Oregon’s 2013 legislators have now been elected and will meet in session starting in February. One of the issues they should take up, but probably will not, is online education, both at the K-12 level and university level. The Oregon Education Investment Board has utterly passed on the issue. Oregon is flying blind and largely clueless.
From The Economist article “Learning new lessons: Online courses are transforming higher education, creating new opportunities for the best and huge problems for the rest” (here):
The American Council on Education is reviewing a handful of Coursera’s classes for credit equivalency; once approved, universities can choose to grant credit for them (or not). Freiburg University in Germany gives credit for a Udacity course. North Virginia Community College has started awarding credits for introductory college courses provided for around $100 by Straighter Line, a for-profit online-education firm. Students can transfer these to George Mason University.
Even if MOOCs can coin sound academic currency, they must also make real money. Though marginal costs are low, designing enticing online material is costly. Non-profit ventures such as edX want to break even. Others have investors to satisfy. The first way of generating revenue is a “freemium” model, in which the course is free but the graduation certificate is paid-for. Udacity, for example, charges $89 for an exam invigilated by Pearson VUE, an electronic-testing firm; its parent company is a part-owner of this newspaper.
A second model is to charge potential employers a fee for spotting suitable recruits among the students. Coursera charges for referrals to its best students. A third option is to license online courses to universities to help them improve their offerings to students. Ms Koller foresees a blended approach, in which universities mix MOOCs and in-house provision to expand the range of degrees they offer.
Mr Christensen predicts that most universities below the upper tier will have to integrate a “second, virtual university” into the standard one. Good online classes would reduce the need for costly campus facilities and free teachers’ time for individual tutoring. Knewton, a for-profit provider of personalised online education, calls that idea the “flipped classroom”.
Coursera and edX both want to work with standard providers. Udacity, as its name suggests, is more daring. Mr Thrun is hiring more big names from outside academia, to join Google’s Mr Norvig. Mr Thrun predicts that in 50 years there will be only ten universities left in the world.
If not quite on that scale, MOOCs clearly mean upheaval for the cosseted and incompetent. But for those who most want it, education will be transformed.