Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Making Higher Education Sustainable

Among the many things I expect to see undergo a significant change in the next decade or so is higher education. Our universities are actually based on a model that was developed in the middle ages. At that time, any subject being studied would undergo little change during your lifetime. Considering your education "complete" after a few years of intense study was realistic in the middle ages, but it's far from realistic now.

A university education was once considered common only for people from very well off families. Now it's a necessity to achieve even a middle class lifestyle. Yet the costs are often still structured to be unaffordable to all but those students from wealthy families. And the costs continue to rise at an alarming rate.

Something has to change - the current situation is unsustainable. Education must be restructured to be available throughout an adult's life at affordable rates. Like it or not, technology will need to have an impact on the way classes are taught in order to achieve this.

I'm glad to report that this change is actually starting to happen. The Christian Science Monitor has a wonderful article on the movement to OpenCourseWare, universities putting their course content online for free. The movement started in 2003 when MIT put 500 courses online. Now they have over 1800 online courses, all available for free (You still need to pay ~$45,000 a year to get an official MIT degree though). More than 200 colleges and universities have followed suite and offer course contents online. These are early developments that will likely radically change higher education by the time this finishes playing out.

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