A former colleague shared this article with me, Envisioning a Post-Campus America by Megan McArdle at The Atlantic. In the article, McArdle contemplates what the college system would look like if distance learning becomes the norm.
She makes 12 predictions about the future of online education. It's important to note that this is a speculation about online teaching and learning. While McArdle believes that in-person learning may diminish, I doubt it will happen with the rapidity she predicts. Although I agree that online will become increasingly prevalent.
- Education will end up being dominated by a few huge incumbents. Economies of scale and network effects would compress the number of schools to a few - or at least, a few within each specialty.
- Online education will kill the liberal arts degree.
- Professors (course developers) will be selected for teaching instead of research brilliance.
- 95% of tenure-track professors will lose their jobs. At these online learning institutions, very few professors will be needed to produce all the education.
- The end of universities as research centers. For example, work with policy implications would likely move to think tanks or consultancies; basic science would continue to be funded by the government.
- Young job-seekers will need new ways to signal diligence. There will be more freelancing, more try-out employment, and more unpaid internships.
- The economics of graduate school will change substantially. McArdle's implication is that most students, especially outside of STEM, will have to pay for their PhDs.
- Civil society will have to substitute for the intense friend networks that are built at college. Or will Facebook and other online social networking become more important?
- The role of schooling in upward mobility will change.
- The young will have a much lower financial burden in their 20s. That's hopefully going to translate into more investment, and more risk-taking, which is great for everyone.
- The tutoring industry will boom. There will be lots of opportunity for those who can help an online student pull through a rough spot.
- If the credentials become valuable, cheating will be a problem. For example, online test-taking may shift to proctored test centers.
Whether these are good things, I'll leave that to you.
On a related note, the Chronicle of Higher Education is running a very similar story, asking Could many universities follow Borders Bookstores into oblivion? It's an interview with Richard A. DeMillo and Paul M.A. Baker, from Georgia Tech's Center for 21st Century Universities. Some interesting quotes:
"You don't know where events are going to take higher education. But if you want to be an important institution 20 years from now, you have to position yourself so that you can adapt to whatever those technology changes are. Whenever you have this kind of technological change, where there's a large incumbency, the incumbents are inherently at a disadvantage. And we're the incumbents."
"What you're seeing, for example, is technology enabling a single master teacher to reach students on an individualized basis on a scale that is unprecedented. ... I think what you see happening now with the massive open courses is going to fundamentally change the business models. It's going to put the notion of value front and center. Why would I want a credential from this university? Why would I want to pay tuition to this university? It really ups the stakes."
"What it [changing landscape] means is that the university needs to rethink what it's doing, how it's doing it. And how it innovates in a way of surviving in the face of this."
"One thing that you might see is highly tuned curricula, students being able to select from a range of things that they want to learn and a range of mentors that they want to interact with, whether you think of it as hacking degrees or pulling assessments from a menu of different universities. What does that mean for the individual university? It means that a university has to figure out where its true value sits in that landscape."