Thursday, September 10, 2009

Traditional Universities May Be Irrelevant by 2020

How Web-Savvy Edupunks Are Transforming American Higher Education

"The Internet disrupts any industry whose core product can be reduced to ones and zeros," says Jose Ferreira, founder and CEO of education startup Knewton. Education, he says, "is the biggest virgin forest out there." Ferreira is among a loose-knit band of education 2.0 architects sharpening their saws for that forest.

The edupunks are on the march. From VC-funded startups to the ivied walls of Harvard, new experiments and business models are springing up from entrepreneurs, professors, and students alike. Want a class that's structured like a role-playing game? An accredited bachelor's degree for a few thousand dollars? A free, peer-to-peer Wiki university? These all exist today, the overture to a complete educational remix.

The architects of education 2.0 predict that traditional universities that cling to the string-quartet model will find themselves on the wrong side of history, alongside newspaper chains and record stores. "If universities can't find the will to innovate and adapt to changes in the world around them," professor David Wiley of Brigham Young University has written, "universities will be irrelevant by 2020."

HT: Paul Kedrosky via Mark Dodson


At 9/10/2009 9:58 PM, Anonymous Six Ounces said...

I've both taught and taken classes online. The quality of education you get out of it is, just like a Brick and Mortar class, a function of your inputs.

For students with non-traditional problems like being a single parent or with medical problems, internet courses are a God send - the only way they can succeed.

But from my experience internet, self-study, or correspondence courses are generally inferior. There is no substitute for physical interaction with a teacher and other students. Teachers can tell a lot from the body language of students, a form of feedback which is impossible to get from alternative methods.

The grades in my online course were mostly As and Fs. The students were either super-committed and self-motivated or not at all. Even teaching in a community college the performance was more variable but not bi-modal at the two extremes.

I've taken poorly designed online courses where the designer was more interested in showing off flashy programming than delivering effective pedagogy.

There are certainly ways to make alternative teaching more effective, but the inspiration and motivation gap is a chasm which cannot be bridged. I doubt anyone will ever seriously consider an online teacher of a course to be a major influence on one's life.

Milton Freidman's speeches and lectures might seem, at first, to be a good counterexample, but I don't think anyone has ever been tested on the content of that education over a five month period. Feedback is an essential part of completing the communication cycle.

At 9/10/2009 10:37 PM, Anonymous Steve said...

I tend to not agree. I think the low end can be affect by people looking for bargains. But those looking for a good education will find ways to get to the good universities and pay the higher costs.

At 9/11/2009 12:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The way to monitor this trend is to look first at continuing education in industry (seminars and courses). If they move more to the model then the education will be seen to be successful. Since a lot of these courses are run by universities the first place to look in universities might be MBA programs where you have a more motivated student body.
As to the interaction question, social networking technology might help out it likley has not tried to much yet. What if something like twitter were used to provide real time feedback to the instructor?

At 9/11/2009 1:33 AM, Anonymous Six Ounces said...

Anon at 12:45:

You make a fair point. The wave of colleges offering online classes, podcasts, etc are certainly trying innovative ways to improve that feedback mechanism. The shortcoming is not from lack of trying or technology.

I had a student who was a quadriplegic. She would watch lectures from home if she could not make it to class. Some classes have IP or telephone methods for remote students to ask questions. They don't work well (as any corporate conference call could instruct).

I used an electronic textbook for that class too which had its advantages and disadvantages. Podcasting wasn't yet available at the university.

You're right that Adult Education in corporate settings are at the cutting edge of this. Until 2008, I worked as the Learning and Development Manager for a large software company. The Learning and Development Systems (LDS) and software are becoming more sophisticated. You've got sites like Sharepoint and Blackboard which permit a depository of notes and readings, e-mail and chat, online quizzes, projects, and exams; discussion forums, etc. Adobe Captivate and Connect, Articulate Engage, etc are all good products for development.

Proprietary colleges like the U. of Phoenix are leading out with these courses, mostly to save on instructional costs. The learning outcomes are, as I said, mixed. Most of the students who attend proprietary colleges are already extremely challenged to start with.

In academics, grade points are often awarded for participation and interaction as an incentive, but this is cumbersome and is tough to qualify. For online exams and quizzes, you can never tell if the person taking the exam is the registered student. Cheating is commonplace.

The proof of the pudding is in the tasting. For some individuals, online education is rewarding and enabling. For most, though, it's too much of an opportunity to be a slacker, procrastinator, or cheater.

I agree with Steve that there will be a place for online education at every type of school. But suggesting it will eliminate B&M education is far-fetched.

Frankly, I loved teaching in a classroom and absolutely HATED teaching online courses. I missed the face-to-face student interaction.

At 9/11/2009 7:49 AM, Blogger MovingEast said...

I am hard pressed to believe this in particular for Business Schools - as a good portion of the value is the contacts one can establish during the course.

At 9/11/2009 8:37 AM, Blogger Dan Carroll said...

It appears this misses the point of higher education. The difference between Harvard and the typical 4-year college is not the quality of the education (in some cases, it could be argued that the quality of education is better at non-ranked schools). The value of Harvard, Stanford, or Yale is the brand and the selection process, plus the alumni networking effect. It is assumed only the best are admitted, and thus the brand represents the best individuals. People don't scramble to get into Harvard because they believe they will get a better education, but because they believe they will get a better job when they graduate. Companies don't hire Harvard grads because they believe Harvard does a superior job of teaching calculus, but because they believe that Harvard gets better calculus students. Higher education is an expensive testing, filtering, and vetting process for society as a whole.

At 9/11/2009 5:44 PM, Anonymous Benny The Libertarian said...

Boy, these posters have it right. Connections.
I wish I had learned that one a long, long time ago.
Every person you meet--at least don't make enemies!
You can, however, bypass the whole process by having a great smile and big boobs.

At 9/11/2009 5:45 PM, Anonymous Benny The Libertarian said...

Boy, these posters have it right. Connections.
I wish I had learned that one a long, long time ago.
Every person you meet--at least don't make enemies!
You can, however, bypass the whole process by having a great smile and big boobs.

At 9/11/2009 10:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While the connections are important one has to look which stage of education one makes them. In other words connections at the graduate or professional education level are more important than the undergraduate level. Now interestingly a lot of top schools want a diversity of undergraduate schools to provide different perspectives. So perhaps the solution is to make the research universities graduate and possibly upper division only. Which would mean grad school would cost as much as (med,vet,law) school. Of course grad school has research assistanships.
The current research model assumes an ever growing number of jobs for graduates unless a professor can have no more than 2or 3 students in a career.
I do not see how top researchers help at least with the first 2 years of school and even in larger 3rd and 4th year courses.

At 9/16/2009 8:39 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Online education may suffice in some limited fields, but in many fields it falls short.

- In some fields the networking/community aspect of the educational process is critical to later success

- The community process is also critical in fields that benefit from high levels of collaborative problem-solving. Yes, you can do some of that online but only at much lower efficiencies.

- Finally, some fields (especially the sciences and engineering) require hands-on experience with labs, equipment even the Real World. These are some of the most important high value curricula in terms of economic impact.

- Oh, and I left out medicine. Who wants a doctor that hasn't actually seen real patients?

No, brick and mortar schools aren't going the way of the dinosaur anytime soon. However, lower-skilled degrees may very well move out of our over-burdened and costly universities and into the online world.


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