The revolution in online education is gaining steam. In the past few months alone, new programs like Coursera and EdX have made remarkable strides in attracting the attention of major universities, and they are now beginning to experiment with new ways of monetizing their products. What’s the next step?In a new piece in the FT, Christopher Caldwell maps out some of the questions online ed entrepreneurs are trying to answer and points to how their answers could give the online ed “tsunami” an unstoppable momentum:
Certain questions of how to make online education pay have been solved, too. Now online educators are giving their courses away free. Google Books did the same when it was photocopying the world’s libraries. Bringing old institutions into the digital age can be a raw deal for those who hold a stake in the legacy technology. Once the consortia begin charging for the cyber product, recriminations and resistance will result. It is wiser not to start charging until habits, dependencies and institutional ruts have made online education indispensable.A great consolidation of personnel must be the result of this technological shift. Once courses are online, best practices will emerge. The US will no longer need hundreds or thousands of organic chemistry professors. Network effects will bring a stampede of students to the courses of the best universities. Students will abandon even excellent professors at excellent universities to learn code-writing the “MIT way” or the “Stanford way”, if they believe that is the idiom their future bosses are most likely to speak in.
It’s still far too soon to say how much of this will come to pass. There have been many surprises so far, and there are doubtless many more to come. But our chief hope is that at least some of these surprises will make education more affordable and do something to relieve the already crushing burden of student debt. (And WRM for one hopes that American foreign policy will be one of the last subjects where worthy professors are rendered obsolete by harsh technological change!)Read the whole thing.