Speaking at the Techonomy conference in Lake Tahoe last week, Bill Gates argued that the cost of college needs to come down, and the only way to accomplish this is through technology and lessening the importance of “place-based” colleges. That’s how you keep college education open to all. During the talk, he went further and asserted, “Five years from now, on the Web for free, you’ll be able to find the best lectures in the world. It will be better than any single university.”
To be sure, I don’t dispute this particular point. You can already find hundreds of free courses online, and that’s part of our reason for being. But, as I have frequently reminded people, listening to lectures doesn’t mean you’re getting a rounded education. Lectures inform you. They’re great in that way. But you get an education when you couple lectures with readings, when you chew over ideas in a discussion section, when you analyze the lectures and readings in critical papers, when you take exams that force you to synthesize everything you’ve learned during the entire semester, etc. Right now, it is very hard to accomplish this online. On a relative basis, e-learning tools have evolved strikingly slowly during the past decade. The widely deployed tools are often still klunky and rudimentary. And it still takes considerable time, money and labor to produce a truly excellent online course. (At least that’s what I have found during my ten years in the space.) Will we make progress here? Yes. Would I welcome it? Of course. But will we offer a substantive and highly scalable online alternative in five years? Very doubtful, unless a catalyst comes along who can dramatically sweep away the existing major players (who just bog things down) and introduce some serious innovation. Mr. Gates, are you that catalyst?
via Wired Campus