Posted by: crudbasher | August 16, 2012

A New Example Of Disaggregating College

(c) Glenn Karlsen

It seems like we are seeing a new online college venture every week now. This story from the Inside Higher Ed site is notable because it involves a partnership with several other online schools. The Saylor foundation is not accredited but Excelsior is, so Saylor has made arrangements for students to be able to take exams at Excelsior for credit. Therefore, Saylor is concentrating on creating very pedagogically sound classes and Excelsior can focus on assessments. This splitting up of the traditional functions of a college is the very essence of how the Internet changes organizational structures. I call this “disaggregation“.

So let’s say that Excelsior becomes widely recognized for having very good assessment. It would then follow that many more education providers will do similar deals, therefore freeing themselves to create innovating online learning systems. This freedom is what is necessary for true innovation to happen.

Saylor says they aren’t trying to compete with traditional colleges. Naturally they would say that, but eventually that is what will happen. Apparently most of Saylor’s students are adults therefore they are embracing the lifelong learning model too. Most colleges are more interested in students fresh out of high school so adult learners are the fringe of the market. Again, this is where disruptive innovation happens.

Always remember, it just takes one idea like this to disrupt an industry. Napster was started by a single person and ended up disrupting the whole music business. Saylor may not be successful but eventually somebody is going to figure out a winning formula. At Internet speeds, that might happen pretty soon.

  • Saylor Foundation’s Free Courses Offer Path to Credit | Inside Higher Ed
  • Partnerships for online learning via sharing credentialingtags: education highered alternatives credentials online learning disruptive nell
    • The Saylor Foundation has nearly finished creating a full suite of free, online courses in a dozen popular undergraduate majors. And the foundation is now offering a path to college credit for its offerings by partnering with two nontraditional players in higher education – Excelsior College and StraighterLine.
    • The project started three years ago, when the foundation began hiring faculty members on a contract basis to build courses within their subject areas. The professors scoured the web for free Open Education Resources (OER), but also created video lectures and tests.
    • Saylor also tapped its pool of contract faculty members to conduct three-member peer reviews of each course, a process which professors described as rigorous.
    • The foundation currently has more than 240 courses up on its website. They are self-paced and automated, and designed to cover all the requirements of an undergraduate major in disciplines ranging from chemistry and computer science to art history and English literature, as well as a general education major.
    • However, StraighterLine students can now take Excelsior exams that match up with the company’s course material, and are available on StraighterLine’s website. If they pass (Excelsior exams don’t offer partial credit), students earn credits from Excelsior as well as StraighterLine credit recommendations.
    • “Online courses should be really inexpensive,” says Burck Smith, StraighterLine’s CEO. “There’s no overhead. There is no reason for costs to be what they are.”
    • This fall will be Saylor’s launch, for all practical purposes. Although the foundation has gotten some notice among higher-education reformers, the fleshed-out majors make the concept tangible. Based in a sleek but noisy office in the Washington’s ritzy Georgetown neighborhood, the foundation’s 20- and 30-something employees are working with faculty members to put the finishing touches on courses.
    • Angela Bowie is one of those faculty members. Based in Philadelphia, Bowie has worked as a lobbyist and teaches political science and history, mostly at community colleges or regional public universities.
    • “They did a very thorough vetting,” Bowie said. “More than any other college I’ve ever worked for.”
    • Saylor has a training program for faculty members, which Bowie also described as thorough. In particular, she praised the foundation’s focus on learning outcomes.
    • Saylor, Excelsior and StraighterLine are natural partners, Ebersole said, because they share the same end goal. That is to make higher education “more of a buffet and less of a fixed meal.”

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.



  1. I have published three articles on the unbundling of higher education (the first in 1975; most are available through an internet search):

    “The Unbundling of Higher Education,” 1975 Duke Law Journal 53.

    “The Dismantling of Higher Education,” published in two parts in 29 Improving College and University Teaching 55 (1981) and 29 Improving College and University Teaching 115 (1981)

    “The Restructuring of Legal Education Along Functional Lines,” 17 Journal of Contemporary Legal Issues 331 (2008)(discusses legal education, but applies to higher education generally); abstract below



    Currently, law schools tie together five quite distinct services in one package, offered to a limited number of students. These five functions are: (1) impartation of knowledge, (2)counseling/placement, (3) credentialing (awarding grades and degrees), (4) coercion, and (5) club membership. Students do not have the opportunity to pay for just the services they want, or to buy each of the five services from different providers.

    This article proposes an “unbundled” system in which the five services presently performed by law schools would be rendered by many different kinds of organizations, each specializing in only one function or an aspect of one function. Unbundling of legal education along functional lines would substantially increase student options and dramatically increase competition and innovation by service providers. This offers the hope of making available more individualized and better instruction and giving students remarkable freedom of choice as to courses, schedules, work-pace, instructional media, place of residence, and site of learning. Most importantly, this improved education would be available on an “open admissions” basis at much lower cost to many more individuals throughout the nation, or even the world.

    In order to explain how to restructure the existing law school system, this article will discuss the five educational services presently performed by law schools, the disadvantages of tying these services together, a hypothetical unbundled world of legal education, the advantages of the unbundled system, answers to some possible objections to the system, and some recent developments in the use of technology and distance learning in law schools.

    The main theme of this article is the advantage of unbundling. A more modest sub-theme is the benefit of use of technology and distance learning.

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