Part 3 of a three-part essay on technology and higher education…
More Radical Changes?
While distance education may provide new income opportunities for colleges and universities, particularly at the graduate level, the options for significantly reducing the cost of education at the undergraduate level will be more limited unless radical changes are made in the structure of the undergraduate experience.
Fully Web-based undergraduate programs would seem to be less costly than residential education, but whether they really are depends largely on the level of personal faculty/student interaction needed in any particular online program. Online education that is designed to have minimal engagement between student and faculty will certainly be less expensive than highly interactive programs. Which types of student can learn effectively using online courses is another question.
A common myth is that if information is available, students will learn. Well, Web or no Web, learning begins with motivation and then takes discipline, and both are needed for success.
Woody Allen supposedly said, “80% of life is just showing up.” Showing up on the Web isn’t enough. Being surrounded by a lot of information doesn’t mean you actually learn anything. If it did, you could skip reading a book and just hug it. What is clear, however, is that there will be many more pathways to learning in the future, probably more routes leading to a college or university degree, and likely a restructuring of the “badging” role diplomas play. Innovation will accelerate, and more intense competition will develop among a wider variety of traditional and new players. Darwin will be delighted, wherever he is logged on.
Higher education is in for unprecedented innovation and competition. The great power of competition is that it tends to lead to higher quality and makes achieving it the price of survival. In most cases, the marketplace, not academic committees, will choose the winners. And that, perhaps, is the biggest change of all.