In the previous post I highlighted Robert Samuelson, who says we need to re-think who needs a college education. In this post, I draw your attention to John E. Chubb and Terry M. Moe, who argue in the Wall Street Journal that we need to re-think how we deliver college education.
In particular, Chubb and Moe explore the potential for integrating online technology with traditional, place-based learning. Some excerpts:
Lectures just scratch the surface of what is possible. Online technology lets course content be presented in many engaging formats, including simulations, video and games. It lets students move through material at their own pace, day or night. It permits continuing assessment, individual tutoring online, customized reteaching of unlearned material, and the systematic collection of data on each student’s progress. In many ways, technology extends an elite-caliber education to the masses who would not otherwise have access to anything close. …
The coming revolution is essentially about finding a new balance in the way education is organized—a balance in which students still go to school and have face-to-face interactions within a community of scholars, but also do a portion of their work online. …
College X might have its students take calculus, computer science and many other lecture courses online from MIT-Harvard (or other suppliers), and have them take other classes with their own local professors for subjects that are better taught in small seminars. College X can thus offer stellar lectures from the best professors in the world—and do locally what it does best, person to person. …
This is a revolution, but also a complicated process that must unfold over time before its benefits are realized. The MITs and Harvards still don’t really know what they are doing, but that is normal at this early stage of massive change. Early stumbles and missteps … will show the way toward what works, and what is the right balance between online and traditional learning.
My question is this: Which institutions will adapt the fastest? Will the winners be MIT, Harvard and other elite universities, with their multibillion-dollar endowments, global brand names and world-class faculties? Will they be the for-profit upstarts, who don’t have to contend with tenured faculty, bureaucratic overhead or conflicting priorities such as Research & Development and alumni expectations to deal with? Or will they be someone else entirely?
Chubb and Moe note that for-profit institutions have been the most aggressive at integrating online courses into their technology — and they have doubled their share of the U.S. higher education market in the past decade, now topping 10%. I expect the for-profits to continue gaining market share — not because they’ve perfected the secret sauce but because they are more flexible organizations, and they are more capable than traditional higher ed institutions of evolving and adapting as people figure out what works.
We have barely begun to grapple with these issues in Virginia. Given the enormous investment that students and taxpayers make in higher education, we need to start having that conversation now.