Where do you see online education in 20 years?

I was doing an interview today and I got sideswiped by this question… It’s not like i haven’t thought about the future of education, I’ve consciously worked on it at a times. What I haven’t done, is thought about it in the last six or eight months since we started working on the MOOC book. As people have, for whatever reason, started taking that word seriously, I’ve found that my ideas about the futures of education generally and higher ed in particular are shifting. So… as my poor blog has been deserted for months while i procrastinate from writing a book with friends I thought i might jot down my response to my very interesting interviewer today.

Where do you see online education in 20 years?
Well, first let me say that I would rather speak in futures rather than a single future. I’ve had some interesting opportunities over the last few years to do some futures work with different classes and I’ve found that exploring a number of possible futures tends to draw out some of the different overarching trends that might be at work to shape the future.

Case 1 – MOOC kills higher education
This one may not be so terribly far away, but it is the thing about the way MOOCs are growing that I see as the most potentially damaging to higher education. As I wrote in my black swans for 2012 (i keep linking to this, because i will never be this right again) we could easily have 1 million (or 100 million) students taking first year physics online with MIT. We really aren’t that far from this being not only a possibility but a reality. I think that introductory courses are obvious targets for the x-style MOOCs. All were really looking for is a general understanding of a given topic, you could do the testing in a Pearson test centre, pay $350, bang you’ve got a first year credit.

While this may seem unappealing the impact to higher education, particular at bigger schools, could be catastrophic. With the decline of public support for schools, the students increasingly become a bigger piece of the funding pie. If those students decide to not enrol in first year courses f2f but decide to do them online (because its cheaper, because they could be in a 500 person auditorium or in an online class and it wouldn’t make a difference) the business model holding together higher education would be in jeopardy. It doesn’t take an economist to figure out that if you have 500 students, 3 student TAs and one professor, the school is going to make more money than if that same prof is teaching a class of 20.

Lets say you pay $1000 for a class… 1000 X 500 = 500,000
or, with the smaller class you get… 1000 X 20 = 20,000

The cost of the TAs isn’t making up for that extra $480,000. This is a simplification, of course, but you wont have to lose many of those first year courses, or a particularly large percentage of any of them before it starts to hurt the bottom line.

So uh… that’s a cheery one.

Case 2 – Analytics university
This one always kind of freaks people out. Terry O’reilly in his excellent CBC show “The Age of Persuasion” a few weeks ago told a story about a man storming into a department store to complain to the manager. It seems that his daughter was receiving coupons for various articles for pregnant women by mail. the man was understandably upset and asked what they were on about. The manager apologized profusely. Three days later the manager called the man backed to see if there was anything he could do, and the man, to the manager’s surprised, apologized to him. It turns out his daughter WAS pregnant. The store’s computer had identified a change in purchasing behaviour from her points card and had grouped her with the group of women most likely to be pregnant.

This is the state of analytics right now… where will it be in twenty years? I have heard talk in the last year of LSAT essays being graded by computers and giving the same grade as human readers. I have heard publishers talk about using analytics to not only tell if students are likely to pass a given course but also to send email updates to their parents about their progress.

A hands free, teacher free university run entirely on analytics is probably not even 20 years away. I have alot of concerns about a system that can tell me what kind of student i am, what i should study based on the kinds of responses i’ve given to previous questions and tells my mom how i doing… I really do. But it is interesting to think about. I think my biggest concern is that it always seems to me the analytics is alot better at comparing you to things that already are… and are thereby not only prone to overly defining who people are into categories but also stifling the idea of people creating things that are new.

Case 3 – Corporate takeover
This example comes right out of the futures discussions that I had in Singapore in 2010 the market driven credential. Imagine IBM looking at a shortage of widget managers 10 years out given their current employment patterns. What would happen if they recruited 20 14-year old teenagers right out of school and started their training right away.

As the process of ‘managing’ learning continues to become easier to uh… manage, I can totally see corporations identifying the types of students they want and targeting them as early as possible. They may not reach right into high school, but they could certainly take them in after high school. Why have them learn to do things an entirely ‘wrong’ way just to have to retrain them again when they start at your company

Case 4 – Community university
Imagine being able to immediately connect with the 1500 other people in the world currently thinking about the same thing you are thinking about. Imagine being able to reach out and find the one that could help you understand the thing that you are trying to understand… to form connections with that one magical person who needs something you need.

In a sense… that’s what we have now. It’s hard to remember what the world was like before the internet, before wikipedia, before a reliable search engine. Remembering the name of the younger sister… you know, the one from the sitcom… that was hard. What was harder was trying to learn something new. Imagine the next generation of this kind of access. Imagine not only being able to eventually find some of the content from some of the people who have ever chosen to write about a subject you’re interested in… imagine leveraging the scale possibilities of the internet to actually access them all in real time.

Why not?

Futures
These examples are all extremes… for which i don’t apologize. I enjoy writing for drama of course :) but more importantly i find it helps me think about the things that are important to me… and it helps remind me where we are.

so… where do you think online education will be in 20 years?

13 thoughts on “Where do you see online education in 20 years?

  1. The corporate insourcing of education should be particularly concerning to MBA programs. No need for corporations to start attracting high school students here. Just pick off smart college undergraduate grads (who may have taken a slug of online courses along the way) and provide them with lifelong learning directly germane to their job functions. In this scenario, no need to pay top salaries for MBA grads, but only half the starting levels to hire BA/BS grads. And all those basic courses business school students take f2f, why those can be taken as MOOCs — either generic or customized, while on the job. This is the threat I think business schools should be most concerned about, and far sooner than the 20 year time horizon noted in this article.

  2. I don’t think you need to reach ahead at all for the business example. It’s happening now, if without the MOOCs. I think we could see it rapidly opening up to all kinds of people doing the same thing…

  3. Dave, I like the flagrant style. I suspect that seers should always be flagrant. No one remembers the timid prediction, especially if it’s correct.

    I can’t see how your first prediction will fail. MOOCs will radically change higher education, effectively killing traditional campuses. I don’t mean, however, that the buildings will go away or that people will stop gathering in beautiful settings to learn. Rather, I mean that even those f2f classes that survive will be radically informed by MOOCs. Traditionalists will not recognize the classroom in 20 years. A seminar of 10 people isolated in a room, even a beautiful room, will cease to make sense.

    Then, too many millions of people are entering the higher ed market worldwide for traditional classrooms to meet the demand. We can’t build campuses fast enough. I don’t know that MOOCs are the answer, but they are definitely a step toward the answer—and a step away from traditional classrooms.

    BTW, congratulations on coining the term of the century (MOOC); though, I think community as curriculum is more important.

  4. 1.- MOOCs will die within 2 years if they do not provide degrees or if they do not license to enough number of colleges
    2.- Only GOOD MOOCs with degrees will kill most colleges
    3.- Fee can be $ 10 to $ 100
    4.- MOOCs should be provided by top schools only .

  5. You ask “Why have them learn to do things an entirely ‘wrong’ way just to have to retrain them again when they start at your company?”

    I think about both of my sons, now only a few years from graduating college, who were both told by their employers that they shouldn’t forget what they learned in college, but that they should focus on their new corporate training.

  6. I suppose #1 is why so many universities are clamoring to join with the MOOC provider businesses–to get at least a share of the hoped-for money coming in later? This does, suddenly take a big bite out of their funding stream, though, when they had the first-year student market all to themselves. No wonder some are beginning to move quickly to get on board. Your post helped me understand that, so thanks!

  7. My learning style would prefer the community university and you are right, we do have that now and people are learning. Good for us!

    “Where do you see online education in 20 years?”

    I hope I do NOT see “online education” but rather education/learning in a myriad of forms that flow beyond classroom walls and into communities and wash through corporations and public places soaking folks with inspiration and wonder and the opportunity to play and feel showered in a sense of awe.

    I hope that much like we have learned that “technology” in education is just a tool and not the answer, we see that the “online” element in whatever form is just a tool in a rich and diverse set of opportunities.

  8. Technology will lead to the removal of the traditional classroom. Convenience via online education and e-learning is the new trend. Educators will always be needed but in a different capacity. Presentation skills and an ability to integrate technology into lessons will become a necessary skill set. This is already the new norm. However, teachers with exceptional ability will thrive in the years to come.

  9. I think it’s trending to a mixed learning environment–some online, some in class. In 20 years technology will be so mobile that “online education” could well be completely “mobile education”. Or maybe Google glasses will be the ultimate teacher :)

    According to a Sloan Consortium survey “Sixty-five percent of higher education institutions say that online learning is a critical part of their long-term strategy,” http://sloanconsortium.org/publications/survey/going_distance_2011. So apparently, a lot of higher ed institutions are already planning on implementing it more.

    I agree with @Muvaffak, that MOOCs won’t last unless they provide accredited degrees. Employers won’t accept a certification from some random online website.

  10. I love the lectures of Prof Leonard Suskind from Stanford university. These lectures are so good and freely available on youtube. This will be the future of education through out the globe. Hail USA for having created the Internet!

    Thanks for reading
    Radheevar

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