Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Disruption?
As a politics professor, I feel I should know something about health policy, but it is mostly dread that made me sign up for Ezekiel Emanuel's class, Health Policy and the Affordable Care Act, through Coursera. Word is that higher education is about to be disrupted by online providers, like Coursera and Udacity, and their MOOCs (massive open online courses). If students can take political philosophy with Harvard's Michael Sandel for free, why will they pay to take it with me?
Posted by Jim Zellmer at October 11, 2012 2:51 AM
Have you seen Professor Sandel's course? I bet I am not alone in wanting to take his more than I want to take mine. Sebastian Thrun, co-founder of Udacity, predicts that in 50 years there will be no more than 10 higher education institutions. Thrun isn't quietly waiting for his prediction to pan out, either. Pearson VUE recently contracted to administer proctored final exams for some of Udacity's courses, an important step toward offering credit that most colleges will find hard to reject.
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If it is the case that there will be no more than a handful of elite university institutions in the next 50 years, I contend that it will not be because of online education courses. It certainly may be the case as the US declines into a third world nation status, and deservedly so, but not because online education will be an adequate mechanism to attain mastery of substantive knowledge.
I'm not saying use of online materials delivered through devices such as the iPad will not occur, or that it would be wrong to do so. I think the opposite is true; it can be a great boon to delivery of course material, assessment, lectures and individualization of material, if done correctly, but by itself, it should have no effect on the number of colleges and universities students will be clamoring to get into. Access to good resources is only a small part of the educational process.
Among other recent material, the book How Learning Works by Susan Ambrose, et al, is a great summary of research on learning, with recommendations on how experts can successfully transfer their knowledge to college students. (And I have no qualms with saying this information applies equally well to grade, middle, high schools).
The book says nothing about materials used or how materials themselves must or should be delivered -- they aren't the reasons why students learn more or less of the material of coursework.
The issues raised and answered are
1) How does students' prior knowledge affect their learning?
2) How does the way students organize knowledge affect their learning?
3) What factors motivate students to learn?
4) How do students develop mastery?
5) What kinds of practice and feedback enhance learning?
6) Why do student development and course climate matter for student learning?
7) How do students become self-directed learners?
From the material presented in this book, and the research backing it up, it seems apparent that professors, classrooms and student-student/student-professor interactions, and the climate the classrooms and universities offer to students and professors will remain the key elements of successful learning and engagement.
Mere online delivery of material via iPads or other electronic devices will not result in becoming educated. Only the challenges offered within classroom and lab and hands-on and student-student/professor-student interactions appropriately delivered will result in the needed knowledge.