Saturday, March 07, 2015

The Coming Change in Higher Education

The last few years have seen a strong interest in MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) that are being offered by many high end universities and other organizations (such as Coursera). The prediction has been that they will lead to the elimination of the need for students to spend massive amounts of money to get a university degree.

So far, that hasn't happened, although MOOCs continue to be very popular. A major reason they haven't revolutionized education as yet is simply that they do not lead to a widely accepted form of formal designation. Everyone, and in particular prospective employers, recognizes a degree awarded by a recognized institution of higher education, no matter how small that institution might be. However, not everyone recognizes a set of certificates awarded by taking MOOCs.

Eventually, that will change. many people and institutions are working on ways to make that change, and when they succeed, the revolution will come.

The change could take many forms - hybrid degrees, supervised programs with occasional face to face interventions, in-person seminars with course delivery online. The idea of a degree will likely change along with the delivery. Instead of traditional degrees, which in themselves communicate little about the skills learned, there could be more robust certificates that provide a lot more detail and would show up on search engines for the benefit of employers. That would remedy a shortcoming that exists now in the traditional system - not knowing exactly what the student actually did and learned in acquiring their degree. Such information for employers would enable them to search out more precisely the skills they seek.

Students go to university to be able to get a job. That is what society has demanded, but the system is not viable in the long term. Costs keep rising and more and more students simply cannot afford it. MOOCs have proven that effective delivery of courses can be accomplished online, although of course there remains some controversy. But as soon as employers become satisfied that the skills learned through online courses can be valuable to them, the traditional reliance on traditional university degrees will change. And students will no longer need to spend tens of thousands of dollars on acquiring their degree.

A recent excellent article in the New York times explored these ideas and provided some real food for thought. Check it out.

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