Oxford University was founded in 1096, Cambridge in 1209. Harvard, a relative newcomer, was founded in 1636. Other than religions, few institutions appear to have maintained their existence or their relative status for as long as major universities. And few institutions, notably again other than religions, have seen so little change. Oxford in 2012 teaches students in ways remarkably similar to Oxford in 1096, seated students listening to professors in a classroom.
I suspect that these two facts are related; stasis in methods has led to stasis in status. And I suspect that both of these facts are about to change. Online education will change how universities teach; as a result, online education will change which universities teach.
Advantages of Online Education
I see three principle advantages to online education, 1) leverage, especially of the best teachers; 2) time savings; 3) individualized teaching and new technologies.
The importance of leverage was brought home to me by a personal anecdote. In 2009, I gave a TED talk on the economics of growth. Since then my 15 minute talk has been watched nearly 700,000 times. That is far fewer views than the most-watched TED talk, Ken Robinson’s 2006 talk on how schools kill creativity, which has been watched some 26 million times. Nonetheless, the 15 minutes of teaching I did at TED dominates my entire teaching career: 700,000 views at 15 minutes each is equivalent to 175,000 student-hours of teaching, more than I have taught in my entire offline career. Moreover, the ratio is likely to grow because my online views are increasing at a faster rate than my offline students.