Online learning could disrupt higher education,
but many universities are resisting it
WHEN MASSIVE OPEN online courses (MOOCs) took off three years ago, there was much concern that they would destroy traditional universities. That isn’t happening. “We’re doing a better job of improving job skills than of transforming the university sector,” says Rick Levin, a former president of Yale, who runs Coursera, the biggest of the MOOCs.
At the margins, technology is making education cheaper, more convenient and more effective. University of the People, a non-profit American-accredited online university, offers degrees to students all over the world at a total cost of $4,000; if they are poor, they can get scholarships. It started teaching in 2009, was accredited last year, has produced 65 graduates so far and now has 1,500 students. The faculty is made up of academics who volunteer their services.
The convenience of online study makes it especially suitable for working people. According to Phil Regier, dean of Arizona State University (ASU) Online, the market for online degrees in America is the 30m or so 25- to 40-year-olds who dropped out of college first time round. Mr Levin says that 85% of Coursera’s students are over 22. The for-profit companies are also big providers of education to older people, and they increasingly rely on the internet. Of Kaplan University’s 42,000 students, 94% study online. A handful of state universities are also in the online market: ASU has 13,000 online students as well as 70,000 on campus.
Derek Bok, the former Harvard president, is optimistic that computers can make teaching more effective: “Technology is gradually causing a number of professors to re-examine the way they teach, away from a passive form of learning to a more interesting and active form.” Carnegie Mellon University developed an introductory statistics course in which professors teach for less than half the time they do in the traditional model, and students spend more than half their time on a computer programmed to help them when they get stuck. Only when a student has got the hang of that part of the course will he move on to the next.
[ Full article available at The Economist: http://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21646986-online-learning-could-disrupt-higher-education-many-universities-are-resisting-it-not ]