Post-College World

I got this email about online classes at Yale, which raised an interesting question:

I imagine in the future all courses will eventually be taught this way. This got me thinking about the effects it might have on the universities. If people could choose any University from where they could learn from, everyone will choose the best colleges Harvard, Cambridge etc. this will have a massive effect on the low ranked Uni’s. Nobody will want to learn from the poor teaching on the low ranked sites when world class teaching is for free elsewhere. It makes me speculate that perhaps lower ranked universities will have become good at teaching a niche.

The discussion was pretty fruitful last time, so we might as well continue it. But first, as Tucker pointed out, I have a huge bias here, so my thoughts should be taken in that light. And I’m certainly not arguing that people are only going to be learning on computers or that classrooms will go away.

But as for the writer’s point, this is going to be a predicament we face continuously in the future. When some of the previous constraints of our physical reality disappear, what then? The system will have to change or it will die. It can longer use location, inertia or distribution to subsidize mediocrity. He is right, full-service education has existed primarily because it was the most efficient use of resources and the best way to get the most money from students for the least amount of value. Like the album though, this logic doesn’t withstand digitization. I could take a class from Harvard or Yale and from that standout professor a community college in Texas just like I could download 8 songs from 8 bands without buying 8 CDs. Or, even more likely, someone will come along and develop a reputation for education aggregation that unites individuals across the country.

You can disagree with me that university system isn’t in dire need of a radical overhauling today, but it will have to respond to the same pressure as all our traditional industries will: When the underlying economics are altered, the concepts founded upon them have to find new support or face collapse. 5 years ago it was music, today it is Hollywood, tomorrow…

I’m not sure, but I’m curious to hear thoughts.

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