Saturday, May 26, 2012

EdX Airways



Ryan Craig / May 25, 2012 - 3:00 AM

In the past few weeks the twin quasars of the New York Times opinion page -- Thomas Friedman and David Brooks -- have waxed poetic about the coming revolution in higher education as presaged by  recent announcements of elite universities moving online: MIT and Harvard with edX; Stanford, Princeton, Penn and Michigan with Coursera.  According to Friedman, “In five years, this will be a huge industry.”

The exuberance is understandable and stems from two factors: (1) Quality; and (2) Affordability. It’s hard to argue with either given the reputations of the institutions involved and the current pricing for these MOOCs (massive open online courses):  free.

[snip]

The days of charging the same for an online program as a traditional on-ground program are numbered; much lower tuition models are coming to online education. The question begged by the Times is this: Are Stanford, MIT and the Ivy League likely to lead the way?

The threshold issue is the gap between non-credit-bearing MOOCs and meaningful credentials, currently in the form of associate, bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees. These are what matter in higher education for now and the foreseeable future. [snip].”

[snip]

Higher ed. commentator Kevin Carey ...  noted last week that Stanford responded to a piece he had written wherein he described last fall’s MOOC offered by then-Stanford professor Sebastian Thrun:  “Over 100,000 students around the world [took] the course…. Those who did well got a certificate from the professor saying so.”

Stanford’s official response to Kevin was as follows:

“Students who did well did not receive a certificate.  Neither Stanford nor the professors issued a certificate. All students who completed the courses received a letter from the professor saying that they had completed the course. And that’s it.”

[snip]

Even so, given the number of elite institutions with MOOC dreams, in time a few may talk themselves through the obvious brand and reputational concerns and cross the chasm to something like a meaningful MOOC credential, perhaps with a differentiated brand like edX. Still, is this hypothetical adventurous elite university likely to dominate the online future?

We would submit that colleges today are less like funeral homes and more like airlines 30 years ago, when flying the friendly skies cost much more than it had to and there was similar grousing aplenty.  [snip].

[snip]

So it’s hard to envision any top-tier university launching an online program with the objective of keeping every aspect of its operation separate.  Clearly, it couldn’t if it wanted to grant degrees; degrees must be granted by the accredited institution.  But realistically, no online program would be completely separated from the mothership.  The allure of trading off the brand is irresistible, ... .

[snip]

So the right question to ask is:  Who will be the Southwest Airlines of online education – delivering what customers need, but doing so much more cost-effectively?  It could be a private-sector university.  Or perhaps a very innovative traditional university with a clear vision of educating and granting credentials to millions of qualified students from around the world, along with a willingness to throw aside its existing model.

Either way we arrive at a conclusion that refutes the Times:  it will not be MIT, Stanford or an Ivy League institution. Their impact is likely to be limited to the extent other universities opt to incorporate their content into new programs – equivalent to today’s textbook publishers.  [snip].


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