David Brooks has a very interesting essay in today’s N.Y. Times. He asserts that the Internet will dramatically reshape education in the next few years, just as it is already doing with newspapers, magazines, and publishing. His position is balanced, explaining both the benefits and drawbacks to online education.
One thing he didn’t mention was what will happen to our brick and mortar campuses. Every college has spent the last couple of decades competing in an arms race to build the best gyms, dorms, and cafeterias. What will happen to these campuses when most students are taking classes online?
Another problem, which I have mentioned before on this blog, is that once courses are prepared and offered online, the professor’s role is diminished. He becomes a coach–an important role to be sure–but not one that requires a terminal degree. Why would colleges keep a full-time stable of coaches when they can adjunct the courses out for a fraction of the cost? How can they not do this, if they want to compete with the other schools on price?
It seems inevitable that the schools of the future will have only adjunct professors, people who teach on the side while earning a living doing something else. And once teaching becomes a part-time job, who will be willing to go through the hardship of obtaining a Ph.D. for it? Won’t we end up with less educated people overall?
On the upside, the price of education will almost certainly come down. As Brooks notes, Harvard and MIT are already offering free courses online. So that’s good. Perhaps the world of tomorrow will include a lot of knowledgeable people (not necessarily wise, according to Brooks) without credentials.