Digital Disruption: College Crackup and the Online Future

How does the fate of The Great Wall relate to the mass-customization of education?

I live not far from The Great Wall and have visited it many times. Even while sitting on its sturdy steps and contemplating its serpentine grandeur, I still can't comprehend its social complexity, its monumental capital investment and its fate: time and technology eclipsed its purpose and it now stands as an architectural showpiece and a social relic.

That brings me to the accelerating digital disruption of higher education, where an arms race mentality produced massive investments in fancy dormitories and exercise facilities and the like.

This piece says:

And Idea Whose Time Has Finally Come - In the coming decade, emerging technologies will thoroughly transform higher education. Although distance learning and computer-assisted education have been around since the 1960s, financial pressures are forcing institutions to develop aggressive online programs...

Brand + Technology + Capital

"..edEx...a $60 million initiative by Harvard and MIT to transform online education...

"...Coursera...founded by two Stanford professors (noted here) and funded with $16 million of VC money...

Faculty Resistence: Get Over It - "...The resistance of faculty members has been the greatest obstacle to the development of effective Web-based learning. While it is true that seminars and small discussion classes can’t be taught online, they can be taught effectively using teleconferencing. ..

Face-to-Face Classes (on a Screen) - "...However effective face-to-face classes might be, the reality is that this traditional model is simply unaffordable for most students. In addition, more and more students are working and don’t have time for place-based education.

Mass-Customization of Education - "...Education is shifting from a mass- production model to one based on what business calls mass customization. This transformation raises rarely asked questions: Why is college duration four years? Why is every course the same length? Why does graduation depend on the completion of a specified number of courses or credits?

It's In the Cloud - "...In the new model that is emerging, classes will be delivered in modules that can be downloaded as individual lectures or as an entire class and will be accessible in the data cloud. Rather than a uniformly prescribed program, students will create a diversified portfolio tailored to their interests and needs. In contrast to the standardized format, they will be able to take the whole course or, customizing, select parts of different courses and combine them in various ways.

The Sage on the Stage is so Yesterday; Make Way for The Guide on the Side - Students will still need guidance. For this system to work, the role of faculty members will change. They will still teach, but they will increasingly serve as academic counselors who advise students on designing classes and integrating programs at different institutions.

Mix and Match Learning - "...Imagine a curriculum or even an educational institution organized like a web or network rather than an assembly line. As students mix and match courses online, pressure will increase for professors to develop classes that integrate different approaches and disciplines.

Back to The Great Wall - This brings me back to my musings about The Great Wall.

"...Colleges and universities will have to be reorganized and create new strategies for cooperation and collaboration that will enable them to provide the best education to the most students for the lowest price...

"...Efficiency, however, has its cost. There are going to be winners and losers in the new world of networked higher education. The success of Harvard, MIT, Yale, Stanford and Princeton online programs will prove a challenge to many colleges and universities. Why pay a quarter of a million dollars to go to a second-tier school when you can get a Harvard education online for little or nothing?"