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Could the future of College Education Be In the Ether?

| November 5, 2010 | 0 Comments
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Flickr:RobertS.Donovan

There’s something in the education zeitgeist about the explosion of online higher education this week. Could it be that the future college experience will exist primarily in the ether? So say the soothsayers…

“College leaders don’t yet know how to credential the knowledge students are gaining on their own, but they may soon have to, said Mark David Milliron, deputy director for postsecondary improvement at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. We are not far from the day when a student, finding unsatisfactory reviews of a faculty member on ratemyprofessors.com, will choose to take a class through open courseware online and then ask his home institution to assess him, Milliron said. Colleges need to prepare for that reality, he said.”

“California’s use of online distance education is “limited,” and campuses across the state should partner with a leading online university to expand students’ access to a college degree through online college classes, according to an extensive review of the state’s college access. [As an example}, Indiana legislators passed a law this year that would let students apply for state-funded financial aid grants to Western Governors University (WGU), an accredited online university based in Utah.”

“Online education is best known for serving older, nontraditional students who can not travel to colleges because of jobs and family. But the same technologies of “distance learning” are now finding their way onto brick-and-mortar campuses, especially public institutions hit hard by declining state funds. At the University of Florida, for example, resident students are earning 12 percent of their credit hours online this semester, a figure expected to grow to 25 percent in five years.”

Harvard, Yale, Stanford and the University of Michigan all now offer substantial portions of their courses online. In Britain, the Open University, which has been delivering distance learning for over 40 years, offers free online courses in every discipline on the OpenLearn Web site; the Open University also maintains a dedicated YouTube channel and has often had courses listed on the top 10 downloads at iTunes University. There, students can gain access to beginner courses in French, Spanish and German as well as courses in history, philosophy and astronomy — all free.

The democratization of education may well be on its way.

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