College Crackup And The Online Future (Opinion)

Ann McClure's picture
Tuesday, May 22, 2012

In the coming decade, emerging technologies will thoroughly transform higher education. Although distance learning and computer-assisted education have been around since the 1960s, financial pressures are forcing institutions to develop aggressive online programs.

When education goes online, how professors teach, what students learn and how institutions are structured will change significantly.

Some changes are well under way. In 2009, about 29 percent of college students took at least one course online; by 2014, that number is projected to increase to 50 percent. Much of this growth has been driven by for-profit schools, but in the past couple of years, traditional colleges and universities have designed their own programs in an effort to increase tuition income without expanding the physical plant. It remains to be seen whether this financial bet will pay off.

The most promising initiatives involve cooperation between and among schools. Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University recently announced a $60 million initiative to create edX, described as “a transformational partnership in online education” that will “enhance campus-based teaching and learning and build a global community of online learners.” Through video and immediate feedback, students will be able to take online versions of MIT and Harvard courses that include exams, papers and even laboratories.

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