Tear Down These Walls: The New Wave of Online Education Part 2

Enter the Online College Education Revolution

If you look at the U.S. college educational system from a purely technological point of view, you realize there isn’t necessarily a quality of college education issue, but rather an accessibility and portability issue. A college education is often still tied to the traditional classroom, and when it’s not, there are so many financial hoops to jump through before even entering a classroom, the time and effort can become cumbersome. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Think about it. The use of technology is pervasive. Entertainment is distributed through multiple channels, and has been untethered from the constraints of house, home, and work to devices with an anywhere, anytime portability. You can watch your favorite television shows and movies on demand. You can entertain your toddler with an app even when you’ve forgotten the crayons at home. You can compare prices instantaneously while shopping at a store, and download a coupon to boot at the same time. Why shouldn’t it be the same with taking college courses?

Many colleges would argue that they are cutting edge. And many do offer technology-enabled college courses. However, the challenges a traditional institution faces as it squeezes its current course catalog into an e-learning environment often revolves around keeping the educational value equal across all channels, yet being saddled with a cost structure that not all students access equally. The result: a college system that has not delivered on the promise of the Internet.

Online College Education Whose Time is Now

Two institutions, in particular, are creating a high-quality, low-cost (so low you don’t need financial aid) portable, untethered, anywhere, anytime college course portfolio system: Stanford University and StraighterLine.

At Stanford, whose initial online college course in Machine Learning saw a sign-up rate of nearly 100,0003, has now expanded it’s program, freely distributing online courses in subjects as diverse as computer science, medicine, civil engineering, and electrical engineering, as well as complex systems.4 Through this program, anyone, anywhere can sign-up for one of their courses offered at no cost. Stanford’s ability to attract professors in highly skilled special-interest areas allows it to offer a unique array of advanced classes and course material that many colleges simply do not have the resources to offer (and which most students can’t access for many reasons such as strict admissions requirements, scheduling, financial, and geography).

Now, you can take one of Stanford’s online courses for your personal enrichment with the same teachers and same course materials as an enrolled Stanford student. Keep in mind, you will not earn college credit for completing one of these free courses. The future of educational delivery is changing, according to an interview on NPR with Daphne Koller, a computer science professor at Stanford. “On the long term, I think the potential for this to revolutionize education is tremendous. There are millions of people around the world that have access only to the poorest quality of education or nothing at all.” Accordingly, “Technology could change this by making it possible to teach class with 100,000 students as easily and as cheaply as a class with just 100.”5


3 NPR, Stanford Takes Online Schooling to the Next Academic Level, 1/23/12
http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2012/01/23/145645472/stanford-takes-online-schooling-to-the-next-academic-level

4 http://www.ml-class.org/course/auth/welcome

5 NPR, Stanford Takes Online Schooling to the Next Academic Level, 1/23/12
http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2012/01/23/145645472/stanford-takes-online-schooling-to-the-next-academic-level