So the VC guys and the start-ups look at K-12 and higher education, which between them cost over $1 trillion per year in America, and much more around the world. They see businesses that are organized around communication between people and the exchange of information, two things that are increasingly happening over the Internet. Right now, nearly all of that communication and exchange happens on physical platforms—schools and colleges—that were built a long time ago. A huge amount of money is tied up in labor and business arrangements that depend on things staying that way. How likely are they to stay that way, in the long term? Sure, there are a ton of regulatory protections and political complications tied up in the fact that most education is funded by the taxpayer. As always, the timing would be difficult, and there is as much risk in being too early as too late.
Still, $1 trillion, just sitting there. And how much does it cost for a firm like Learn Capital to invest in a few people sitting around a table with their MacBook Airs? That’s a cheap lottery ticket with a huge potential jackpot waiting for whomever backs the winning education platform.
The amount of waste and duplication in education is huge. Why should tens of thousands of explain calculus every year? Why not just record the lectures and use all live teaching labor for Q&A sessions?
When universities and colleges start doing massive layoffs think of it as the freeing up of a dwindling supply of high IQ labor.
The big name universities are in a rush to go online. They are starting to feel desperate.
A few months ago, free online courses from prestigious universities were a rarity. Now, they are the cause for announcements every few weeks, as a field suddenly studded with big-name colleges and competing software platforms evolves with astonishing speed.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are taking off.
A group of online-learning ventures is collaborating on a new kind of free class to be offered this fall, known as a mechanical MOOC (for “massive open online course”), that will teach a computer-programming language by patching together existing resources from open-learning sites.
After software and cheap high speed connections cause a gutting of teaching staffs in most universities what comes next? Automation of medicine. The total costs of health care in the United States is well over $2 trillion. The potential for savings is therefore even larger. Though health care automation entails tackling a much harder set of problems.
Alexis Madrigal relays a quote from Tyler Cowen speaking at the Aspen Ideas Festival. Tyler expects education to get mauled (my term, not his) by the internet.
Look at the music industry. It's been completely overturned by the Internet. My vision of the world is that everywhere will be like the music industry, but we've only seen it in a few places so far. Journalism is in the midst of the battle. And higher education is probably next.
Why should people get paid to individually relay information to small groups of people? It is incredibly expensive, wasteful of the time of those receiving the info, and very inconvenient. You've got to be near where the class is taught. You've got to go at the appointed time. The lectures for a course are spread out, 2 or 3 days a week over several weeks. What if you've got a career and other time demands? The quality of the delivered lectures is all over the map. The colleges expect you to apply to be admitted and even pay for the privilege.
Why deal with all the many downsides of higher education if all you want is, say, 25 or 30 hours of lectures, preferably by someone really good at explaining each topic? Why not be able to choose among many competing sources of lectures? Why not be able to watch the lectures at any time of your choosing?
Online courses seem to offer the most value for smart kids born to parents of modest means. For dual income parents pulling in a half million dollars per year a $50k per year private college is affordable. But for parents making $50k per year or less (especially if parents are divorced and therefore paying for 2 households) even state colleges are too expensive.
David Karpf responded to Tyler on Huffington Post, expecting less disruption, at least in the short term. Karpf also responded in the comments of Madrigal's post:
But I'm pretty confident on this one. I study disruption for a living (in the political advocacy/nonprofit space). We see the same disruptive pattern pretty much everywhere. Old industries (read: universities, record companies, newspapers) slowly adopt new technology. New competitors (read: University of Phoenix, napster, blogs) adopt it much faster. The old industries remain pretty much intact, at least partially because we've built a set of social institutions around them (read: parents' and employers' college expectations, recording contracts, press freedom protections). Change in the old industries shows up after their revenue streams become seriously threatened (CraigsList/Google-driven changes to classified ads).
So the question is how fast will the expectations about higher education shift among parents and employers? I see a migration path where some kids will earn part of their credits online, especially for the first couple of years, and then finish at a bricks-and-mortar school. I also expect working people will shift their continuing education online much faster than kids in their teens and twenties. One's time is much more valuable once one is already in a skilled occupation. So adults in the workforce have a greater incentive to go online to save time and gain schedule flexibility.
Sebastian Thrun showed in a computer science course at Stanford that providing education online can be vastly cheaper.
In the end, there were 160,000 people signed up, from every country in the world, he says, except North Korea. Rather than tape boring lectures, the professors asked students to solve problems and then the next course video would discuss solutions. Mr. Thrun broke the rules again. Twenty-three thousand people finished the course. Of his 200 Stanford students, 30 attended lectures and the other 170 took it online. The top 410 performers on exams were online students. The first Stanford student was No. 411.
Mr. Thrun's cost was basically $1 per student per class. That's on the order of 1,000 times less per pupil than for a K-12 or a college education—way more than the rule of thumb in Silicon Valley that you need a 10 times cost advantage to drive change.
This will take off because the stories of crushing college debts and poor job prospects keep spreading around. Why learn useless junk at high expensive? Better to learn useless junk at low expense or really valuable stuff at low expense. Once people get out into the workforce and discover their first attempt at college education was a waste of time that left them deeply in debt they are going to be really open to learning valuable stuff at much lower cost.
Why not watch online courses and take online tests? Granted, you won't be able to do question and answer sessions. But if Q&A sessions get recorded and properly indexed you'll be able to search thru and find questions asked that are similar to your own questions. Odds are your questions won't be unique.
Another thing to note here: Smart people with technical skills will face more competition. In the past if you didn't figure out you ought to take a more technical educational track then by age 22 you were often left without the opportunity to wise up and change course. But with online courses someone who hits their late 20s and finally clues in on what's valuable in the job market will have a much easier time going after skills that matter.
Consider Stanford’s experience: Last fall, 160,000 students in 190 countries enrolled in an Artificial Intelligence course taught by Mr. Thrun and Peter Norvig, a Google colleague. An additional 200 registered for the course on campus, but a few weeks into the semester, attendance at Stanford dwindled to about 30, as those who had the option of seeing their professors in person decided they preferred the online videos, with their simple views of a hand holding a pen, working through the problems.
The bricks-and-mortar college campus model is headed for obsolescence. It makes far more sense to have a small number of the best lecturers and cutting edge researchers record videos that can be watched by hundreds of thousands or even millions. We get multiple advantages from this approach:
What else we need: more standard tests that one can take online to test one's understanding of a topic area. Also, facilities where one can take proctored tests for a wide range of subjects. Some companies already make a business out of this with industry standard tests such as for Cisco networking certifications and Microsoft certifications. We need the same model to cover understanding of basic college courses such as Calculus and Organic Chemistry.
I expect in the next 10 years the online courses are going to start driving some traditional colleges out of business. The uptake rate for online education is rapidly accelerating. This will raise productivity and cut costs across the economy.
Another important advantage of online education: it will break up the educational factory model.
A year ago on the Daily Show presidential aspirant and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty opined that online courses are the ticket to lower cost, greater convenience, and better education.
Do you really think in 20 years somebody is going to put on their backpack, drive a half an hour to the University of Minnesota from the suburbs, haul their keister across campus and hear some boring person drone on about Econ 101 or Spanish 101? ... Is there another way to deliver the service other than a one-size-fits-all monopoly provider that says, 'Show up at 9 o'clock on Wednesday morning for Econ 101?' Can't I just pull that down on my iPhone or my iPad whenever the heck I feel like it, from wherever I feel like? And instead of paying thousands of dollars, can I pay $199 for iCollege instead of 99 cents for iTunes?
Those views are similar to my own. You should be able to choose from many pre-recorded lectures on the same topic and watch lectures and interact with drilling software and tests at any time of the night or day. We need to move to that model anyway in order to best utilize findings of research into memory formation, testing, and learning. See more here.
Education has been delivered by lecture for the last 200 years, so yes, I really think that 19 years from now it will still be the same.
Furthermore, there’s already a website where you can buy the same instructional material they use at college. It’s called Amazon.com. But no one cares if you’ve read the textbook on your own and know the material. Employers hire based on credentials and not whether you actually know the material taught at college.
Yes, the credentials are important. But since when has online study prevented the earning of credentials? Real bricks-and-mortar colleges are increasingly offering online courses. Plus, more credible pure online educational institutions are emerging such as Western Governors University.
Students certainly aren't put off by concerns about earning a credential. From fall 2005 to fall 2006 the number of students enrolled in at least one online course rose from 2.3 to 3.2 million. By fall 2009 the number was 5.6 million college students taking at least one online course. When do we hit 10 million?
A few of his commenters think a college's study-friendly environment and the structure and deadlines of an in-person course.
I "taught" engineering at the college and university level for 37 years. I slowly realized that what I was doing was providing structure and discipline via deadlines and grades. I never taught anyone anything. They learned stuff by themselves because of the discipline and structure.
But some evidence suggests a large number of students can handle the online context and learn just fine: Online Students Perform As Well As In-Person Students. Even people enrolled in bricks-and-mortar colleges living at the campus are increasingly watching the lectures from their dorm rooms. What does that tell you?
I see the growth of online education as an inevitable market response to very high prices and inflexibility of institutions that are long overdue for reform.
On a related note see a couple of posts by Reihan Salam about a cheaper model for bricks-and-mortar higher education and another take on the choices elite universities make in terms of who they'll enroll. It seems clear to me that universities act like they know they serve a signaling function (our students are smart and motivated) more than an educational function.
The key to educational reform: find cheaper ways to provide the signaling function. This is possible because there are many alternative ways to demonstrate smartness that involve education. The key is to separate the testing from the course provision. Let someone test out their knowledge without having to pay tuition to the same institution as provides the test.
Update: Tyler Cowen takes a look at research economic research papers on how much of the value of education is a signaling function. The answer will depend on the market (e.g. US versus Britain), the IQ of the students and the eliteness of their schools, and which major each student takes.
Update II: Let me repeat: It is possible to find cheaper ways to do the signaling function that bricks-and-mortar colleges provide today. Other ways to demonstrate your intellectual prowess:
Is a degree from Western Governors University worth as much as a degree from Harvard? Of course not. But if getting into an Ivy League is out of reach then WGU can make more sense than quite a few other choices.
This school year, dozens of professors from across the country gave students an unexpected assignment: Write Wikipedia entries about public policy issues.
The Wikimedia Foundation, which supports the Web site, organized the project in an effort to bulk up the decade-old online encyclopedia’s coverage of topics ranging from the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 to Sudanese refugees in Egypt. Such issues have been treated on the site in much less depth than TV shows, celebrity biographies and other elements of pop culture.
Granted, on topics which have political implications Wikipedia is dominated by left-leaning people who slant their coverage. In spite of that Wikipedia has a lot of useful knowledge. Turning otherwise wasted student labor writing papers into more enduring intellectual products is a step forward.
This idea of harnessing students to create intellectual products of enduring value seems like it could be applied to projects outside of Wikipedia's domain. Students could get practice doing work more like the real world and create useful work products rather than assignments that immediately get thrown out.
Most obvious: computer science students could on real world problems that are usually neglected. For example, computer science students could develop regression test suites for Linux device drivers and other Linux services or for gcc glibc library functions. Ditto for other open source projects. Students could develop test suites for scripting languages such as Ruby, Perl, Python, PHP. They could also develop test suites for security in browsers, important server apps, and desktop apps.
Washington state legislators want to easy the use of courses earned thru Western Governors University, an online non-profit school founded by 19 governors of the US west. State budget crunches are helping to feed increased interest in lower cost online educational options.
At a time when Washington's higher-education budget is being slashed, some lawmakers believe a partnership with Western Governors University, a private, not-for-profit online school, could provide more access to college programs without costing the state any money. Critics say the legislation raises philosophical questions about just what constitutes a college education.
The lawmakers want to make it easier to transfer WGU course credits to Washington state universities.
Go as fast as you want to go and then demonstrate your competency when you are ready to do so. This is the way education should work in the future.
Western Governors University, a non-profit, online university and an innovator in distance education, was founded by 19 U.S. governors to provide working adults with affordable access to a quality college degree. WGU is not only all online, it uses a unique competency-based learning model. This competency-based approach to learning allows students to advance in their online degree program by demonstrating their knowledge and skill, instead of logging hours in class. Rather than “attending” classes online, students have 24/7 access to a variety of learning resources for each course. They can complete their studies on a schedule that allows them to meet their job and family responsibilities. WGU faculty do not teach—they serve as mentors, working one-on-one with each student to provide coaching, support, and guidance.
Since the WGU “campus” is online, its nearly 24,000 students live and work in all 50 states, and WGU faculty members are also located across the U.S. Unlike universities established using a traditional, brick-and-mortar approach, WGU’s academic model was designed for the online environment.
Have we reached Peak Classrooms yet? Will online now take off so fast that the number of people attending classes in-person will enter a long term decline? With upper end universities charging over $50k per year the bricks-and-mortar model has become far too expensive. People spend years, even decades, trying to pay off the loans they took to attend college. This is a crushing burden with which to start out one's working life. Online education is the best hope for freeing the young from becoming beasts of burden, saddled with debts that can't even be discharged in bankruptcy court.
Michelle Mills, married to a military man, could not complete a degree at a few colleges she attended because they moved too often. But she was able to complete a degree quickly as she continued courses while in different states and countries.
Then she stumbled on a website that led her to Western Governors University (WGU), a nonprofit online institution. The school's reasonable tuition—just $2,890 for a six-month term—coupled with an academic model that lets students accelerate their completion of the degree based on prior subject knowledge, seemed at first "too good to be true," says Mills, who enrolled in the school's BS program in marketing management in the fall of 2008. WGU's unconventional structure was ideal for Mills, who earned her college degree in one year and, last year, received her MBA from the school.
Conventional colleges not only tie you to a location but also to a schedule. Can't take the time some week to attend classes? Not a problem when the classes are video recorded. Got a block of time where you can study all waking hours? With many online courses you can speed up, watch lectures more rapidly, and choose to take tests as soon as you think you are ready.
Autodidacts should be able to take a test to find out their weak areas, go study on their own with some suggested readings, and then come back and take a test again. Online tests for each subject should have enough versions and variations that someone can try to pass a class several times and gauge their progress each time.
College students participating in a new study on online courses said they felt less connected and had a smaller sense of classroom community than those who took the same classes in person – but that didnt keep online students from performing just as well as their in-person counterparts.
The study by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln gauged students' perception and performance in three undergraduate science courses that had both online and face-to-face class versions. It found that online students did not feel a sense of cohesion, community spirit, trust or interaction, elements that have been shown to foster effective classroom learning.
At the same time, in the portion of the survey about students' perception of their own learning, online students reported levels equal to those reported by face-to-face students and at the end of the day, their grades were equivalent to their in-person peers.
Education is taking longer to go online than the news. But cost, convenience, and eventually quality of online classes will eventually all surpass the average available in-person classes in bricks-and-mortar classrooms. Why watch an average or below-average lecturer live when you can watch a recorded video by one of the best lecturers on a subject? Videos of course lectures will allow the vast majority of students to watch better courses than they'd get to watch live in-person. Learning software will develop to the point where it drills you better than any tutor. So why pay more?
The biggest argument for going to a physical college is going to be the prestige associated with the college name. People who graduate from Harvard or Yale or MIT managed to get accepted to these schools in the first place. That's a powerful signal to employers that these students are smart and disciplined enough to get into top colleges. But for the vast majority of college students the name of their college or university does not signal anything special about their intellectual abilities. So why not go the cheaper and more convenient route?
A new report from the Sloan Consortium finds online education continues its rapid growth.
The 2010 Sloan Survey of Online Learning reveals that enrollment rose by almost one million students from a year earlier. The survey of more than 2,500 colleges and universities nationwide finds approximately 5.6 million students were enrolled in at least one online course in fall 2009, the most recent term for which figures are available.
That's a 21% growth rate in one year. I can see a Peak Bricks-And-Mortar Enrollment approaching. Will as many people be sitting in classrooms 10 years from now? I seriously doubt it.
“This represents the largest ever year-to-year increase in the number of students studying online,” said study co-author I Elaine Allen, Co-Director of the Babson Survey Research Group and Professor of Statistics & Entrepreneurship at Babson College. “Nearly thirty percent of all college and university students now take at least one course online.” She adds:
If the current growth rate continues for just 3 more years then over half of all students will take at least one course online. The financial pressures on big public universities and community colleges will increase the appeal of lower cost online courses.
"There may be some clouds on the horizon. While the sluggish economy continues to drive enrollment growth, large public institutions are feeling budget pressure and competition from the for-profit sector institutions. In addition, the for-profit schools worry new federal rules on financial aid and student recruiting may have a negative impact on enrollments.”
Indications for online learning all seem promising.
The university prestige racket has become too expensive. Technology is opening up the door for cheaper ways to deliver education. The taxpayers are balking at high spending for higher education. I see the high costs of conventional universities colliding with cheap internet course delivery, incorporation of learning research results into software, the enormous convenience of online information and, last but not least, impoverished governments running large deficits and faced with unfunded old age entitlements. The universities are going to come out losers.
The University of California is finally stepping up to the plate to offer online education for a small number of classes. The UC should take much bigger steps in the online realm out of budgetary necessity.
The University of California has issued an invitation to faculty to participate in a rigorous pilot project designed to test whether undergraduate online courses can be taught in a way that delivers UC-quality instruction.
The project will involve as many as 25 for-credit courses offered in a wide array of disciplines, and faculty will have until Dec. 13 to submit letters of intent stating their interest in developing and teaching an online course as part of UC's Online Instruction Pilot Project. The university expects most courses selected for the project to be ready for student enrollment by January 2012, and the pilot project will continue until the end of that year.
The UC is rather late to the game for an innovation that has the potential to deliver many benefits. The UC can't hope to get enough money to fund bricks-and-mortar classrooms for a growing state population.
The project is getting under way at a time when there is a growing demand from students for a UC education, and UC budget projections show an increasing gap between these enrollment pressures and the university's funding for on-campus construction of brick-and-mortar facilities.
The state government has unsustainable pensions whose growing costs will cause more cuts of tax revenue appropriations for the UC. The state's chronic budget deficit means that the UC needs to restructure to cut the costs of delivering instruction to students. Online education is a necessity and should not be approached as an experiment.
Flanked by Mayor Chuck Reed, who has made pension reform a key target in his city, the governor said the multiplying costs of government retirements have drained public coffers and outraged voters.
"We're spending more this year on pensions than we are on higher education," Schwarzenegger said.
State employees can retire so young that they spend many years collecting benefits.
The budget rolls back pension benefit increases for state workers, which were approved in 1999 at the height of the dot-com boom. It increases the age of retirement eligibility from 50 to 55 for future public safety workers and from 55 to 60 for other new hires.
No need for state employees with high retirement benefits to maintain bricks-and-mortar buildings if teachers, students, and other current users of those buildings meet in virtual classrooms and watch prerecorded lectures.
Regular readers know that I've long argued for online accelerated education as a way to cut costs, speed entry into the labor market, and improve national finances. While bricks-and-mortar educational institutions are threatened by this development even major state universities are embracing online lecture delivery out of a need for lecture hall space.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Like most other undergraduates, Anish Patel likes to sleep in. Even though his Principles of Microeconomics class at 9:35 a.m. is just a five-minute stroll from his dorm, he would rather flip open his laptop in his room to watch the lecture, streamed live over the campus network.
U Fla does this because it does not have an available lecture hall big enough to hold all the students: 1,500 in a class.
The University of Florida broadcasts and archives Dr. Rush’s lectures less for the convenience of sleepy students like Mr. Patel than for a simple principle of economics: 1,500 undergraduates are enrolled and no lecture hall could possibly hold them.
Think about that. If most aren't going to be able to sit in the lecture hall to watch the live lecture then why only 1,500 watching? Why not 15,000 scattered across 10 campuses? Why not 30,000 more at home or perhaps on a beach or cafe? The marginal cost per additional student is very low online.
Of course, once people are watching their lectures via a video feed why only live feeds? Why not delayed watching of pre-recorded lectures so that someone can just sit down and watch an entire semester's course in 2 days? Think of the enormous convenience. It becomes far easier to hold jobs and to squeeze in learning when you have the time. Got a few weeks of vacation coming up? Watch several courses in evenings and weekends. Then on vacation watch them again, heavily study, take practice tests online, and then show up to a room to do proctored test taking. That is the way higher education should be done.
Any class that can use prerecorded lectures and online tests (a proctoring system still needed) with automated grading can be incredibly cheap to deliver. Why have thousands of basic economics courses offered by thousands of colleges when a much smaller number of courses could be prerecorded and delivered to tens or hundreds of thousands of students each year?
A group of states could get together and pool funds to produce recorded lectures for hundreds of courses. The number of college faculty could be cut in half and then cut in half again. This would enable a lowering tuition to a small fraction of current levels. For decades the cost of a college education has risen each year faster than the rate of inflation. Enough already. Time to use technology to push costs down.
Writing in the Washington Monthly Kevin Carey reports on an all-you-can-eat educational buffet for only $99 per month.
Luckily for Solvig, there were new options available. She went online looking for something that fit her wallet and her time horizon, and an ad caught her eye: a company called StraighterLine was offering online courses in subjects like accounting, statistics, and math. This was hardly unusual—hundreds of institutions are online hawking degrees. But one thing about StraighterLine stood out: it offered as many courses as she wanted for a flat rate of $99 a month. “It sounds like a scam,” Solvig thought—she’d run into a lot of shady companies and hard-sell tactics on the Internet. But for $99, why not take a risk?
Solvig threw herself into the work, studying up to eighteen hours a day. And contrary to expectations, the courses turned out to be just what she was looking for. Every morning she would sit down at her kitchen table and log on to a Web site where she could access course materials, read text, watch videos, listen to podcasts, work through problem sets, and take exams. Online study groups were available where she could collaborate with other students via listserv and instant messaging. StraighterLine courses were designed and overseen by professors with PhDs, and she was assigned a course adviser who was available by e-mail. And if Solvig got stuck and needed help, real live tutors were available at any time, day or night, just a mouse click away.
Crucially for Solvig—who needed to get back into the workforce as soon as possible—StraighterLine let students move through courses as quickly or slowly as they chose. Once a course was finished, Solvig could move on to the next one, without paying more. In less than two months, she had finished four complete courses, for less than $200 total. The same courses would have cost her over $2,700 at Northeastern Illinois, $4,200 at Kaplan University, $6,300 at the University of Phoenix, and roughly the gross domestic product of a small Central American nation at an elite private university. They also would have taken two or three times as long to complete.
Read the whole thing. Radical stuff.
I do not see any bricks-and-mortar college or university as immune to the market forces that are building up online. Harvard, MIT, Yale, and Stanford won't be driven out of business by far cheaper online course offerings. But their oxes will be seriously gored. Look at it this way: Even if most kids who are smart enough to get into the Ivy or Caltech decide to go to those really expensive schools if even 10% of their prospective students decide to save bucks (and get thru faster!) online then the demand for what they are selling declines and so does their pricing power.
The biggest appeal of the highest prestige schools is that you get to say that you attended one. The schools confer status on their graduates as a form of hidden IQ test. The use of IQ tests is taboo and legally problematic. But the knowledge that a kid just graduated from MIT provides potential employers a still legitimate filter for talent. But that status-granting function can be fulfilled more cheaply online. Let us consider the ways to provide proxy IQ tests with online education:
The kids who use cheaper online courses to get thru school more quickly in a hard subject gain the most benefit. They save money, demonstrate their superior intellectual ability with both subject matter and age of graduation, and they pick up extra years of income by entering the labor force at a younger age.
I expect hundreds of colleges to out of business in the next few decades. The Left's continued push for more education spending on old style educational institutions is a huge waste of resources. Pitifully low college graduation rates for those who enroll (check out this chart which includes graduation rates) demonstrate that a lot of people are going to college who do not belong there. Better that they waste a year online and for much less money discover that they aren't up to college-level material. But the current regime instead will try to develop incentives to keep them in school.
Online education will be especially valuable for smart kids sitting in grade school and high school classrooms with dumb kids and not especially bright high school and elementary school teachers. Why waste time in the slow (and for me incredibly boring) lane of education? Shift into higher gear and relate to intellectual peers in online course discussion sections. Ask questions of smart tutors. Watch best-of-breed video recorded lectures by great instructors whose time you could not afford to sit in classes with. Online education will be a step up for most smarter students. As more lectures get recorded the number and quality of lectures available to watch will improve dramatically. The future of online education looks bright.
One last point: The acceleration of the rate of learning that online education enables will boost tax revenue by moving the smartest people into the labor market at younger ages.
The University of Iowa has capped the number of online students and courses that faculty members can teach after discovering a handful of professors received hefty bonuses for teaching up to three times more classes than their regular loads.
The university doesn't want too much market forces and incentives driving professors to work harder. The U of I Provost Wallace Loh has now placed a limit of 1 course per semester with at most 36 students per course. This limit puts a ceiling of about $10000 on income from online courses. The justification: teachers can't teach several courses at once.
Big lecture classes have hundreds of students in them. Why limit online courses to a tenth their size? Given that online courses can use more automation than in-person teaching this limit seems like an unnecessary obstacle in the way of the future of education.
A small number of professors showed themselves as very responsive to economic incentives. What's the problem with the rest of the faculty?
Fourteen U of I professors were paid overload bonuses in excess of 30 percent of their base salaries for the year that ended June 30.
The bonuses, which ranged from $17,000 to $120,000, were paid to professors who taught additional classes beyond the four per school year required by the university.
In the most extreme example, a popular U of I health science professor was paid $121,000 in overload pay on top of his $74,000 salary for teaching 14 courses last year - 10 courses more than the required load.
Higher education is an enormous cost burden and entirely too labor intensive. Universities should be trying to move more of their course delivery online in order to cut costs and boost productivity.
What education should look like in the future:
Recorded lectures would allow one to watch lectures by different experts on the same subject. Don't like one guy's presentation of basic chemistry? Watch 2 or 3 others. Since the recorded lectures would be watched by many more people than sit in a lecture hall the cost per viewer could be an order of magnitude or more lower than typical college course tuition prices.
The vast majority of the nation’s 15 million college students — at least 79 percent — live off campus, and with gas prices above $4 a gallon, many are seeking to cut commuting costs by studying online. Colleges from Massachusetts and Florida to Texas to Oregon have reported significant online enrollment increases for summer sessions, with student numbers in some cases 50 percent or 100 percent higher than last year. Although some four-year institutions with large online programs — like the University of Massachusetts and Villanova — have experienced these increases, the greatest surges have been registered at two-year community colleges, where most students are commuters, many support families and few can absorb large new expenditures for fuel.
In this case high gasoline prices are catalyzing a change that is beneficial for other reasons. Automation of the delivery of lectures and course material is a needed step to tame and lower educational costs. This shift isn't doing much yet to lower course prices. But I predict that will change.
Enrollments in online classes expanded rapidly early in this decade, but growth slowed in 2006 to less than 10 percent, according to statistics compiled last year by researchers at Babson College in Massachusetts. Some recent increases reported by college officials in interviews were much larger, which they attributed to the rising cost of gasoline. Pricing policies for online courses vary by campus, but most classes cost as much as, or more than, traditional ones.
That cost difference is going to change because much of the cost is in development of materials and fixed administrative costs. Eventually some institutions will go for much larger volumes of students and emerge as low cost leaders. This will drive a shake-out and the number of colleges will decline.
We might see a split emerge between course content generation and test administration. Take calculus for example. State governments could mandate that their state colleges record calculus lectures and make them freely available. Then only the tests would be charged for. Video recordings of dozens of different teachers delivering basic calculus lectures might become available for free. But to get credit for knowing calculus you'll have to pay to take a series of tests from an accredited college.
Lots of very talented teachers only get seen by the people who physically sit in their class rooms at the times they deliver their lectures. As soon as they deliver a lecture performance that performance is lost forever. What a waste. But the move by major universities to put at least some of their courses on the web is reducing the amount of that waste. Online video courses have made an MIT physics professor popular with students from around the world
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Walter H. G. Lewin, 71, a physics professor, has long had a cult following at M.I.T. And he has now emerged as an international Internet guru, thanks to the global classroom the institute created to spread knowledge through cyberspace.
Professor Lewin’s videotaped physics lectures, free online on the OpenCourseWare of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have won him devotees across the country and beyond who stuff his e-mail in-box with praise.
These course will last longer than Lewin will teach. Every professor whose courses get recored in this fashion will add to an expanding store of valuable course work. This course work breaks students free of geographical locations, schedules, and makes a large assortment of lecture series accessible any time of the day and any day of the year.
You can watch Professor Lewin teach 8.01 Physics I: Classical Mechanics from Fall 1999, 8.02 Electricity and Magnetism from Spring 2002, and 8.03 Physics III: Vibrations and Waves from Fall 2004. Most of MIT's online courses do not come with full audio and visual. However, look at MIT's complete list and note the icons that tell you what is available for each course.
A recent Sloan Consortium report about online higher education finds that online education is rapidly expanding.
Background: For the past several years, online enrollments have been growing substantially faster than the overall higher education student body. However, last year’s study, while reporting the same numeric increase as the previous year, had a lower percentage growth rate. Could this be an early indicator that online enrollment growth has finally begun to plateau?
The evidence: There has been no leveling of the growth rate of online enrollments; institutions of higher education report record online enrollment growth on both a numeric and a percentage basis.
- Nearly 3.2 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2005 term, a substantial increase over the 2.3 million reported the previous year.
- The more than 800,000 additional online students is more than twice the number added in any previous year.
My take: faculties at colleges and universities mostly fear online education and see it as a threat to their job security. But administrators and boards of trustees probably are starting to feel more fear of competing institutions which start offering online education and start grabbing away student customers. Yes, customers. Online education will force colleges to compete more directly and to start treating students more like customers.
The shift in the dynamic away from fearing entrenched internal bureaucratic interests and toward fearing online competitors at other existing accredited bricks-and-mortar institutions should accelerate as more students start choosing online courses. Existing institutions have to either rapidly embrace online education or dwindle. The elite schools can ignore it for the longest period of time. The lower ranked schools do not have that luxury.
The bigger schools and the schools with lots of researchers (i.e. lots of brain power) have the most online offerings.
More than 96 percent of the very largest institutions (more than 15,000 total enrollments) have some online offerings, which is more than double the rate observed for the smallest institutions. The proportion of institutions with fully online programs rises steadily as institutional size increases, and about two-thirds of the very largest institutions have fully online programs, compared to only about one-sixth of the smallest institutions. Doctoral/Research institutions have the greatest penetration of offering online programs as well as the highest overall rate (more than 80%) of having some form of online offering (either courses or full programs).
This makes sense intuitively for a number of reasons. First off, a large school can amortize their online web site administration costs over more courses. Second, the larger schools have more courses and departments and so have more choices on what to put online. Plus, some of the public universities have state mandates to provide continuing education to adults (e.g. University of California Extension) and online courses offer more convenient and cheaper ways to do this.
I see an opening here for private foundations which want to spread ideas and improve education: Film great lecture series on topics you want to promote. Then develop web site software for delivering online courses, lectures, course materials, and automated tests. Then offer all this for free to smaller colleges to let them get started in online education. I've pitched this idea to a couple of foundations recently. Hope they pick up on it.
Chief Academic Officers do not see quality as a barrier to the spread of online learning.
Background: The first study in this series found that a majority of Chief Academic Officers rated the learning outcomes for online education “as good as or better” than those for face-to-face instruction. The following year’s report displayed similar results. Do academic leaders hold the same opinion today, given the rapid growth in the numbers of online students?
The evidence: By an increasing margin, most Chief Academic Officers believe that the quality of online instruction is equal to or superior to that of face-to-face learning.
- In 2003, 57 percent of academic leaders rated the learning outcomes in online education as the same or superior to those in face-to-face. That number is now 62 percent, a small but noteworthy increase.
- The proportion who believe that online learning outcomes are superior to those for face-to-face is still relatively small but has grown by 40 percent since 2003 from 12.1 percent in 2003 to 16.9 percent.
In the long run the percentage who see online outcomes as superior should rise. The small number of very best lecturers on each topic get seen now only by a small group of people in a single room at a single moment in time. But video recording of lectures will enable each student to see the best lectures and even see multiple excellent lecturers each tackle the same topic. What caused the decline and fall of the Roman Empire? Why not watch a half dozen historians argue their interpretations? Want to understand theories on the biology of aging? Again, watch several experts offer their own reviews of the evidence.
If by "online education" they mean over the internet then that's really a subset of computer-based education. Whether one loads a video off of a web site or a DVD is an implementation detail. The DVD delivery mechanism is very important because it unchains the learner from the internet. Ditto for learning game cartridges. Computers should provide instruction just as well if you are sitting in the middle of a forest or on an airplane or tethered to the internet in a city apartment.
Education has become far too expensive and slow. Many leave college with a degree after 5 years burdened with 5 and 6 figure education debts to start off their working lives. Their living standards remain low for years and their parents suffer lower living standards as well.
College is also incredibly inconvenient in an age where convenience defines so many other parts of life. Want to go to a grocery store at 2 AM? One's probably open. Want cash from a bank on a Sunday? Find an ATM machine - and many are located away from banks in shopping malls. Want to book an airline flight? Do searches online and choose from dozens of choices. By contrast, colleges make you take courses in bricks-and-mortar buildings at the hours and days of their choosing and at the rates that were chosen by centuries old traditions. Your course will last a semester of about 12 weeks. It will start on a particular day. It might only get offered once a year. Take it or leave it. Your instructor might be bored, unenthused, and perhaps not even speak English very well. You'll have to buy a big thick textbook and lug it around. This is all incredibly inconvenient. I say down with tradition. Time to automate and make education cheap and convenient.
Southern online enrollments are growing at twice the rate as the rest of the nation; there are now over 1.1 million students taking at least on online course at southern institutions.
The sixteen southern states represent over one-third of total online enrollments, with over 1.1 million students taking at least one online course in the fall 2005 term.
Why is that? One possibility: Conservative Southerners are less enthralled with liberal-dominated higher educational institutions and perhaps their boards of directors have pressured the universities and colleges to move online more rapidly.
The Sloan Consortium also has a Midwestern edition of their online education reports.
The Sloan Consortium (funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation which was funded with money from the guy who built up GM into a massive corporation) produces interesting reports about education, especially about online education. A recent Sloan Consortium report finds widespread and growing use of online education for kindergarten through 12th grade (K-12).
1. Almost two-thirds of the responding public school districts are offering online courses:
- 63.1% had one or more students enrolled in a fully online or blended course.
- 57.9% had one or more students enrolled in a fully online course.
- 32.4% had one or more students enrolled in a blended course.
The quantity and quality obviously varies. But offerings will continue to improve on both scores.
School districts expect big growth in the use of online courses.
2. Over 60% of school districts with students enrolled in online courses anticipate their online enrollments will grow. Over the next two years districts predict online enrollments will increase by 19% and blended enrollments by 23%.
3. The overall number of K-12 students engaged in online courses in 2005-2006, is estimated at 700,000.
4. Respondents report that online learning is meeting the specific needs of a range of students, from those who need extra help to those who want to take more advanced courses and whose districts do not have enough teachers to offer certain subjects.
5. School districts typically depend on multiple online learning providers, including postsecondary institutions, independent vendors and state virtual schools as well as developing and providing their own online courses.
6. Perhaps the voices heard most clearly in this survey were those of respondents representing small rural school districts. For them, the availability of online learning is most important in order to provide students with course choices and in some cases, the basic courses that should be part of every curriculum. These rural districts might be providing models and lessons for other districts facing teacher shortages in high-need subject areas such as science and mathematics.
7. While concerns about the quality of online courses, funding, and teacher development were expressed, it appears that many of these issues are gradually being resolved.
Note in item 6 the benefit to rural schools. They have smaller student bodies and can't offer as much different specialized classes. But with online courses and video recordings (and some of the online content is very likely streaming media) the kids in rural areas can watch lectures on a huge variety of topics.
High bandwidth web connections and growth in content deliverable over the web will reduce the educational advantages of cities and suburbs. Also, online content will increase the value of home schooling. Why waste a kid's time with bus and car rides back and forth to school if a parent can supervise video viewing and use of interactive learning software? If a kid fails an online test a parent can receive an automated email notification. Or a page can show a report of current scores in all subjects and how far along each child is on each course.
A lot more of the smart kids will zip through elementary school and high school at faster speeds when they gain the ability to pace their own learning. Some will study 12 months of the year and watch more lectures, do more learning exercises, and take more tests when they gain the ability to work on courses any hour of the day or night and any day of the year.
This trend is going to change demographic patterns since parents will not need great schools to provide their kids with first class educations. While parents will still want to avoid dangerous areas the need to live in a top notch school district will lessen. The lower costs of online learning will reduce demands for greater school spending and reduce support for bricks and mortars schools.
By the end of this year, the contents of all 1,800 courses taught at one of the world's most prestigious universities will be available online to anyone in the world, anywhere in the world. Learners won't have to register for the classes, and everyone is accepted.
The cost? It's all free of charge.
The OpenCourseWare movement, begun at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2002 and now spread to some 120 other universities worldwide, aims to disperse knowledge far beyond the ivy-clad walls of elite campuses to anyone who has an Internet connection and a desire to learn.
Lectures, diagrams, graphs, and other course material will all be widely and cheaply available - mostly for free.
You too can go through courses from MIT.
The MIT site (ocw.mit.edu), along with companion sites that translate the material into other languages, now average about 1.4 million visits per month from learners "in every single country on the planet," Ms. Margulies says. Those include Iraq, Darfur, "even Antarctica," she says. "We hear from [the online students] all the time with inspirational stories about how they are using these materials to change their lives. They're really, really motivated."
What is lagging? Videos of the lectures.
So far MIT has published 1,550 of its courses for OCW and plans to get the rest online by the end of this year. The materials for each course vary. Full videos of lectures, one of the most popular features, are available for only 26 courses, about 1,000 hours of video in all. "We'd like to do more video because it's really quite popular and our users love it," Marguiles says. "But it's quite expensive." The program relies on "generous support" from foundations, individuals, and MIT itself for funding, she says.
We still need two more essential elements: First, automated online tests. Students need a way to check their level of knowledge. Once they are confident they know to pass tests then they need to be able to go to a school and get tested in person so that they can get credits toward degrees.
How will smart kids use the ability to watch lectures and take tests online and earn credit? They start earning college credits sooner and get through college faster. Rather than impress people with a Harvard or MIT degree they'll impress with college degrees earned at age 19 and younger. They'll also save a hundred thousand dollars a piece and start making big money sooner. Why work for minimum wage while in college at age 20 when you can start earning several times that at 19 by graduating sooner?
The OpenCourseWare Consortium site serves as a good starting point if you want to look for online course material.
The Sloan Survey of Online Learning, "Making the Grade: Online Education in the United States, 2006" shows tremendous growth in online learning in America. The complete survey is available at www.sloan-c.org/publications/survey/index.asp.
"This is the largest study to date and it tells us online learning is growing without any sign of a plateau," says Jeff Seaman, chief information officer and survey director, The Sloan Consortium. "There were nearly 3.2 million students taking at least one course online this past fall, up from 2.3 million just last year."
The fourth annual survey is a collaborative effort between the College Board and the Sloan Consortium. It's based upon responses from more than 2,200 colleges and universities nationwide and represents the state of online learning in U.S. higher education.
"We include Sloan questions in the College Board's Annual Survey of Colleges to better understand the state of online learning at our country's institutions of higher education," said Hal Higginbotham, chief information officer, the College Board. "The insight we gain from the survey enables us to better serve those who benefit from online courses, those who traditionally wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to connect to college success."
The survey also finds a larger percentage (62 percent) of chief academic officers agree the learning outcomes in online education are now as good as or superior to face-to-face instruction while 57 percent say it is critical to their institution's long-term strategy.
In addition 73 percent agree online education reaches students not served by face-to-face programs. "Offering courses online increases enrollment particularly among populations like working adults and others who traditionally have not been able to access higher education," says Frank Mayadas, program director, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
The Sloan Consortium is the nation's largest association of institutions and organizations committed to quality online education and administered through Babson College and Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering.
The College Board adminsters the SAT tests to millions of college bound students every year. The Sloan Foundation was founded by legendary GM CEO Alfred P. Sloan who also co-founded the Sloan-Kettering medical center in New York City. These are not marginal organizations just making up a sensationalist press release to promote themselves.
The growth in online education is inevitable for a couple of reasons. The technological reason is that web bandwidth costs keep dropping while simultaneously computers and software become ever more powerful. The technological infrastructure to deliver courses to people in offices and homes keeps getting better.
But there's also the cost problem of old brick and mortar schools. In inflation-adjusted terms college costs have risen an astounding 35% in just 5 years.
WASHINGTON, D.C.—The College Board today announced that at four-year public colleges the increase in average tuition and fees slowed for the third year in a row, but prices are still up 35 percent from 5 years ago, after adjusting for inflation. The increase in average tuition and fees for two-year public colleges in 2006-07 was just slightly above the inflation rate. At all institutions, the net price—the average price students pay after grants and tax benefits are considered—is significantly lower than the published price. Total student aid increased by 3.7 percent to $134.8 billion in 2005-06, but total federal grant aid failed to keep pace with inflation. Even without factoring in inflation, the average Pell Grant per recipient fell by $120.
This is ridiculous. The students aren't getting 35% more knowledge or a 35% increase in the quality of knowledge and they aren't getting taught in ways that let them learn 35% faster. Worse yet, their starting salaries haven't risen 35% and the incomes of their parents haven't risen an average of 35% adjusted for inflation (or even not adjusted for inflation).
Evidence of these trends, along with average 2006-07 college prices and 2005-06 student aid data, is documented in the reports, Trends in College Pricing 2006 and Trends in Student Aid 2006. Also released today was a 2006 supplement to Education Pays: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society, which documents the monetary and nonmonetary benefits of higher education, in addition to differences in participation and success across demographic groups.
Aside on the benefits of education: Studies that compare outcomes for those who go to college and those who do not tend to exaggerate the benefits of education. Why? Smarter people spend more years in school. Also, upper class well connected people spend more years in school. Unless the effects of IQ and family are adjusted for studies that compare people by years of school will tend to exaggerate the benefits of more education.
The claim here that student aid reduces the real effects of tuition increases is misleading. For kids whose families are not poor the grant aid is less or missing altogether. The tuition increases therefore effectively become a mechanism to tax the rich to give to the poor. A familiar story.
Published tuition and fee charges at four-year public colleges average $5,836 in 2006-07. There was a $344 increase over last year, which represents 6.3 percent, or 2.4 percent after adjusting for inflation. The average total tuition, fee, room, and board charges for in-state students at public institutions are $12,796.
After grant aid and tax benefits are considered, full-time students enrolled in public four-year colleges and universities pay on average about $2,700 in net tuition and fees. After declining or just keeping pace with inflation each year between 1996-97 and 2002-03, the average net price students pay at public four-year colleges has increased even more rapidly than published prices for the past four years because grant aid has not kept pace.
Published tuition and fee charges at four-year private colleges average $22,218 in 2006-07. The $1,238 increase over 2005-06 represents an increase of 5.9 percent, or 2 percent after adjusting for inflation. The average total tuition, fee, room, and board charges at private four-year colleges and universities are $30,367.
Full-time students enrolled in private colleges and universities pay on average about $13,200 in net tuition and fees after grant aid and tax benefits. Because of growth in grant aid and tax benefits, the net price students pay has increased more slowly over the past decade than the published price.
Published tuition and fee charges at two-year public colleges average $2,272, $90 more than last year. The 4.1 percent increase is less than one-half of one percentage point above the rate of inflation. After grants and tax benefits are considered, full-time students enrolled in public two-year colleges and universities pay less than $100 on average in net tuition and fees. After adjusting for inflation, the net price students actually pay is lower in 2006-07 than it was a decade earlier.
Students have to pay so much more per year that they have to spend more time working while in college and hence they get their degrees later and end up paying off more debt starting at later points in their lives.
Forgone earnings for students who are devoting their time to their studies constitute a significant portion of the cost of attending college. These costs are higher the longer it takes students to earn their degrees. Among bachelor's degree recipients in 1999-2000, those who began their studies in four-year public colleges and universities took an average of 6.2 years to earn their degrees, and those who began in four-year private institutions took an average of 5.3 years to earn their degrees.
Remedial courses can add to the time it takes students to obtain degrees because they do not generally count toward college credit. Over one-third of first- and second-year college students have taken remedial courses since high school graduation. Among those who took remedial courses in 2003-04, first- and second-year students took more remedial math (77 percent) and remedial writing (35 percent) than other remedial courses.
The time spent in school and cost of education can't keep rising. People are turning to cheaper, more convenient, and faster alternatives. Hence the rise in online courses. High resolution video recordings of the best quality lectures (rather than lectures by teaching assistant grad students from foreign countries with undecipherable accents), web-based testing available any time day or night, web-based delivery of slide shows and animations, and online question and answer sessions are all going to speed up and lower the costs of education.
Smart kids sitting at home in their early teens will be able to move through college courses 12 months of the year as rapidly as they want to push themselves. Bright motivated kids will be able to finish their educations years sooner and for savings of tens of thousands of dollars. Since they will be able to get higher skilled and higher paying jobs sooner they will win doubly by spending less on education and getting on to paying off education costs and building their adult lives sooner.
Most high schools in the Valley offer dual enrollment, but the kinds of classes offered differ at each campus. More than 11,500 high school students in Maricopa County are dual-enrolled through one of the 10 community colleges, with most earning 12 to 15 college credits.
Lucia Rodriquez, a senior at Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix, said she will have a full year of college credit when she attends the University of Arizona next fall.
Last year, dual enrollment was one of the programs Gov. Janet Napolitano suggested eliminating in the early rounds of budget talks. Despite an estimated savings for the state of $4 million, the program survived.
These courses are offered in the high schools. The kids don't have to have cars to get to the community colleges.
I think this is a great idea that more states should copy. Governor Napolitano's attempt to cut the program is short-sighted. The kids in the program will spend fewer years enrolled at state colleges and universities once they graduate and so this will save the taxpayers that way. Plus, the sooner the kids get out of college the sooner they will start working and start paying taxes. See my previous post Accelerate Education To Increase Tax Revenue, Reduce Costs for more on this idea.
Another idea I'd like to see implemented is for college lectures to be filmed and offered for viewing by high school students. Then the students should be offered the ability to sit for tests to pass college courses and get credit toward college degrees.
Thanks to Mike Trier for sending the reference to this article.