Every time we redefine higher education, we confine it between the extremes – the old and the new. But now it’s ready to break away from the box.
No matter how we envision the future of higher education, we fundamentally limit it to our own points of view. More often, we oscillate between the two extremes – technology fixing the age-old education system and technology plotting to destroy education.
What Proponents Say?
The actual impact of technology on education is a bone of contention. Proponents consider it to be the perfect solution for disrupting pre-historic higher education system, supposedly offering just-in-time, high-quality, skill-based education at a fraction of the cost of traditional instruction.
How? The professors capture their wisdom and expertise in video lessons and make them available on mobile devices of the learners ready to be consumed just when they want to gain knowledge.
Not only this, elearning has the capability to disrupt the entire scenario – in terms of – price, location, access to material, and even pedagogy. Tech supporters also believe that “the end of college” has just begun. Not to say, they are closed eyes to elearning inefficiencies - precisely - lack of human interaction and hands-on learning.
Probably this is why there’s a big question mark on the completion rate of MOOCs. Real human interaction - the most crucial component of quality learning – is still missing. The extremely low completion rate shows that university education cannot be replaced with self-instruction. The latter not only limits one’s ability to be thorough with the subject but is also highly ineffective.
But looking through a different lens, the growing fascination with elearning has the power to bring one potentially big change. The higher ed institutions may be compelled to provide quality education via different means to suit learners world over.
What Opponents Say?
Elearning can never replace university education. Reports on MOOC engagement have confirmed it. Not only has higher education a crucial role to play in meeting civic needs, it’s the foolproof pathway to the most lucrative employment opportunities. And it’s still a prerequisite for white- collar jobs across the world.
Elearning can never be as worthy and impactful as traditional instruction. Perhaps self-direction is the most destructive aspect of online learning. Opponents believe in it so much so that it has become a cliché to say “technology is ruining classrooms”.
However, there’s a flaw in this outlook.
Learners are in desperate need for an education – which is valuable, engaging and inexpensive, and independent of location. And only technology can make it possible. The latest valuation of elearning industry ($100 billion in 2015) confirms it.
There’s a tendency for institutional leaders to discourage any kind of innovation that has the ability to disrupt four-year high-priced higher education model. When students’ debt is mounting high and learners questioning the value of a college degree, the tech opponents hope that the inefficiencies of traditional university education will magically disappear.
The Way Out!
Neither the complete automation nor sticking to traditional instruction can fix education. Period.
Whether the advancement in edtech will end college or not – is a question that time will answer. What matters more, at the moment, is – how to make higher education more valuable, easily accessible and economical for learners from across the world. The need is to reinvent university.
Till now, we have seen two ways to deliver learning – offline and online. Neither of these has been fully successful in isolation.
What does this mean? An amalgamation of technology and real-time instruction will be ideal to deliver low-cost yet valuable education. The way edtech can improve the entire learning process needs to be appreciated. It is insanely good at providing access to the best learning material from the best universities, created and curated by the best educators. Also, fostering real-time instruction and interaction.
Technology addresses three main pain points – cost, access and geographical location. Live lecturing keeps the social component of traditional classrooms intact while pre-recorded sessions deliver learning 24/7.
However, it’s important to remember – integration of technology in bits and pieces doesn’t help. A deeper incorporation is required. Sure, experiments fail. Speed bumps slow down the pace. But what is important to make it work is to – iterate. Iterate until you strike the right balance.