They say that the only thing constant in the world is change. Well, I certainly believe so. Today, the Western education system is the most dominant system in the world. India and China rank as the top source countries for international students in the U.S. Increasing globalization has resulted in greater demand for students to study abroad to seek better Western education.
Innovations in technology and the increasing reach of the Internet are continuously changing the way we communicate with one another. It is even changing how we are educating ourselves. Much of our academic life is now being spent online – from researching on the Internet to working on group presentations through Skype. Until now, Internet courses were mainly seen as a part of distance learning, offering the student flexibility and convenience to study. However, the growing popularity of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) around the world, offered by institutions such as Coursera, edX and Udacity has sparked a new trend in education.
Faced by an acute problem of over-registration for introductory courses, California lawmakers have recently introduced a new legislation that requires the state’s 145 public colleges and universities to grant credit for low-cost online courses offered by third parties, including classes offered by for-profit companies. Will the passage of the California bill begin a revolutionary change in the education system?
The critics of online education argue that it will never be able to offer the same quality of education and experience that a teacher can. Mark Edmundson, professor of English, University of Virginia writes in a New York Times opinion piece, “ You can get knowledge from an Internet course if you’re highly motivated to learn. But in real courses the students and teachers come together and create an immediate and vital community of learning.
Edmundson may be right, however, one can’t deny the advantages of online education. Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business School professor and expert on disruptive innovation notes that, “Harvard Business School doesn’t teach entry-level accounting anymore, because there is a professor out at Brigham Young University whose online accounting course is just so good that Harvard students use that instead. Quoting economist Thomas L. Friedman, “When outstanding becomes so easily available, average is over.”
Forbes contributor and co-founder of Innosight, an Innovation Consulting firm, Michael Horn suggests that technology should be leveraged to enhance the quality of education. MOOCS have the ability to enhance pedagogy in our universities. He writes, “The job that we expect teachers to do today is super human; technology can help automate or improve on certain tasks to free teachers up to do what humans do best, including answering complex questions, fostering conversations, diving deeper into topics, and mentoring.” The future is an education system, where the teachers’ roles are different from those of today, but no less vital.
Technology cannot replace humans. But in an increasingly globalized world, it can help reduce the barriers to Western education by increasing access, flexibility and reducing costs. Online education cannot replace offline education, it can only enhance the latter. Susan Holmes, professor of statistics, Stanford University, puts it well “I don’t think you can get a Stanford education online, just as I don’t think that Facebook gives you a social life.”
(I wrote this essay while doing research on the topic – Is Online Education the future? at York University)