You might have missed it but right now there is another revolution going on: MOOC – Massive Open Online Courses. The idea is that exceptional teachers make their lectures available to everyone.
This in itself isn’t new. You can find videos of lectures years old. So what changed? What is the difference between a recorded from some university and the Scala course of Martin Odersky at coursera?
The first is just a by product of a normal lecture. The second is especially prepared for online consumption.
With the first you listen to long discussions about assignements that you can’t participate in. There is no obvious way to get into contact with other watchers. You watch the videos whenever you want and it doesn’t matter if you understand anything at all. Each lecture is over an hour long and intended to be attended in a single sitting.
With the second you get lectures are broken down into pieces of 5-20 minutes which present a single concept. The lectures are interrupted by test questions which force you to listen and understand what you are listening to or to make the clear declaration that you didn’t get it. Each week you get assignments with a limited time to complete them. These assignments get graded and if you succeed you will even get a certificate in the end. If you are interested in discussion, there is a forum available right from the site of the lecture.
These differences make the two a completely different experience.
But I claimed there is a revolution going on. Why are these changes in format causing a revolution? Because these lectures are available for free for everybody with access to the internet and some understanding of the English language. A single lecture is often attended by thousands of students. Students like me that have a day job and aren’t interested in full time university study. Students that can’t afford to study at a university, possibly because they would have to leave their home country in order to do so. But also by students that perfectly well could attend a normal lecture and just prefer the online format.
Therefore we’ll see two effects in the not to far future. A good one and a difficult one:
The good one is free access to high quality education for a huge amount of students.
The difficult one is what will happen to universities? Sooner or later you’ll get official diplomas from online universities. At about that time other universities which missed the opportunity to lead the revolution, will start law suites in order to defend their current business model, just as the music industry did.