by michael on May 31, 2012

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about post high school education. My thoughts are prompted by the facts that two of my children are still in college and the prominence in the news media coverage lately of student loans and student debt.  I do have my personal views, also, about whether many, if not most students, are learning anything or enough material worth learning during their expensive college experiences. All of which leads me to be particularly interested in the ideas expressed in this article and the ideas that may blossom as a consequence of this article.

How the on-line education experience will be influenced by student discipline, character, honesty and so forth remains, for me, an intriguing question. Yet, changes are coming that will not be stopped. I think there is an ‘education bubble,’ and it is about to burst, as they say. Perhaps this format will be beneficial to families. Costs will be less; children may be around the home more and family cohesion may increase. Not only might the student save money but maybe he or she will also mow the lawn!


I share some key paragraphs but I recommend you read the entire article.


Chubb and Moe: Higher Education’s Online Revolution


The substitution of technology (which is cheap) for labor (which is expensive) can vastly increase access to an elite-caliber education.


At the recent news conference announcing edX, a $60 million Harvard-MIT partnership in online education, university leaders spoke of reaching millions of new students in India, China and around the globe. They talked of the “revolutionary” potential of online learning, hailing it as the “single biggest change in education since the printing press.”

Heady talk indeed, but they are right. The nation, and the world, are in the early stages of a historic transformation in how students learn, teachers teach, and schools and school systems are organized.


In short, while they want to be part of the change they know is coming, they are uncertain about how to proceed. And in this Harvard and MIT are not alone. Stanford, for instance, offers a free online course on artificial intelligence that enrolls more than 150,000 students world-wide—but the university’s path forward is similarly unclear. How can free online course content be paid for and sustained? How can elite institutions maintain their selectivity, and be rewarded for it, when anyone can take their courses?

This challenge can be met. Over the long term, online technology promises historic improvements in the quality of and access to higher education. The fact is, students do not need to be on campus at Harvard or MIT to experience some of the key benefits of an elite education. Moreover, colleges and universities, whatever their status, do not need to put a professor in every classroom. One Nobel laureate can literally teach a million students, and for a very reasonable tuition price. Online education will lead to the substitution of technology (which is cheap) for labor (which is expensive)—as has happened in every other industry—making schools much more productive.

Skeptics worry that online learning will destroy the “college experience,” which requires that students be at a geographical place (school), interacting with one another and their professors. But such a disconnect isn’t going to happen.

Don’t dismiss the for-profit colleges and universities, either. Institutions such as the University of Phoenix—and it is hardly alone—have embraced technology aggressively.

For now, policy makers, educators and entrepreneurs alike need to recognize that this is a revolution, but also a complicated process that must unfold over time before its benefits are realized.

But like countless industries before it, higher education will be transformed by technology—and for the better. Elite players and upstarts, not-for-profits and for-profits, will compete for students, government funds and investment in pursuit of the future blend of service that works for their respective institutions and for the students each aims to serve.

Mr. Chubb is interim CEO of Education Sector, an independent think tank, and a distinguished visiting fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. Mr. Moe is professor of political science at Stanford and a senior fellow at Hoover. They are the authors of “Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education” (John Wiley & Sons 2009).


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