Evolving Higher Education

Hey, I’m back with a new blog.  Things have been busy here at Thomson Reuters, the type of busy that is both full of challenges but also full of rewarding work and collaboration amongst good people.

Outside of work I’ve continued the production of my Seasons in NY videos, Spring in NY is undergoing final edits and should be on youtube in the next couple of weeks.  I’ve also just gone through the agony known as college application/acceptance process.  An interesting and stressful experience but a good learning experience.  One particular observation was the changing value of academic achievements in some elite institutions.

It has put the question in my mind about how higher education needs to evolve or risk becoming no more than a high priced extension of secondary school.  Last fall I decided that I would take a closer look at online education and get and understanding of how evolved it has become.  I chose not the look at degreed programs, but instead who are the upcoming names to watch.

In the past I have written blogs about MIT’s Opencourseware and I’ve always been a major supporter of the program.  So much has changed since MIT introduced the program, technology has dramatically advanced, social media is changing how we view the world and there is a general sense that every aspect of our lives is open to macro level changes, including higher education.

My research included looking in the obvious places (such as iTunes University), but also looking for potential startups and/or spin-offs of major universities.  What I found was very exciting to the geek part of my brain.  There is a wealth of opportunity to take courses on a variety of subjects ranging from computer science to philosophy to science fiction and fantasy.

Typically these courses have a video component with recommended supplemental materials (many of which are available without cost) and have quizzes, mid-terms and final exams.  The best part I found was the online communities where people from all over the world shared ideas and offered help to those with questions.  Imagine teaching a class online where you have tens of thousands of people who are not only students but at times are teacher assistances.  How great is that?

So, do you think the world is ready for the next generation of higher education?

Well I believe the answer is yes and no.  The undergraduate learning experience is not just about pure academics.  The growth of a student as a positive and productive member of society during the undergraduate experience is equally important to the growth of their intellect.  For most students, the undergraduate experience exposes them to all the challenges of life in a safe environment.  They will interact with people who are vastly different from different cultures and discover that we aren’t all that different.

So why am I so positive about the evolution of online education?  It is certainly not as a complete replacement for the traditional higher education experience.  For the undergraduate student, the optimal model will need to have the right balance of an online and in classroom experience.  That model does not exist, but I believe it will be developed over the next 5 to 10 years and become the new tradition.

There is opportunity for the online experience to provide substantial value to people looking to learn a new subject or gain a new career skill.  Yes there are programs that exist today, both online and in classroom, however I believe that we are about to see a disruption in this area, one that is positive, ubiquitous and will cause traditional higher education institutions to rethink their mission.

As these new virtual universities are still evolving and experimenting, even though the course material is solid, most have not developed monetization strategies or strategies for accreditation or certification.  This does represent a great opportunity to learn almost anything from highly qualified professors for the cost of your time and effort.

I encourage you to be open to exploring this great opportunity.  As always please feel free to leave your comments or questions.

Hope to see you in class sometime in the future!