Higher Ed Shake Up
Your Future Doctor Is Learning Medicine Online

MOOCs may not have leveled American higher education in one fell swoop, but the disruptive potential of the information revolution is starting to be felt in the classroom nonetheless. Inside Higher Education reports on the University of Vermont College of Medicine’s radical restructuring of its curriculum around virtual pedagogy:

Four years after two senior academics at Stanford University challenged medical schools to stop lecturing and start flipping their classrooms, major reforms at underway at a handful of colleges to change the way they teach medicine.

The University of Vermont last week became the most recent institution to join the trend, announcing a pedagogical reform in its College of Medicine that observers say is the most sweeping yet. The college will over the next several years remove all lecture courses, replacing them with videos students watch on their own time. And instead of sitting through lectures, students will meet in “active learning” classrooms, led by faculty members, working with their classmates in small groups.

This news points to two lessons about education and technology.

First, the principal advantage of online education programs—like sharing economy companies Uber and AirBnB—will be to make more efficient use of existing resources. Why should valuable student-faculty face time be spent passively absorbing lectures when those can be made available online? Virtual lectures do not eliminate the need for professors, at least in high-level programs like this one, but they reduce the amount of time professors need to spend, and allow the that time to be applied in a more valuable way: Engaging with students and answering questions directly.

Second, the educational programs that have most successfully taken advantage of new technologies so far have been those that serve a relatively rarified student body. Medical schools select for students with a strong academic record who have proven their competency in standardized tests and interviews. Ditto for the the University of Georgia’s “virtual” computer science master’s program, and the Minerva Project, a new San Francisco-based online-education start-up. More work is still needed to harness these technologies to bring down costs at “ordinary” two and four-year colleges.

Third, the fact that established colleges—rigid, regulated, bureaucratic enterprises—are starting to rethink the traditional educational model after decades of relative stagnation underscores the fact that the revolution is only beginning. The technological disruption of higher ed is likely to proceed very slowly, and then all at once.

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