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The Future of Education


The Future of Education

Another interesting, provocative spotlight from Tom Friedman; this time on the future of university education. As a father of...

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Another interesting, provocative spotlight from Tom Friedman; this time on the future of university education. As a father of two kids, one of who will be in college (with a fair wind) within five years, this is all very close to home. My college education (in a galaxy far, far away, a long, long time ago) cost my father nothing. College education for my two cost centers could run me (or them!) $300k, maybe more. The cost/benefit equation for my father and I was extremely clear and obvious. The cost/benefit equation for my kids and I will be far more murky. I got a credential, had a good time, learned to live independently in a nice shallow paddling pool, and emerged three years later into a world where I could get a decent job paying more than if I hadn't been to university. All (basically) for free. My kids will still get a credential, still have a good time (though I imagine the knowledge of how much it's costing them/me will temper some of the craziness; maybe ...), learn to live independently (though their independence will perhaps be diluted by their digital umbilical cords), and then emerge into a world where jobs are hard to come by and slave labor aka internships are becoming the new norm in any half way interesting career. Unless I cough up my retirement savings the noose of debt around their neck will be with them for a long time and affect the decisions they make about their future in pretty profound ways. All of this explains why the MOOC wave is happening in the first place and why I, and I imagine most people in similar boats, am excited by the impact this innovation might bring. But (you knew that was coming didn't you) there's something that makes me very uneasy about the MOOC idea. The college experience is not reducible to its simple core components. The college experience is about far more than interaction with a professor. The college experience, from getting accepted, to being there, to learning, to living, to growing, to graduating, is a multi-faceted tapestry which (assuming it's any good; which I'm assuming it is/was) helps prepare a person to live a good life (however you want to define that). The idea that cost center one would when she's 18 continue to live in our house and take MOOCs from her bedroom for three years (or more or less) and then get a credential seems sort of ridiculous. As I write this and you read it I imagine you might share my sense that this scenario (the more you look at it) doesn't add up at all. Maybe the blended models that TF refer to make the scenario more plausible but even those seem to fall apart pretty quickly when you stare at them for a few moments. Perhaps then this is why the big schools are happy to embrace something that at first glance may appear as a disruptive threat to their franchise in the way the doyen of disruption Clayton Christensen touches on in the article. Just as the big software companies have embraced the Cloud Computing wave and in the process diluted the disruptive threat it posed to them the big schools are embracing MOOCs, dilute the threat, and find new channels to new markets for their core brand and IP. If you buy this scenario then two things are clear; the college experience will remain the norm for educated kids for the foreseeable future. And finding the money to pay for it will continue to keep me awake for the foreseeable future too!

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