Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Massive Online Learning and the Unbundling of Undergraduate Education

An interesting and insightful post by Benjamin Lima. Here's the nut:
A college education has traditionally bundled several different kinds of goods together:
1. The curriculum: mastery of specific knowledge and development of more general reasoning, analytical, and communication skills.
2. The extra-curriculum: a network of friends and contacts, and experience gained from clubs, sports, internships and other activities.
3. The signaling process: validation of general talent or status by completing all of the above at a “better” or highly ranked college.
4. The college experience: everything that is personally interesting, enjoyable or rewarding about living in a certain place with certain people, and having experiences that are personally valuable to the college student, regardless of their value to anyone else or to society at large—everything from late-night conversations about the meaning of life, to road trips, to pranks, sports rivalries, and “school spirit.”
Traditionally, colleges provided all of these goods in a bundle, simply because the best way to provide them was to expensively gather a lot of students, faculty and resources in one place for several years at a time. But now, with the internet, is the logic of bundling starting to break down?

I think it’s immediately apparent that the first type of goods—the curriculum—is by far the most vulnerable to disruption from the internet. Highly self-motivated students (i.e., Abraham Lincoln) have always been able to teach themselves, given the resources, and the internet is simply going to accelerate and expand this opportunity to anyone in the world who has an internet connection. This is where the disruption of higher education is going to parallel that of journalism, publishing and music.

My hunch, however, is that the second, third and fourth types of goods are going to be affected very differently. For these, there is simply no substitute for being in the right place with the right people.
H/t Tyler Cowan.

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