Arnold Kling  

Will Higher Education Tip?

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Mark Weedman writes,

A school in this Google model derives its identity from its faculty and curriculum, or its "software" while de-emphasizing the importance of its infrastructure, such as its classroom, library and other campus facilities. In other words, it is possible to provide a first-class education in a school without a full range of campus facilities (or maybe even a school without a traditional campus) as long as the curriculum gives students access to the right kind of critical thinking, formation and training. It used to be that to provide a first-class education required institutions to assemble all three components: faculty, library and classrooms. The Google model suggests that it is possible to re-conceive that structure entirely by shifting the focus to curriculum (and the necessary faculty to teach it) and then adapting whatever "hardware" is available to give the curriculum a platform.

Read the whole thing. Many years ago, I wrote that colleges are the only information-aged businesses that are making a big point of investing in physical plant. Weedman would call this the "hardware" model. His guess is that there is also room for a software model for higher education. I agree. And I think that once it gets traction, there will be a lot of tipping toward the software model, leaving the legacy colleges and universities with major problems. Kind of like Borders Books.

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COMMENTS (9 to date)
Andreas Moser writes:

I am studying for two degrees via distance education (philosophy at the Open University: and development & economics at LSE: and I find it much more focused than when I studied at a "normal" university (law at University of Regensburg in Germany).
However, sometimes I think it only works so well because I already studied for another degree before and have many years of work experience which probably also help me to focus and to manage my time.
Even if it is not the same experience, it is definitely a great chance for people who live far from a university town and cannot afford to live there.

Joe Cushing writes:

In 1999-01, I barely used the physical library for information to complete a bachelor's degree. In 2006-9, I don't seem to remember ever using the physical library for anything but a work space when pursuing my MS. In both cases I did use a librarian however. The Librarian was important in choosing the data bases available for me. Each library had access to material that is not free online but you could access online with a user name and password. I'd like a public library--even a paid one--with these resources that I could access from home and never visit the library.

Tom writes:

The Khan Academy, or some (or many) things similar, are coming already.

Currently missing only credentials, in an over-credentialized society. But those will come, too.
With testing.

joshua writes:

Borders didn't have a giant sports program. But I like this line of thinking. First I was enlightened to think of college education as a bubble. Now I can also think of it as hardware/software.

Bryan Willman writes:

The sticking point is things like physical science labs, and the functions of college that are socially important but not academic in nature. (The semi supervised structure of dorms, places for people to live away from home, various group meetings, a respectable place for people to age enough so as to be effectively hireable by mainstream corporate america, and so on. Of course a rather higher cost for those functions....)

Becky Hargrove writes:

Sometimes it seems that the real growth potential of education lies not so much in the idea of particular 'external' structures but rather internal structures of social integration and broader local adaptability. I am often lost for words when education is discussed in terms of credentialing and student to the outside world, because I think of the untapped potential of education at individual to individual levels. Should people have such an internal infrastructure to work with, they could once again reach out to grow education in monetary ways. Only, the purchase of materials would happen more on individual terms, rather than just the terms of institutions.

David Cordeiro writes:

This future is already upon us as I sit here beside my son while he logs into his Textual Analysis class from Dulles Airport. This class is part of the fully acredited online high school offered by Stanford. They have a good hybrid model between Apple and Google, bringing students to the beautiful (and expensive) Stanford campus in the summer but allowing them to work more flexibly from around the world during the year. The differentiators really are the faculty (almost all PhDs) and the curriculum featuring a terrific 4 year core.

Mike Rulle writes:

Short comment. I think we underate the consumption component of education---i.e., the desire to live on a campus etc; the hundreds of years this tradition has been with us. This does not mean we cannot lower the cost of education while improving it, but if say, John Adams, enjoyed attending Harvard, why should we think the 4 secluded years with ones peers will not always be preferable to a more diaggregated method?

Becky Hargrove writes:

You're right, I always enjoyed being on a college campus when it was possible. I would just like to see local communities being able to create educational experiences that go beyond the boundaries of actual buildings or high school graduation. Local communities can create real wealth for themselves by doing so, and keep people connected for the course of their lifetimes.

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