Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Online education versus the traditional university

Peter Drucker once said, "Universities won't survive. The future is outside the traditional campus, outside the traditional classroom."

That was nearly two decades ago. And yet universities survive and prosper. Drucker saw the rising costs of university education as undermining the edifice of the university. He thought it inevitable that substitutes such as online education would displace the traditional university.

That hasn't happened.Why so? An article in the FT puts it down to vested interests in higher education:
Currently teaching is delivered in much the same way in schools as it was 50 or even 100 years ago. A single teacher talks to a classroom full of pupils, who work with textbooks, paper and pens. Few pupils are examined online. Libraries are still full of reference books but no tablet devices. Not only is this model out of date but in many countries, including Britain and the US, it is not proving effective – especially at teaching the skills employers want for the workplace.

....Unfortunately, the educational establishment, at both secondary and university levels, is too slow to change. I suspect that a resistance to new techniques of learning is partly about protecting jobs and defending senior staff whose skills are outdated. Why on earth do schools in Britain still put so much emphasis on teaching French? They should be teaching languages more relevant to the 21st century, such as Mandarin or Spanish. Why can’t schools equip pupils with up to date information technology skills? Perhaps their instructors are not up to the task – or possibly their processes are wrong.

Well, I am not sure that's the whole story. We need to be realistic about what can be taught online and what cannot be taught. Some basic courses, yes. A range of basic arts, science and management courses can be taught. But medicine or higher science or engineering? You need labs for all these.  You also need a fair degree of interaction between teacher and taught. And, yes, quality can be ensured only through rigorous exams that are difficult to operationalise on a mass scale.

There are other problems. Universities don't only teach. They are also into research (some would say of the leading universities that they are also into teaching). Is it possible to separate the production and imparting of knowledge? What would be the appropriate mechanisms for doing so? Can we researchers in specially funded institutions who do only research. And others at colleges who only need to teach. In the process, do we lose something? Finally, what about the benefits of student interaction on campuses, the advantages of networking etc?

We need to be realistic and walk on two legs, to start with. We need business models that will make mass provision of basic skills and knowledge viable through online education. Universities need to find a way to do this. However, it may be premature to think of online education as the only or even principal instrument of education, at least at the higher levels.


kebhari said...

thanks fo this blog online education
versus traditional university..........

Shobhit said...

One school of thought says there are 6 stages of learning -
Awareness, Comparison, Exploration, Application, Integration and
Lets discuss on some good points you raised
1. what can be taught online and what cannot be taught
Awareness and comparison stages of any subject can be taught online.
Even in science and engineering I see value add in having teaching aid
in interactive way. Lab and classroom discussion are equally important
and form part of next stage of learning.
2) Is it possible to separate the production and imparting of
knowledge? What would be the appropriate mechanisms for doing so?
I feel the assumption in the question is that online education and
university cannot co-exist. I see that online model should be part of
university teaching. Teaching awareness of the subject (say
theoretical CAPM model) online will free up professors time. You can
spend time on exploration and application of the subject. Imagine you
make a video introducing CAPM model and all students hear it and come
prepared to class. You can jump into strengths, weakness of model,
explain how Lehman and others in risk management gave more reliance to
model than common sense etc.
3. We need business models that will make mass provision of basic
skills and knowledge viable through online education.
I feel the model will just supplement current infrastructure. In
primary school it can make learning fun. My 1.5 year daughter has
learnt counting and recognizing alphabets and many words by watching
cartoons and CDs that teach in fun way. In higher education its not
mass education. So higher education model will surely evolve. I can
pay small fees to gain awareness of subject I want.
These are just my 2 cents. I like reading your thoughts on current trends

AKM said...

When an article begins with a quote, the author seems to say, "if you didn't believe me, I have heavyweights behind me."

Scyt Rac said...

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The best online colleges

Sushant Rai said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jennifer Jeny said...

Yes, you mentioned some very crucial points for online teaching what can be taught and what cannot be taught. We need very strong technical support for high engineering courses. At the same time, we have lot of benefits for online education time saving, flexible and very comfortable to studies.

Jeny doing online piping training course.

Jennifer Jeny said...

Lot of great information, Great Thanks for the post.