Why Online Learning Will Be The Future of All Education

(Warning: long post and lots of informative links so read when you have the time.)

My 9 year old was sitting in front of the computer doing his advanced math from a program his school has licensed when all of a sudden he blurts out, ‘Imagine if (E) and (R) and I could all go to college together from our computers from my house!!!’  It came from nowhere, just this ‘great idea’ he had.  Maybe it’s because he knows what Solo Practice University is or maybe it’s because he does a portion of his daily homework from online educational programs such as IXL.com, spelling city.com, freerice.com, voicethread, and others.  The teachers track the kids’ progress and parents can, too.  And the kids love it!

I’ve always believed this is where we are heading because, while it is my wish that my child attend four years on a picturesque New England campus, reading his ‘paper’ textbooks under a century old tree, or huddled in study groups in the quiet recesses of a historical library where countless world-changing leaders also studied, it’s not likely his reality because who can reasonably expect to pay what could be an astonishing $300,000 – $400-000 dollars for an education 10-14 years from now?  Certainly, not these parents!

Then I stumbled across an article about a woman who moved from Kentucky(?) to Georgia and instead of enrolling her child into public high school (because she was already ahead of her grade according to the Georgia curriculum) she looked for an alternative and enrolled her in a Georgia virtual high school. I then discovered virtual learning is a huge initiative throughout Georgia with paid and free options for middle school through high school.  There are also online alternatives meant to complement high school education such as the Provost Academy.  Provost also has a sister school in South Carolina.  Read the mission and see if you don’t see what I see as it relates to undergraduate and graduate school:

  • We provide cutting-edge technologies, customized core curriculum, and an additional focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) electives so that our students can develop the skills necessary to succeed in today’s high-tech world.
  • Each student is assigned an advisor who works with the student to understand his or her learning styles and skills. The Instructor then crafts an online high school course schedule for that student.
  • For those students who need face-to-face support, students can visit one of our Magic Johnson Bridgescape centers located in cities across the state.

For me, this is the education model deconstructed and reconstructed to meet the needs of its students in the 21st century and at a price that is affordable, often times free.  Here is a list of the numerous states which offer K-12 online education.

This brings us to undergraduate education.  In case you missed it, Florida’s Governor Scott issued a challenge:

Gov. Rick Scott is challenging Florida’s community and state colleges to develop baccalaureate degrees that charge students no more than $10,000 in tuition, and get them a job in four years.

….Seven of 28 community and state colleges already have identified potential $10,000 degrees in high-demand programs such as information technology, business and organization management, education and engineering technology.

Notice, Governor Scott isn’t just challenging the price of higher education, he is challenging what he believes is a school’s other obligation, to not just take a student’s money but to also participate in getting their students gainful employment.  We can argue about a school’s obligation to ensure gainful employment but then one can always try to argue there is an implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose and therefore, there is some obligation on the part of the schools to participate in a much more meaningful way in the employment of their graduates.

Texas is taking on the $10,000 challenge, too.: (read the full article because there is a lot of interesting information).

In the Lone Star State, 10 institutions have so far responded to the governor’s call with unique approaches, ranging from a five-year general-degree pipeline that combines high school, community college, and four-year university credits to a program that relies on competency-based assessments to enable students to complete a degree in organizational leadership in as little as 18 months.

…..Chavez added that as online learning gains traction and competency-based assessments get students out of the classroom more quickly, officials may begin to bend the cost curve in higher education.

While a little light on the specifics, you best believe that online learning will come into play because of its relatively low cost to implement. Add an online component, accelerate the programs to shorten the length of time it takes to actually earn the degree and you have a lower tuition.  Whether or not the schools can sustain lower tuitions while meeting the high costs of maintaining a campus and tenured faculty is another question.  But it is a question which must be asked in earnest because:

“I think the market has decided, and parents and students have decided, that a college degree is for the most part overvalued,” Lindsay said. “What we’re getting both in terms of job skills and learning, what you’re giving us isn’t worth more than $10,000.” (Thomas Lindsay, director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Higher Education, emphasized that a degree does not go as far in today’s job market.)

When it comes to post-graduate degrees, such as law, some are just ready to get rid of the third year entirely in order to shave off costs.  But it also sends a message that there may simply be too much expensive ‘stuffing’ padding the degree, a cost which students are no longer willing to bear.

Salaries are a major factor, with some law professors at elite or large law schools earning in excess of $350,000 to $400,000 annually. These sums significantly outpace other legal remuneration, except for the 10% in the upper ranks at top law firms.

But law school deans insist, almost uniformly, that the tuition rates are worth it, arguing that the law degree will hold its value over a period of years. And few deans, also law professors themselves, want to meddle with a proven earning machine or trigger alumni wrath by devaluing the professional degree.

“It’s a powerful juggernaut that has momentum of its own,” says Brian Tamanaha, a Washington University School of Law professor and author of Failing Law Schools. Readily available student loans, lock-step accreditation processes, and national law school rankings also have helped create a one-size-fits-all law school system that does not suit the majority of students, he concludes.

Tamanaha says that the American Bar Association accreditation system has excessively encouraged a “scholarly model” where handsomely paid professors teach few courses so they have time to write law journal articles or conduct research.

That model may work well for top-tier schools but, Tamanaha argues, it’s too expensive for students preparing for careers in public service, pro bono, or similar attorney positions.

So, what does the future of law school potentially look like?

There is talk among law schools of teaching more practical skills, focusing on narrower, but enduring, legal specialties like bankruptcy, and even lopping off the third year of law school. But others are saying legal education’s survival will come by way of radical new models like modular teaching, which would use part-time professors for defined periods, or lawyer academies, which are more like trade schools readying attorneys to practice immediately after graduating.

But I don’t believe this is the answer. I say that law school needs to be deconstructed and reconstructed in a way which reflects today’s economic reality, technological capability, and needs of its students.

- First year is core learning taught by academicians with a significant amount of it taught online. Students meet for select classes, organized study groups, Q & A with the professors and exams.

-Second year includes a significant amount of online practical learning taught by experienced practitioners and business people and includes elements of running a business and legal technology. This would allow faculty practitioners from across the country and even the world.

-Third year is extended training within the community with supervised externships which mandatorily include a legal research and writing component and court time as a requirement for graduation. Students are assigned an academician and a working attorney as supervisors to oversee their last year.

This reconstructed law school would greatly reduce the cost of legal education while immersing the student in the very communities they are most likely to work. Most importantly, it will give law students invaluable practical training. This model will turn out law grads who can truly hit the ground running, are networked, familiar with the realities of practicing law within their community, and in significantly less debt which allows them freedom to pursue lower paying positions such as legal aid.  There’s your elusive access to justice – train law grads who can actually afford to work for those less fortunate. Yes, some traditional law schools have an online component and may very well be foretelling the future.

But can a new law school provide a JD at a reasonable cost? Yes, it can be done.  I’d like to introduce you to St. Francis Law School in California.  Just a few years old, it is completely online and costs $6500 annually Their faculty is highly credentialed and have actually worked or are currently working in the real world. Students are wait-listed.  Just one pesky problem:

The legal profession being an incestuous one, and the ABA accreditors having played up to and coddled state supreme court justices in many ways for many years, most of the state supreme courts enacted and retain rules requiring graduation from an ABA school in order to take the bar immediately after graduating.  Nor have state supreme court justices, with only a very few exceptions, shown a desire to change the situation.  They are basically in the ABA’s  hip pocket (the accreditors have shrewdly made many of them leading figures in accreditation.

Increasingly, state supreme court justices — the people in charge of the relevant rules — are minority members, African Americans in particular.  Yet these justices have shown little or no interest in assailing and/or changing the exclusionary bar examination rules which prevent the creation of competent, low-cost schools that would serve their groups.  It is just as if, having moved into their professional Darien, they are willing to pull up the bridges so that the number of those who follow are limited.  This is a tragedy. It constitutes a barrier to the change that must come.  – Lawrence Velvel is Dean of the Massachusetts School of Law.

Now, back to my little guy. The reality is my 9 year old wasn’t too far off.  He enjoys learning online. He wants to pick his community to learn with as he learns.  The economy will most likely drive us to select an undergraduate/graduate institution with a significant online component (unless he gets a full scholarship to my dream campus!) He will be accustomed to learning online and interacting online with his teachers and peers.

Online learning social communities exist which cater to all learning styles, all skill sets and personalities, native abilities and educational needs. Available to (employees) on-demand as well as via mobile devices and tablets, online learning communities remove barriers dear to the hearts of brick-and-mortar universities and companies. The best are built to allow people to forge relationships with others as well as ‘faculty’ ‘experts’ ‘leaders’ who may or may not be professional educators. Of course there are still reasons to participate in classroom training, for ex: when you’re studying for skills requiring certification. Nonetheless we are seeing the beginnings of an online social movement which will enhance traditional classroom education and breathe new life into the world of work. A degree from a Twitter Chat – Really? One never knows. (5 Ways Social Learning Communities Transform Culture and Leadership)

What do you think about the future of education?

(UPDATE: 1/9/13) Here is an interesting post stating at this moment in time one third of higher education institutions are seriously financially unstable.  YET:

The cost of a college degree in the United States has increased by 1120% over the past 35 years, far outpacing the price inflation of consumer goods, medical expenses and food. And there’s no end in sight.  According to the College Board, estimated total costs at a private college/university in  2013/2014: $58,640; estimated total costs in 2016/2017: $71,830. Estimated total costs at a public college/university (in state) in 2013/2014: $27,210; estimated total costs in 2016/2017: $33,330.” (2013 Price Cuts & Hikes)

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One comment on “Why Online Learning Will Be The Future of All Education

  • What is interesting about the article is now when watching TV, you see a number of schools offering online courses/programs and even K-12 has a pretty good online commercial. We can’t escape the technocracy!

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