With American college graduates owing almost $1 trillion in student loan debt and many universities unable to adequately prepare them with the skills to build careers and attract employers, it is becoming more and more obvious that our educational system dominated by large, expensive universities and bureaucratic control is in need of some serious reform.
Thankfully, a market centered around the open-source, low cost, individual-orientated, and decentralized speed of the digital age is helping future students avoid these problems and has the chance to fundamentally transform education.
Starting this spring, MIT will start to offer free online courses to anyone, anywhere in the world with a program dubbed MITx. Although MIT has offered many of its lectures and notes online since 2001, MITx will allow students to interact with other students online and have access to online labs and self-assessment tools. And if students can prove that they know and understand the material, for a small fee, you can receive a credential from MITx.
Western Governors University, a non-profit accredited online university, offers BA’s in business, health science, IT, and teaching for about $6,000 a year. Although completely online, WGU has tough and high standards, and the average student earns a degree in less than three months.
Khan Academy is a completely free, online forum offering hundreds of thousands of lectures, lessons, and courses in virtually every subject imaginable.
And these are just a few examples of what the future of education in the digital world holds.
Some may argue that a MITx credential or a degree from an online university just does not compare to a traditional degree, but most employers know that the average BA does not mean that the degree-holder is actually qualified. And since most of these “alternative” models of education measure competency over the attendance, they will only become more and more attractive to employers.
But obviously education is also more than about impressing companies and finding a good-paying job. The digital age will only make education better, cheaper, more accessible, more stimulating, and more orientated to the student than ever before. Without the top-down structure of most brick and mortar universities, curriculum is less stringent, students are better able to work at their own pace, and it gives students the ability to stream lectures from the best professors in the world from their computer or download them for free on to your iPod. And instead of paying hundreds of dollars to lug around textbooks from class to class, you can now buy a digital copy for less than $15.
The union-heavy bureaucracy of government schools and tenured research-dominated professors might not like how this trend is making education more accountable to parents and students, but that is because they still resemble the business model of medieval Europe, where students were organized in guild-like groups and teachers held power. These dinosaurs are finally facing market pressure, much to the benefit of consumers (students).
This digital model of education model is essentially a free market in education, and it is doing to education what individual freedom and markets always do — disrupt and bypass archaic and outdated institutions, innovate, decentralize, and universalize access.
American education, which for too long has been a state-run monopoly, has given us strikingly high illiteracy rates, higher costs, lower quality, and the perpetuation of mass mediocrity. Even Vice President Joe Biden admits that government subsidies have made tuition more expensive.
But thanks to this increasingly interconnected digital age, we may finally be able to bypass the $100,000+, top-heavy, dinosaur universities and get a real education.
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