New technologies continue to inject new life into higher education. Online education programs like MITx have been extremely successful in their early runs, inspiring more schools to develop similar programs. While online courses will not displace conventional forms of education, it’s looking increasingly likely that the next generation of college students will graduate with at least a portion of their credits earned online.The changes are not limited to online education. A new study spanning a number of universitities has shown that in some subjects students using automated teaching software mastered the same material as their peers under the tutelage of professors in a quarter of the time and at a fraction of the cost. Inside Higher Ed has the story (h/t Marginal Revolution).
The robotic software did have disadvantages, the researchers found. For one, students found it duller than listening to a live instructor. Some felt as though they had learned less, even if they scored just as well on tests. Engaging students, such as professors might by sprinkling their lectures with personal anecdotes and entertaining asides, remains one area where humans have the upper hand.But on straight teaching the machines were judged to be as effective, and more efficient, than their personality-having counterparts.
Unsurprisingly, as Inside Higher Ed notes, repeated studies showing the effectiveness of automated learning have not convinced professors to drop their opposition to the programs, which are often seen as a threat to their jobs. Yet with tuition costs rising far beyond most people’s ability to pay, colleges need to consider all options. This one certainly seems like a promising start.Besides the interest of students and their families in stopping the ruinous and unjustifiable increases in college tuition, there is a strong national interest in reducing the cost of education. This country needs an educated citizenry and an educated workforce, but it also needs for these services to be provided in an economically sustainable way. The AAUP and other special interests will fight new approaches to education, but federal and state education policy needs to be centered on the public interest.