Here is part 1.
Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.
What makes universities stand out?
So what makes a student go to a particular university? There are lots of reasons. They might like the location, or the campus. They might go for a particular program that isn’t offered many other places. Often they go because it will look good on a resume (especially Ivy League schools).
Universities have been using the vast influx of money in the last 30 years to improve their facilities and expand their administration. They have also been offering more and more degree programs. All of these things are done to help set the university apart from the rest of the industry. Even so, in the end they have to come up with something that people will actually pay for. If all you are looking for is a nice facility, some recreation and a meal plan, take a cruise instead. :)
What can a university charge for?
MIT and other schools are now offering many of their classes online for free. The catch is you can take the class and do the work but you don’t get a credit or degree. That’s what schools charge for. Let’s look at the functions of a university as George Siemens came up with earlier this week. Which of these listed below can you charge money for? Keep in mind, you can only charge money for something that is scarce. You also can only charge as much as everyone else is charging. If someone else will do it for much less money and doing it just as well, then you are going to go out of business. It might be hard to conceive of something putting a university out of business on one shot, but it isn’t has hard to imagine pieces of what a university does, being done at lower cost by other entities. This isn’t a KO, it’s death by a thousand cuts.
Content and curriculum – Content is freely available online. Universities might come up with an interesting curriculum to go with it, but teaching is not the main investment focus of most universities, research is.
Teaching and learning – Some teachers are years removed from the fields they teach in. Many are ineffective teachers because they insist on a lecture format, which has been proven to be one of the worst ways to learn. I submit that most students in a college classroom are more interested in the credit they get for the class then the material they are supposed to be learning.
Research and dissemination – Tying teaching to research is a strange thing to me. The best researchers should be doing research. The best teachers should be teaching. It’s rare to get somebody who is good at both.
Administration and leadership – First let’s be honest, no student has ever attended a university because of the administration. It is true that in college some students develop leadership skills but wouldn’t these students also learn leadership skills in the outside world? Say, at an actual job? Maybe as an apprentice?
Accreditation and assessment – Here it is. When Sebastian Thrun first came up with his Massive Open Online Course, his bosses at Stanford were ok with him doing it as long as the students get a degree or credit. They made it very clear that assessment and accreditation were the money makers. (see The Weak Point Of Higher Education)
If the degree is the money maker, then why do all the other parts have to be done in the same place by the university? My Theory of Disaggregation says that these parts will gradually be outsourced and split apart into different players. So are we seeing this? I think we are. Let’s look at these 5 functions again in terms of what has been happening lately.
Content and curriculum – the person who is the best at presenting material and teaching is often not good at actual curriculum creation, especially when today’s students are expecting more than just a lecture. I foresee companies that will do nothing but create curriculum for other schools (some exist already). Students will take an active role in developing their own lessons too and then pass them around. There are thousands of lessons on YouTube on how to do many things not to mention Khan Academy. These are all free. Textbook companies like Pearson are getting in the learning materials in a big way too.
Teaching and learning – Once learning happens online then class size scales dramatically. Why are there thousands of English Comp 101 teachers all teaching the same thing? Let’s just get the best ones and then have assistants (or computers) to help answer questions. Split up the job of the teacher (disaggregation again) into Content Creator, Presenter, Assessor, Study Assistant and Mentor. They will become specialists in these fields and therefore get much better at it. (this is also keeping with my Theory of Creative Empowerment. The best, most creative teachers will reach more students)
Research and dissemination – Corporations are developing much better research departments but research itself can now be done by regular people with a net connection. Heck, even students are able to contribute to the knowledge of the world.
Administration and leadership – There are many areas of society that can help build leadership. Let’s face it, nobody will miss the administration in a large university. :)
Accreditation and assessment – The final piece is the assessment. I foresee many companies and groups who will get into the assessment business because that is where the big money is. Each one will give their assessment as credentials that students will collect and add to their portfolios. The concept of a degree itself will be disaggregated. Each student will take classes from a variety of providers online. Then they will get a variety of certifications but will still build their own unique skill set. The future is too fluid to expect a degree program created 30 years ago will cover everything we need for the next 40 years. The name of the game will be ala-carte.
The conclusion is in part 3 tomorrow!