Respect For Online Degrees

I can’t help but wonder if the future of university and college campuses involves students never even leaving their dorm rooms (at least for common undergraduate courses).  After all, how much more personal is sitting in a 500 seat lecture hall versus watching a lecture on a laptop or tablet anyway?  I was actually thinking recently that online degrees would allow the average level of teaching to go up substantially at most post-secondary institutions since the approach would permit each university to choose its top 5-10% of lecturing professors to reach the whole student populace.  This efficiency would allow most schools to severely cut their maintenance costs, and would free up more research time for professors who are already stretched pretty thin.  Masters students could still be responsible for marking the papers and the whole system seems to have a lot of advantages to me.

 A New Model For a New Age

With Apple getting into the textbook game, my mind was flooded with all the interactive things a course could do online.  There could be optional podcasts to tune into, interesting ways of mixing interactive virtual activities, as well as text with visuals.  Finally, each student could pause the lecture and learn at their own pace.  This makes a lot of sense from a pure learning perspective.  It certainly seems at least as engaging as the current model.  I agree that there is something lost from the traditional experience, or from a more intimate classroom, but those are not the realities of most first and second year courses these days anyway.

 What Makes “In-Person” Delivery So Great?

It is interesting to me that at the moment online degrees are still looked down upon.  The good old Bachelor of Arts degree has gotten so commonplace that I fail to see what makes an online one any less prestigious than a fancy slip of paper from any other institution.  Basically, all a BA tells an employer is that you are capable of following directions and learning new things.  If you’re lucky, it might also give you some resume material in the form of a GPA and/or some awards.  Wouldn’t online degrees essentially show the same thing at this point?

At Least Online Degrees Have An Interesting Business Model

When you look at post-secondary institutions as business models, the online delivery system has some interest conclusions.  Would people still make jokes at the expense of the University of Phoenix if they allocated their resources to attract the top talent in the world?  If an online university began to pitch the message that they were going to specialize in high-quality undergraduate degrees for the most affordable price, wouldn’t there be a market for that?  If you could run a course by offering a million dollar yearly salary to one of the ultimate authorities in a specific field, and then pay 50K a year to top-ranked Masters students to mark the papers, couldn’t you then reproduce that course to thousands of students?  You could even hire a whole technical support team, and maybe even a creative design team to help make the experience as innovative as possible.  Wouldn’t that educational experience trump the current system of hiring 8-10 professors (some of whom will be excellent, others not so good, presumably none would be at the level of our “million dollar mind) to teach huge theatres of disengaged students?  From a business perspective, you could argue that there is almost unlimited scale available to that design.

We are living in a world that is increasingly using technology to leverage human production capacity.  While there will always be negatives to this route (probably many fewer professors would be needed) the benefits should easily outweigh the drawbacks.  I have had friends in courses like “intro to biology” where they did not go to a single class the whole semester, but instead watched the lectures on tapes, and they achieved top marks.  Presumably they could have done much better with a delivery system designed specifically for that course.  Similarly, I took a couple intro courses to round out my degree in my third year and only went to class to write the tests.  I had a fair degree of knowledge on the subject area and simply looked over the readings before writing the test.  I also did well, so I’m fairly certain that person-to-person interaction is not essential to learning at the post-secondary level, and I’m not even sure it’s a very good way to learn when you look at many professors’ respective lack of enthusiasm for lectures.  If we went to a model like the on I proposed, it would even free up these academic all-stars to pursue their fields of study instead of lecturing to undergrads that they don’t want to be bothered with.  In theory, it should work well for everyone involved.  I’m actually quite surprised that more places haven’t begun trials of these methods with at least one or two intro courses.

What do you all think of online degrees?  Have we reached a technological point where the correspondence model could be so engaging that it is actually far superior to the traditional lecture because of huge class sizes?

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Apple’s entrance in to the textbook market will be disruptive, for sure.

But there are other very disruptive forces at work as well. One is The Khan Academy, which is very interesting indeed. I have read where one classroom teacher uses that as pre-class requirement, and then uses the class time with students for homework, and to monitor their work and correct problems in real time.

The Khan Academy has caught the attention of a fellow named Gates from Redmond, WA.

Yah, I have read about the Khan academy as well, and will probably do a follow up article on that. I really like the fact that Billy Boy Gates is pushing the envelope in education and trying new things. There is far too little of that mentality right now.

I think this would work well for lecture only type classes, but you would still need to handle classes that required actual physical interactions between student and xyz – such as chemistry, physics and etc experiments; computer hardware work; nursing school patient contact and etc. – so I don’t know that you would get as big of a savings as you outline above.

I have been thinking about this matter; a lot. And the conclusions I have reached are very similar to the ones you are discussing. However… …I would go for ‘blended’ learning. I think that some physical contact is useful (particualrly at the start) to establish raport; after that one can use technology: webinars, platforms for discussion etc. Will need loads of preparation – everything will have to be recorded and written; courses and exercises will have to be informative, useful and entertaining (no mumbling rubbish infront of 500 young people for me then :)). I would love to experiement with… Read more »

I recall a fair number of students – freshmen and otherwise – who would skip most of the course only to show up at the exam. Sometimes they would get some pretty good grades… but you need to be in the right type of class to get away with it (and the TA meetings can’t me mandatory). I liked the social aspect of the 500 person classes, however. As an engineer, the biggest classes were general education, so I’d meet a lot of non-engineers in those classes. From a social perspective, I’d vote to continue the big classes – if… Read more »

I think it would be awesome, especially for really busy people who can’t find the time to go to classes. :-)

Which job? Supervising a DBA in Portugal? I work at a large Business School in the UK (it is ranked rather high but I am particualrly proud of the PhD programme – it is ranked 1st in the world and I built it; seriously, I did do when I was the Postgraduate Research Director). All I was saying is part of my job – and I have been an academic for over two decades and built quite a few things in the training of researchers area. Three years ago I gave up all leadership roles (I was Associate Dean of… Read more »

I read an article last month in Wired magazine about the rising cost of college tuition. The cost is soaring and the job market is declining which is leading to more and more people defaulting on their student loans. Sounds like the housing bubble, right? One of the solutions that he was discussing was increasing the number of online classes. Tuition could be lowered and students could be instructed by the top professors. I don’t think this is the total solution, but it sure would help. And…if more and more colleges begin offering quality courses, then maybe the respect for… Read more »

I agree Pam. Is it as good as everyone being taught by great profs in 20 student classes? No, probably not, but it’s probably better than the current system.

Interesting Maria, how did you come about that job if you don’t mind me asking?

Interesting perspective PK. I never considered that view at all. So you think there is that much value to getting students out of their comfort zones eh?

Thanks, Teacher Man. If you ever fancy doing a PhD just let me know :) (in exchange for some SEO tips, if possible; this is doing my head in).

Wow, that’s a cool story Maria. It’s a heck of an honour to have potential PhDs seek you out!

SEO is a weird game, and it’s ever changing, and there are a TON of people trying to make a quick buck off of it.

I am so divided on this topic. I LOVED my four (well, five years if you count grad school, which I didn’t really love) years on a college campus – it taught me lessons an online school never could about time management, networking, etc. I do look at online schools as more of a business model than an educational institution. That said, so many people don’t have the time to immerse themselves in the university culture for three, four, five years, and an online school is a more viable option. In fact, if I ever pursue my PhD or MBA,… Read more »

I hear you Elizabeth, I had a similar experience on campus. I think with all the cool technological innovations coming out, education via a computer interface will soon be a reality.

While I think certain courses can be taught online (the really standard courses in which teachers can’t deviate from the curriculum at all), other courses (especially the ones that involve debate like economics) should be taught in class.

Nothing compares to sitting in a room with classmates of similar mind and interacting with a lecturer. Online classes are a little more demanding and it takes diligence. It is too easy to forget to check-in. Online classes are most beneficial for part-timers or an inter-session.

Do you think this is true even for the younger generation that has grown up being “plugged in” Y&T? Go to an undergrad lecture class today, and chances are that most of the class will be on their smartphones and/or computers chatting with the outside world!

Does first year economics even allow room for debate anymore? All first year textbooks look the same to me (notice I didn’t ask if there SHOULD be debate – which there should be, but rather if any currently exists).

Well, I’m certainly grateful for my online Master’s program! I’m working full-time while attending school, and there’s just no way I could make the schedule work if I had to commute to a brick-and-mortar classroom at pre-arranged meeting times. A virtual university gives me the flexibility I need to manage my schedule.

The future of education is here Remy!

Bret @ Hope to Prosper

Back in 2005, Sir John Templeton predicted most of the world’s universities would be replaced with interactive electronic learning within the next 50 years. That’s a prediction from a 95 year-old man, who attended Oxford and was a Rhodes schollar. He believed the resident learning approach of textbooks, lectures, note taking and homework was hopelessly antiquated. My opinion is that interactive electronic learning is very well suited for many subjects, including math, languages, media and computer programming. I also don’t believe students will keep paying $100K plus student loan interest for a commodity college education. I do believe student collaboration… Read more »

Yah, when I look at how I do most of my “team collaboration” stuff, it is often online using Google Docs and Skype. It just makes sense from a time management perspective. I’m glad that I’m in good company with Sir John Templeton in my predictions!

Distance Education In India is Getting mOre popular across the world…

I think it’s the next step in education!

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