Students are already often offered free online materials. What can an online learning system worth trillions of dollars become Second grade games.
If you were asked to name the most important innovation in the transport industry in the last 200 years, you might remember Henry Ford’s invention of the internal combustion engine, the birth of aeronautics, the conveyor and the “T” model, even the invention of the bicycle. The list could be continued. Now the question: can you name the main innovation in the education system over the past centuries?
You can’t? No problem – no one can. This unanswered question asks everyone Anant Agarwal, a scientist specializing in computer technology, who led this year’s sixty millionth edX project – a joint attempt by MIT and Harvard to create a system of free online education for all comers. From Anant’s point of view, the contribution of the latest technologies to the educational process is still whose vs who’s definition minimal.
Agarwal believes that the education system is on the verge of fundamental transformation, predetermined by the rapid development of the Internet and data processing technologies. Thanks to these changes, it is now possible to organize video learning with interactive elements, and researchers can collect data from students to further improve the effectiveness of teaching. This technology is efficient, surprisingly cheap and global in its goals. In the future, edX will enable a billion students to learn.
The idea of an online education is not new. In the United States alone, more than 700,000 students are enrolled in distance education programs. The difference is in the level of technology used and noble goals given to effective, low-cost business models already tried and tested by e-business.
The development of these ideas will affect so many different markets that the results of a project cannot be measured in monetary terms. Just imagine that a quarter of the U.S. population alone – 80 million people – is enrolled in graduate programs, institutions, and learning activities on K12net. Direct government spending alone exceeds $800 billion. Add private education and corporate training to this figure. Despite the enormous economic importance of education, it is still ineffective, static and low-tech. The education sector, along with medicine, is in dire need of breaking stereotypes and “destroying” the firm foundations. This is the opinion of Clayton Christensen, a famous professor at Harvard Business School who invented the neologism of “destructive (subversive) technology. In two books on education, Christensen details his vision of online learning: it must expand and evolve, gradually noting outdated ideas and perhaps entire educational institutions.
According to Christensen, “subversive technologies” will initially be more active in conquering markets “where there is no alternative to them. This explains the critical importance of online education in the adult education market (part of the MBA programs at entry level, nursing courses). It also explains the rapid rise of institutions such as Khan Academy, a non-profit organization whose free online math courses have attracted the attention of the press and Bill Gates, who provided financial support for the project. Khan’s idea was a real salvation for parents who find it problematic to spend $125 an hour on a private math tutor.