‘When outstanding becomes so easily available, average is over’


This is the concluding sentence of Tom Friedman’s summary of a recent conference hosted by MIT and Harvard on ‘Online Learning and the Future of Residential Education,’

a k a ‘How can colleges charge $50,000 a year if my kid can learn it all free from massive open online courses?’

Harvard Business School, for one, doesn’t teach basic accounting anymore because a professor at Brigham Young University does it so well that Harvard students just take his course instead.

The main point is that we are – and should be – moving from ‘the sage on the stage,’ to the ‘coach in the class.’ There seems to be a strong consensus on what is known as the ‘blended model:’ Moving technology and lectures out of the classroom (via MOOCs, podcasts, etc.) to create precious time and space to flip the classroom and ‘teach naked,’ i.e. focus on what we can best do in the classroom or the lab: applying and exploring knowledge in experiments and discussions, giving feedback, and building meaningful relationships — all this in an effort to both reduce costs and improve outcomes in measurable ways. Can this be done? Is there an alternative?

Higher education must move, according to the historian Walter Russell Mead, from a model of ‘time served’ to one of ‘stuff learned.’

We are moving to a model based on competency: Increasingly, what matters is not what you know, but what you can do with what you know, and there is less interest in how you gain competencies and more interest in how well you have mastered them.

We demand that plumbers and kindergarten teachers be certified to do what they do, but there is no requirement that college professors know how to teach. No more. The world of MOOCs is creating a competition that will force every professor to improve his or her pedagogy or face an online competitor.

Bottom line: There is still huge value in the residential college experience and the teacher-student and student-student interactions it facilitates. But to thrive, universities will have to nurture even more of those unique experiences while blending in technology to improve education outcomes in measurable ways at lower costs. We still need more research on what works, but standing still is not an option.

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