An Educational Revolution Waiting To Happen

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An Educational Revolution Waiting To Happen

One of modern America’s misfortunes is that the majority of its citizens are ignorant or undereducated. We don’t have structures in place where all parents, or even most parents, can get their children a good education quickly and easily.

Because of its limited resources and hence limited openings, Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City is one of the greatest secondary schools in the world and must accept students via lottery. To get in, you have to be lucky.

Imagine if it could multiply its resources by reaching out to a far larger number of pupils over the internet. There is a chance that no one will be shut out. The majority of American children just do not have access to a good education.

Online or remote learning could vastly improve access to high-quality education for a large number of individuals. Even if education in a brick-and-mortar setting remained of greater quality for the few who can afford it, the excellence of long-distance learning may become superior in many respects to anything else they can currently buy for the majority of people.

A widespread acceptance of online learning would result in a massive increase in opportunities for entire societies.

The entire concept of American democracy is based on the ability to provide equal opportunity to all citizens, and this would represent a new level of possibility for Americans, let alone the rest of the globe.

At this time, online learning is very much alive and thriving in advanced education. Students do not have to leave their homes to attend college. For nearly half a century, distance learning has been an academic alternative.

Taking lessons online has been on the rise since the Covid 19 outbreak forced students to stay at home and Zoom into their lectures.

MIT, the University of Illinois, the University of Pretoria, the University of Phoenix, Indira Gandhi National Open University, and China Central University in Beijing are among the world’s pioneers in the discipline.

Meanwhile, most colleges saw online classes as a small compliment to a fundamental teaching methodology: lecture halls complemented by lab and discussion sessions or studio work.

It took a pandemic to rouse the rest of us up to the value of advanced education delivered online.

It’s logical. “Universities win by increasing students without having to construct classrooms and accommodation,” writes, “while students reap the benefits of being able to work where and when they choose.”

Specialty courses could be offered in public schools without the need for numerous classrooms. Homeschooled children could also be “provided with a doorway into centralized instruction.”

Some universities are well aware of this and have been profiting from it for years.

We chatted with Bruce Peters, an organizational learning expert who has worked across the country for decades. Around a decade ago, he informed us, MIT was a pioneer in Massive Open Online Courses.

In ten years, its online Introduction to Computer Science course has attracted 1.2 million students. Online learning is becoming commonplace all around the world.

According to Peters, the University of Illinois was the first to offer an online MBA program, and others have since followed suit. Online MBAs from Louisiana State University start at $12,474.

Author Kevin Werbach, a prominent professor at Wharton, routinely conducts an online course on “gamification,” the approach of turning various useful activities into games.

His registration for the class beginning that day was over 130,000 as of Feb. 3, 2022, at a tuition rate of $95 per student. If you do the arithmetic on price/volume, you’ll see why institutions must embrace this shift away from the traditional brick-and-mortar paradigm of obtaining a college diploma.

The level of intimacy with faculty and friends, the rite of passage into adulthood as a group, and the easy and conversational Socratic back and forth with instructors both in the halls and classrooms, as well as in offices and labs, are all advantages that can’t be easily replicated with distance learning. This can be done in virtual environments, but not as naturally or as successfully.

Harvard Business School, Stanford University, Duke University, Wharton University, MIT, Yale University, and other top business schools will continue to thrive because they provide hives of highly intelligent peers, future associates and contacts, and a network that will form and solidify throughout a student’s career.

The upper crust will continue to cluster on college campuses. The price of sitting inside the holy halls will rise as the ivy on the walls becomes thicker.

On the other hand, technology can provide most students with exactly what they require at a reasonable cost. Why can’t technology offer a new degree of intimacy: rapid online networking based on shared interests rather than proximity? Geographical distances are no longer an issue.

It can now be done by a group of perfectly suited team members who could never have learned together before. Teachers are available in ways that they are not physically able to be. Affinity groups can be found all over the world thanks to the internet.

Any subject, including physics, health, science, and the humanities. Instead of a scheduled lab or section on campus, every tiny interest group becomes a Zoom breakout room at a moment’s notice.

Visionaries who wish to democratize education are what advanced education requires. We need more innovators like Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Sergei Brin, and Larry Page of learning: people who see the problem and find a solution. Governments could do so as well but are unlikely to do so.

The crisis is undeniable. The majority of the population of this country—and the world—cannot afford a typical college education. After six years of education and the purchase of a home, even students from successful middle-class families will be stuck with decades of debt. The total amount of student debt is now estimated to be approximately 1.6 trillion dollars.

Why? The magnitude of a college’s or university’s tuition is used as a metric of quality—the greater the price, the better the pedagogy. The cost of education does not decrease as a result of competition among schools.

The goal isn’t to provide as many students as possible with our top schools’ valuable educational resources, and then use that knowledge and skill to improve everyone’s quality of life.

Universities, on the other hand, limit enrolment and price their degree programs similarly to how markets price diamonds.

The downward pricing pressure that competition constantly exerts on prices, as it does practically everywhere else in a free economy, is absent here. We hoard and protect the best educators’ abilities, making them available to a privileged few.

If Harvard and Princeton, the University of Michigan, the California system, and other colleges had embraced a purpose to produce the greatest good for the largest number of people, millions of people might attend lectures by the most gifted and intelligent professors over the internet.

Alan Murray of Fortune magazine sent me a newsletter on a recent merger, which got me thinking about this.

According to Axios’ executive summary, the deal is a watershed moment for the ESG movement: a model of corporate governance that benefits society and the environment.

In other words, stakeholder capitalists are having a nice day. “Blackbaud’s software enables schools and businesses to manage employee donating and volunteering,” according to the company, allowing employees to identify ways to contribute to the greater good.

EVERFI, meanwhile, provides financial literacy, health, and wellness teaching software to over 25,000 U.S. elementary schools, as well as banks and other businesses. It is encouraging social good for those who may be using Blackbaud’s systems to enhance their own lives and build better futures in their communities.

According to Axios, the deal is a win for educational technology. Two cutting-edge technology companies dedicated to making the world a better place have merged to form a more powerful force for good. And online education is at the center of it all. Online education is effective.

The timing is ideal for this. But we need a lot more businesses like Blackbaud and EVERFLI, which see a huge opportunity in the technology field they’re in.

Innovative companies like these can offer social justice to everyone by realizing how to put networked software to work for any student if they have a wider vision.

If organizations like these realize the wider concerns at stake and leverage what they are doing to bring down the cost of education while making it far more accessible, this is an invention that might enable every single K-PH.D student to get a more effective education at a more cheap price.

Elite colleges could profit by cutting the cost of online attendance and increasing access to lectures by an order of magnitude: millions of people could sign up for classes.

They compensate for lower tuitions by increasing volume by a factor of ten. What may be overlooked in such a merger is that social justice currently means an affordable advanced education in any field, on any subject, for the majority of the American population, who can barely afford a house and a college degree at the same time due to wildly rising inflation in those big-ticket items.

To say there’s a lot to be done is an understatement. In the most well-funded universities, opposition to it will be fierce. Infoworld provides an excellent summary of our situation:

“Students who are now learning remotely in traditional schools and universities report that the quality of the learning experience has decreased in survey after poll.”

They also claim that schools and universities are unprepared for online learning and that the tools available are outdated and difficult to use. Outages are ubiquitous, and communication channels between students and instructors are frequently difficult to navigate.”

It’s easy to see how corporations like Blackbaud, with their digital expertise, could step in to help make these processes more efficient—with the help of our current schools. But, if that happens, the most important step is for our universities to respond to the new economic realities.

They must provide high-quality, low-cost education by developing value-creating systems that rely less on the traditional signifier of a quality education—the name of a prestigious school on the diploma—and more on metrics that measure the curriculum’s results for the student, as well as reliable testing that verifies what has been learned.

If the expense of education no longer matters to most people, a treasure trove of instruction and knowledge may be made available to a potentially massive student body.

The cost of online learning should be much cheaper than the cost of traditional campus education, however, the cost of traditional education could stay the same or increase. During the pandemic, this did not occur.

“There appears to be no significant discount for online remote learning compared to tuition that includes supporting classrooms and other structures that cater to in-person instruction,” reports Infoworld.

Last year, Harvard University declared that all course instruction would be done online beginning with the first semester of the school year. Tuition for the entire year, however, would remain the same at $49,653.

That might mean a $200K tuition bill paid with a student loan that will take years to repay—possibly by a kid who never stepped foot on school.”

There should be a way for educational institutions to make their superior curriculums and talented professors available to the majority of students while still maintaining the elite premium attached to on-campus schooling, with its rich social networking opportunities and potentially deeper and more nuanced learning experiences.

This little merging of two distance learning businesses with a social good objective isn’t going to change the world right now, but the people involved should be thinking about it in these terms in the future.

Others in positions to bring a new disruptive paradigm to advanced education should pay attention to what’s going on here. It’s efficient, just, and has the potential to be extremely profitable: and it’s democratic in a way that helps students all around the world.

An Educational Revolution Waiting To Happen

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