be one major part of the tradeoff.

    In certain curriculums, that will be a severe problem. I think of my days in Air Force ROTC. Without being around other cadets, learning followership and leadership will be impossible. Close order drill and learning to wear a uniform, both key skills, would just not happen. And the drill team just won’t exist.

    Developing a substitute for science labs will be a major challenge as well.

    For many students and many programs, in-person classes will continue to be high-value. For many other students and other programs, there is major change on the horizon.

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