Can Ivy League education be provided for $20 a month?

John Robb writes about the potential for transformation of the educational system:

* Lectures. Videos of lecture series, plus associated materials, are available for many courses at some of the best Universities in the world (i.e. see MIT’s open courseware). Online videos are not only better than in-person lectures in many respects, they also allow you to get the best. There is no need to recreate the lecture with tens of thousands of less qualified/exceptional teachers.

*Application. As MIT is finding out, JIT (just-in-time information) in combination with simulated application of the concept to real scenarios is the best method for success. The advent of computer simulated virtual worlds for in the computer gaming industry have proven this combination (JIT info and immediate application) can train kids to adults in complicated and complex tasks in a fraction of the time other methods require.

* Collaboration. The business world is already shifting on online collaboration as a replacement for most in-person work (the economic crisis will only accelerate it). In my personal experience developing exceeding complex products, its possible to conduct the entire process from ideation to delivery online without any face to face contact (at great savings in time to direct expense). Unfortunately, this ability/skill/mindset isn’t central to the educational world, despite the fact that students are currently doing much of this already in their private lives with social software.

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12 Comments

  1. Absolutely. The model of building a walled garden around What Works has always baffled and enraged me. Once you work out the best model with the best teachers, record that and make it available everywhere. Highest benefit for the society as a whole. I see zero potential downside to making this information widely available, but that’s just my own biases at work — I’d be interested to see what Trevor or Nick Pell have to say.

  2. The question that’s been on my mind lately (as I look into online grad school programs) is: could a quality distance education program be offered for free (without government funding)? So I was happy to find this.

    Kind of related: http://www.instructables.com/id/Get_into_Harvard_University_Without_Really_Trying/

  3. It’s tricky.

    First of all, “Ivy League Education” is a problematic phrase. If we are confining ourselves purely to academics the answer is, of course, a resounding yes. But the Ivy League is more than just a tech school for the ruling elite, and how many of us would argue that the academic side of college or even high school was the most valuable side of things, even pertaining to our selected discipline. In short, there’s a lot to be said for environment of learning, and that cannot be recreated with video and virtual experiments.

    My time, however brief, in the Ivy League has told me this, however- all colleges are not the same. It is not just a piece of paper. I didn’t leave because the education was bad, I left because it was full of humorless squares. I mean, seriously try finding a Crimson Pothead.

    The single most useful class I took at Hahhh-vud is perhaps most instructive. Fundamentals of Academic Writing. Worth every cent of the $425 my parents paid for it. That’s totally exportable, as are the science classes I’d imagine, and most of the business classes, etc. Sociology and the so-called “soft sciences”… well fuck them anyway.

  4. All the suggestions Klintron quotes from the source article are described in “Education Automation” by R. Buckinster Fuller. Published 1963. That’s 45 years ago.

    The most cost effective (for students) change that could occur in education is cheaper / free textbooks. For better or worse, algebra hasn’t changed in the past few hundred years. Why schools should pony up for hundreds of new algebra textbooks every year at $70 or more each is unknown to me. On-screen work, print-on-demand, the solutions are there and field tested. Change nothing but the textbook scam and you get billions of dollars to put to better use.

  5. Actually, I would expect science would be one of the harder things to do well online – no lab equipment, etc.

    But yeah, it all depends on what you’re trying to learn and why. You won’t have a lot of the prestige and the networking of going to an Ivy League school, but I suspect Robb was actually talking about the quality of the education itself not the overall package of university experience.

    What we’re going to need as a society in years to come are more people with technical backgrounds – stuff you need to learn from trade schools. I don’t really see a lot of people learning how to build wind turbines and repair diesel motors online.

  6. I guess I should share my stash, too, I’ve had them in my bookmarks for a while, it is nice to finally have somewhere to drop em:

    http://www.selfmadescholar.com/classes.html
    http://www.autodidactproject.org/
    http://webcast.berkeley.edu/courses.php
    http://www.jimmyr.com/free_education.php
    http://www.cmu.edu/oli/index.shtml

  7. Trevor Blake is absolutely right, though. The main hurdle is the textbooks. More and more include a disk to go online and get more information off their website, but the book is still needed.
    On a related note, there is plenty of free ebooks (well, free to find) that have all the information necessary. But we are going to be a generation of poor blind people if that becomes the dominant method of reading. I am personally quite worried over screen damage to my retinas.

  8. The printer game has gotta change. Lightly burned letters is more sustainable than ink cartridges. It would also be great to have a paper-like substance that can be “reset” to blank by immersion in water, for instance.

    That or we need more super-collaborative projects to assemble definitive reference books. I’m also quite open to the argument that the best reference works are the obsessive result of lone maniacs and small cult-like groups…most of my favorites were, at least.

  9. E-ink, as it improves, may alleviate many of the problems with the textbook situation. I’ve noticed my eyes don’t hurt so much since I switched to lcd, and my distance vision seems to have stopped getting noticeably worse over time. A device like a kindle but less clunky could conceivably be a game-changer in that area. Will there still be printed textbooks? I’m sure, but in an e-book friendly educational environment, I’d imagine that the cycle of updating textbooks every couple years would mostly shift to e-books and printed texts would be updated only once every decade or so, or even longer, as the costs associated become a cash negative instead of their current cash positive. How often do we need to update a history textbook about 19th century textile manufacturing labor practices, really?

    Publication is worth something to professors on its own, as it’s built into their system of tenure, so it will still be done whether the books are given away or charged $110 for.

    Widespread cheap and/or free textbooks can change the world, I’m convinced of that.

  10. Stanford engineering online: http://see.stanford.edu/see/courses.aspx

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