The Future of Higher Education – Part 1 of ????

The bold visionaries of the computer who said it would change the world didn’t know how dead right they would be. In the last 10 years, especially with the help of smartphones, we’ve seen software become a part of most of the things we do day-in and day-out, in other words “software is eating the world“, as mentioned in a previous blog post. So when large industries, particularly the capital intensive ones, get disrupted there tends to be heated debates whether technology could truly replace the current way of life.

2013-09-16 08_22_37-College tuition, other costs climb again this year - Oct

Look at your alma-mater (On Wisconsin!), the campuses can spread several miles, with elaborate and ornate buildings, all in the name of education. Common sense tells you that all of this is VERY expensive to build, maintain, and update. Yes, this part of the education system creates jobs, but at what cost?  There are countless articles highlighting the cost of education sky-rocketing, especially over the last 20 years.

What’s a low-cost solution for those who want to learn, but bypass the ever-rising costs of an education? Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s). You have a handful of different MOOC’s, some of the big names are Coursera, Udacity, and edX.

With the intentions of keeping my posts relatively short for a quick read, I’ll discuss more of the pros/cons in follow-up posts. But to give these MOOC’s some credibility before we do that, let’s discuss how these online platforms work.

A professor wants to teach about a new topic or wants to reach a wider audience with its current lectures, with median class sizes on Coursera of 33,000. This may give him an opportunity to: be a nice guy and preach to the masses for free, or an opportunity to sell his/her textbook they have written on the subject. The incentives for the teacher vary, but at the end of the day is a resume-booster more than anything.

For the student, there are completely free courses (no fees or books to purchase). The best part for the student is they can take classes that are currently being taught at MIT, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and along with hundreds of other great universities. You can take these classes at home in your underwear, if you want, all the while building a better foundation for your future. The downside, currently, is that most MOOCs don’t offer accreditation for taking the course, but that is slowly changing, starting with the University of Wisconsin and their UW Flexible Option program. And more Coursera courses are allowing tests that do in fact result in transferable college credit (if you pass, which roughly 2,600 students pass in a class of 33,000; but classes have a large attrition rate right now, so don’t let that passing rate discourage you).

Digest all of that and comment, but I’ll follow up with another post highlighting the great debate: from a student’s perspective, the higher education system’s perpsective, and the professor’s perspective. But I’ll leave you with this video from the Lieutenant Governor of California, with the article version here.


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