Next Up For Disruption? College

from the this-could-get-interesting dept

One of the reasons we spend so much time talking about the music and news industries, is because the disruption and upheaval happening in those industries right now are likely to impact nearly every industry you can think of in the near future. Understanding the mistakes being made by those in the industries that are further along the disruption curve should (hopefully, though, I'm not entirely optimistic on this) help keep those newer industries from making the same mistakes down the road.

Jake points us to an inkling of how the higher education market is beginning to be disrupted -- and it goes beyond just cheaper textbooks or courses being offered online. By now, online distance learning is well-known and not all that big a deal. But, really, all the old school online university efforts, like University of Phoenix, did was to take the traditional college model and move it online. True disruptive innovation is never about just moving a legacy model to a new medium, but about embracing some aspect of that new medium to offer something in a different way that really wasn't possible prior to that.

The article in Washington Monthly discusses a company called StraighterLine, which offers online college classes, but it totally disrupts the traditional business model of university learning. While the classic model is that you pay per class (or per semester as a fully matriculated student), StraighterLine has a simple model: you pay $99/month and get an all-you-can-eat offering. You go at your own pace -- so if you have lots of time (and can complete the work) you can take multiple classes in that month. In the opening story of the article, a woman completes four full classes in just two months -- for a grand total of $200. Taking those same classes at either local universities or online would have cost thousands, and would have taken much longer to complete. And, it's not as if the StraighterLine courses skimp either. According to the article (and it would be great to hear from anyone who's tried it to see if this is true), they use the same materials found in many college courses.

The reasoning behind all of this will sound familiar to those who read Techdirt on a regular basis:
Even as the cost of educating students fell, tuition rose at nearly three times the rate of inflation. Web-based courses weren't providing the promised price competition--in fact, many traditional universities were charging extra for online classes, tacking a "technology fee" onto their standard (and rising) rates. Rather than trying to overturn the status quo, big, publicly traded companies like Phoenix were profiting from it by cutting costs, charging rates similar to those at traditional universities, and pocketing the difference.

This, Smith explained, was where StraighterLine came in. The cost of storing and communicating information over the Internet had fallen to almost nothing. Electronic course content in standard introductory classes had become a low-cost commodity. The only expensive thing left in higher education was the labor, the price of hiring a smart, knowledgeable person to help students when only a person would do. And the unique Smarthinking call-center model made that much cheaper, too. By putting these things together, Smith could offer introductory college courses a la carte, at a price that seemed to be missing a digit or two, or three: $99 per month, by subscription. Economics tells us that prices fall to marginal cost in the long run. Burck Smith simply decided to get there first.
Just like Craigslist. In fact, the article goes on to make that comparison, and highlight how similar the newspaper business and the University business are. It notes that freshman lectures are "higher education's equivalent of the classified section" in that they're insanely profitable and subsidize many other areas of the business.

And, just like Craigslist and newspapers, colleges started pushing back against StraighterLine, worrying about how it would impact them. In fact, it's caused quite a bit of trouble for StraighterLine, causing it to be split off from its original parent company, Smarthinking. Meanwhile, other complaints have made it difficult for StraighterLine to follow through on its partnering strategy to deal with questions concerning accreditation. So, StraighterLine itself may never become a huge success, but it gives you a glimpse of how the world is changing and how the higher education system may be ripe for disruptive innovation as well.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    Richard, Sep 11th, 2009 @ 5:47am

    I don't see it happening in the UK

    The problem is that here the value of a degree depends on prestige and in the UK psyche that is deeply linked to the age of the institution.

    People still prefer to go to old and prestigeous institutions even though it is well known by those in the sector that the teaching provided is actually inferior to what you get in many "lesser" colleges. Also - in spite of recent changes - higher education here is still at least 50% government subsidised and cheap loans are dependent on attending a "regular" institution. Consequently the market doesn't really function.

    However it will be interesting to see how these new models compete with the established UK distance learning provider - the Open University - whose market does not have the same level of protection.

     

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    NullOp, Sep 11th, 2009 @ 5:55am

    College

    Having taken several online courses, one really big factor missing from online schools, in my opinion, is the inspiration factor. In retrospect, there was a lot of inspiration involved in attending a university with other students, professors and the campus itself. There is no argument that cost is a major factor in education these days but it is not the only factor influencing education. Quality of education still plays a major role and online schools have a definite problem competing in that arena.

     

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    Guido, Sep 11th, 2009 @ 5:58am

    College

    Think about it. Could we have had a watershed film like "Animal House" if Faber had been an online college? Long live College!

     

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    Richard, Sep 11th, 2009 @ 6:03am

    CwF+RtB

    In the higher education sector the actual knowledge has always been free - so institutions are already a long way down the CwF (Alumni associations, college sports etc etc - what else are they?)

    +RtB (personal contact will always be scarce as is the prestige of an established institution ) so maybe this sector will turn out to be largely immune since it already works on a "new" model.

     

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    Joseph Durnal, Sep 11th, 2009 @ 6:10am

    Interesting concept

    It is a good start, but accreditation is a big issue. StraighterLine doesn't offer a degree program, and it seems that only a few institutions will accept their credits with some strings attached.

     

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    Steve, Sep 11th, 2009 @ 6:17am

    It seems to me that if this develops into an educational shift, it creates a massive opportunity for employers. The flaw to this kind of materials-only education is that it doesn't offer the traditional student-professor relationship. For example, even if one handles all of the material, passes all of the tests, and even earns industry certification, they will have missed out in things like anectdotes and advice from professors who have worked in the industry.

    The opportunity created is for employers to take these distance-educated graduates, and bring them into their companies earlier, possibly while less prepared than if they had graduated from brick and mortar institutions. These employess could be brought in with probational wages, mentored by their employers, and moved or promoted flexibly once their probational period ends. Really this is similar to internship, but employers could essentially get a larger volume of temporarily-cheap, short-term labor by becoming a part of the educational process, while also being given an opportunity to mold new employees.

     

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    Richard, Sep 11th, 2009 @ 6:21am

    Re: Internship

    It is internship (or "placement" as we call it in the UK) and the key to it is the ability of the University to screen and direct suitable students to suitable companies. That way the companies don't get so many "duds". Those duds would be expensive to the company - even if they were unpaid.

     

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    Tom, Sep 11th, 2009 @ 6:28am

    Why just colleges?

    Why not high schools, middle schools, elementary schools?

    Yes, I know home-schooling increasingly uses the internet, but I think you will see a lot more success in the lower grades with online education, partly because it is combined with personal supervision.

     

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    Dark Helmet (profile), Sep 11th, 2009 @ 6:37am

    Huh, what will they think of next?

    Accreditation = Academic DRM?

    Interesting. Could this possibly be the start of the decline of America as the education destination of the world?

     

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    Eliot, Sep 11th, 2009 @ 6:38am

    Not as new as you think...

    Actually, this technique isn't exactly new. It's not quite the same, but I went to Hamline University and they had a policy where you paid for every credit until you reached a certain number per year (full time) and at that point, no matter how many additional credits you took in a year, it didn't cost any more (there were exceptions, study abroad being a good example). It encouraged a lot of double or triple majors, which looked good for Hamline.

     

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    Johan, Sep 11th, 2009 @ 6:39am

    Old news

    I've completed my accredited bachelors degree online in three semesters some 3 years ago. While that college was not $99/mo, they did offer an all you can eat model, in 6 month chunks. Most materials were provided with a mix of professor instructed, video lectures and self paced classes.

     

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    Chris ODonnell (profile), Sep 11th, 2009 @ 6:51am

    Add the coworking model to education

    Agreed that online education will probably never be able to replicate the social education experience of interacting with classmates and instructors. However, if you take the idea behind coworking and extend it to education you might get something that fills in a lot of the gaps and still allows for major disruption in the higher education market.

     

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    Alison, Sep 11th, 2009 @ 6:54am

    Animal House is safe

    I think there is always going to be a place for traditional brick-and-mortar colleges. Young people who've just graduated high school get a real learning experience from being away from home that goes above and beyond the formal instruction. However, working adults who want additional credentials, or who want to finish a degree that was interrupted, are the real winners as online distance education continues to expand. Accredited online universities that focus on career-oriented degrees, like business, criminal justice, or IT, have a lot to offer these non-traditional students.

     

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    Jrosen (profile), Sep 11th, 2009 @ 6:57am

    Well hell

    Considering many colleges and post-grad places tend to PREFER home-schooled kids, and how increasingly useless most colleges actually are these days, I could see this working well. I went to Brandeis University, a very high ranked school out of all in the USA. Once I finished I started job hunting, but also went to a Certification School for the IT work I'd really preferred to do (repairs, system/network-admin, etc). I just about had a minor in Computers there, because there was not a single course in the school for what I'd wanted to do once out of school. I'd even looked at MIT, BC, BU, Harvard and many others. Never in a single Computers/Information Systems course did I see anything about working with Cisco, Unix, etc. It was all programming, programming theory, circuit design, etc. Going into College was one thing that was supposed to be THE thing to do, and I, for one, actually KNEW what I wanted to do. College didn't help that along one whit. I should have skipped college and gone to a tech-school like ITT and likely would have enjoyed it more.
    Colleges/Universities overcharge for what they offer. Have for over a decade now, and they don't teach kids (yes kids, because most who go and even graduate, though they might be 21, still have no true clue about the real world going in, or even graduating from college) are not given a set of skills to truly SURVIVE in the real world.
    What once was a mark of prestige, is now a bad joke, and becoming a worse punchline.

     

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    Jim D (profile), Sep 11th, 2009 @ 6:58am

    A view from inside higher ed

    I work in higher education, on the technology and data side of enrollment management. There's certainly going to be a lot of resistance to this. It's hard to describe the extreme level of institutional inertia and conservatism (in the sense of being averse to big changes) that exists in the world of traditional higher education. It borders on what's seen in large religious institutions, because people in this industry very rarely view it in terms of a business that has to meet the needs and demands of customers, and instead view it as a sort of social good in itself, and so when the status quo is threatened, they see that as an attack on and destruction of something that is good in and of itself, rather than a shift in business models. Education certainly is a social good, but you can't divorce that from the other side of meeting the needs of those consuming your service.

    In conversations with colleagues about the coming shifts, we've recognized that we'll need to adapt, but also that there will always be a place for offering a complete "college experience" and higher quality service as a value-add to knowledge acquisition that can be obtained much more cheaply by itself. None the less, I also realize that in 5-10 years I will either be working for an institution that has learned to adapt, or for the offspring of the current crop of upstart competitors.

     

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    Richard, Sep 11th, 2009 @ 7:25am

    Re: A view from inside higher ed

    "very rarely view it in terms of a business that has to meet the needs and demands of customers,"

    Yes - but it all hangs on identifying who the customer really is.

    When I worked in industry we made training simulators for the Royal Navy, US Navy and Australian Navy. I remember once remarking to a senior manager that we should add something "because the customer wanted it" . "Who wanted it " he said "the officer from the Naval training establishment" I said. I was then told off in the severest terms. "He isn't the CUSTOMER - he is the USER" the customer is the official from the MOD procurement executive who signs the cheques.

    This is the point. Most students are NOT customers. Where there is a substantial state subsidy (as still in the UK and in pre-18 education in most countries) the state is the customer and where parents provide finance they are customers. Potential employers are also customers. A true academic institution - if it is to survive beyond the typical short lifespan of even the most successful commercial enterprises needs to have a mission that goes beyond simply making money by satisfying obvious needs.

    For a true academic institution the real customer is knowledge itself, everything else is just a means to an end. Research is performed to build new knowledge, teaching is done to preserve existing knowledge to the next generation. Funding is obtained to serve these purposes rather than as an end in itself.

    Institutions that play properly by these rules have huge durability. The Universities of Bologna, Paris, Oxford and Cambridge are each 4 times older than the United States. They have withstood massive social, political and economic changes already. They will still be around after every company on the stock exchange has gone bust or been absorbed and digested by a newer organisation. The only way they will fail is if they forget this and try to behave like commercial companies, only worrying about money.

     

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    chris (profile), Sep 11th, 2009 @ 7:40am

    Re: CwF+RtB

    In the higher education sector the actual knowledge has always been free - so institutions are already a long way down the CwF (Alumni associations, college sports etc etc - what else are they?)

    this is true for traditional students looking for the traditional college experience. college is a great place to go to keggers and find out if you are a lesbian or not. but for a growing number of people, college is simply a means to an end. in some cases, a college degree is simply a checkbox to fill on an application, so cost and duration are prevailing considerations for fulfilling those requirements.

    +RtB (personal contact will always be scarce as is the prestige of an established institution ) so maybe this sector will turn out to be largely immune since it already works on a "new" model.

    while also true, it doesn't take into account the non-traditional student who may already have an established career, or a person who for whatever reason missed the opportunity to attend college at the ideal time.

    distruption isn't always about replacing the old model. it's about providing better value to a sector of the market for whom the old model is not the best value.

    in the case of the music industry, the album/CD was the only game in town for a long time, so the collector and the casual consumer had to buy the same products. digital downloads are a better product for the casual consumer, but there is no reason for the collector to stop buying albums. sure, the market for those collectibles may shrink because the number of casual consumers is greater than the number of collectors, but it also means more music in the hands of more people, which is a net positive.

    in the same vein, college is a social norm for many people, to the point that many people see it as what you are supposed to do from age 18-22 and there are many life lessons that are learned in that environment that have little to do with higher education.

    there is no reason for college to stop being that important phase of life for people in that situation. however, for people who are past that point in their lives, and don't need the ancillary "growing up" experience, additional avenues for learning can only improve things.

    that is the nature of disruption: redefining the market so that it better satisfies the consumer. there is already a market for traditional college, but that product is not satisfying the non-traditional student segment of that market and so new products and services can be brought to market and targeted at that segment.

     

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    Free Capitalist (profile), Sep 11th, 2009 @ 7:48am

    Re: Well hell

    Hang in there Jrosen.

    The struggles you illustrate about the feeling of 'unpreparedness' for the "real-world" really just indicate that you were, and are, in fact, observing and *thinking.

    No institution could have better prepared you for the the working world any more than a father talking to his child can prepare them for military basic training. The labs in ITT style courses very rarely closely mimic "real-world" implementations, or convey the sense of urgency your business partners will place upon you. In the end it always comes down to a trial by fire. If you want exposure to a new technology you will most often have to take the research upon yourself (and take advantage of employer sponsored course if available)

    As long as you continue to think, and develop your ability to deal with abstract problems on a daily basis, you will do well.

    You may even find (like I evetually did) that some of the struggles you face actually come from other people in the workforce who choose not to think, but to rest on their credentials, and act (when they act) stupidly.

    Thinking is a choice, and you have so far chosen well.

    As for online vs. brick and mortar education -- the quality of the education will still always rest on the dedication and choices of each individual.

    On topic:
    Education is a business, and old-school universities do not deserve protectionism of their profit-driven business models.

     

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    MBraedley (profile), Sep 11th, 2009 @ 7:58am

    Only works for a subset of degrees

    This wouldn't work for the sciences and engineering, as more than just information is needed to become competent. There's a hands on factor that's necessary in the form of labs. For nearly all my non computer labs, three pieces of equipment were necessary: an oscilloscope, a DC voltage source, and a function generator. (Occasionally, the later two would be combined into one.) The voltage source was typically the cheapest of the three, with a non-varying one being made from an old computer power supply, but the other two can easily reach over $200 for base models, and some of the oscilloscopes I used in labs cost over $500 each. The cost is simply prohibitive for the basic lab tools necessary to complete even the first two years of an electrical engineering degree, to say nothing of the specialized equipment used in some upper year courses. I haven't even mentioned software that I've used. Matlab, a common mathematical modeling program, can cost $50-$100 for a student license.

    The simple fact is that a brick-and-mortar university can spread the cost of non-expendable lab equipment over many students, in some cases hundreds or thousands of them, and can cover all of their students with a decent site license and spend a fraction of what the combined students would pay. If you consider how much I would have spent for the tools necessary for me to receive my degree in addition to the $99/month price point just for the information and exams, then I would definitely say that my money was well spent going to a brick-and-mortar university.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 11th, 2009 @ 8:26am

    Re: I don't see it happening in the UK

    I can see the hiring convo now...

    "Mr. Jones is from our local state university, and Mr. Smith is from ... some school I never heard of. We'll go with Mr. Jones."

    Seriously, most people look at online degrees (even UoP) like a joke -- reputation cannot be skirted so easily by the internet. However, the publishing model is going to get wracked. At least 10% of my profs had fully switched to online materials only. Then you have schools like MIT which have 90%+ materials online only.

    All it really means is that if your product is information, then the internet is your worst nightmare. Universities aren't selling only information -- they're also selling a few lines on your resume, and a piece of paper you can't get on the internet.

     

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    Jim D (profile), Sep 11th, 2009 @ 8:43am

    Re: Re: A view from inside higher ed

    The idea that the person who pays the bills is the customer is true, but only to a point, especially when many parents take the approach that it's the kid who has to live/work at the school, so they should go somewhere they're going to be comfortable. We encounter this issue every day, assisting transfer students, not parents, who weren't happy at their previous school. In truth, both students and their parents are customers, and we have to accommodate both.

    On the issue of behaving like a commercial enterprise you are also correct, but again it comes down to the fact that we are both commercial and an institution. Our goals may not come down to a bottom line of profit or loss, but we are sufficiently similar to companies in having to attract and retain users/customers/buyers/students that focusing exclusively on being an institution over the more business-like aspects will similarly cause us to fail, just as you observe that focusing exclusively on money making will cause us to fail. It's this balance that has been very hard for higher ed to find, or even recognize as necessary.

     

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    Richard, Sep 11th, 2009 @ 9:18am

    Re: Re: Re: A view from inside higher ed

    I believe that as an academic institution, we are not the same kind of thing as an ordinary commercial - but of course this doesn't exempt us from the basic rules of finance or sound organisation nor to the need to form good working relationships with our students.

    Traditional Universities would regard Government and parents as sponsors or benefactors, students as of junior members of staff and the customer as knowledge (well in the middle ages the customer would have been God).

    The problem with treating students as customers is that the outcome depends on their efforts as much as (if not more than) the institution's. This is a real big difference from almost all (other) businesses. This difference really strikes home when it comes to assessment.

    The techdirt article and the linked articles concentrate on the delivery of learning materials and regard assessment - and the inevitable associated accreditation as somehow an inconvenient side issue.

    Unfortunately that is not a valid approach. Assessment is key to the whole process. A purely commercial organisation can allow its customers to be the ultimate arbiter. A University cannot. The customers of a hotel, restaurant or manufacturing company may get more or less out of their experience but they don't "FAIL" like the "customers" of a University do. The immediate pressure on a for profit educational organisation is to "pass" all the students. I myself have a couple of "certificates" from commercial training organisations (acquired during my time in industry). All they assert is that I attended the course. The moment you have to "fail" some of the students then someone else has to check up on you to make sure that you are maintaining a consistent standard. Hence there is a need for accreditation. Inevitably the accreditation body prevents true commercial competition in the market - because under pure competition the price would inevitably be driven towards the marginal cost of.....



    printing a degree certificate.

     

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    Dark Helmet (profile), Sep 11th, 2009 @ 9:18am

    Re: Re: I don't see it happening in the UK

    "Seriously, most people look at online degrees (even UoP) like a joke"

    Well, I can't speak on all online institutions, but the University of Phoenix has certainly had its issues. In fact, a trial is pending fo 2010 on their admissions practices after the 9th circuit court of appeals reversed a ruling that their recruiting methods were in line with the Higher Education Act.

    The problem with UoP, and this may be similar to other tradiional and/or non-traditional intitutions I don't know, but when you are paying your recruiters a commission based on the number of admissions they sign up, then the focus is no longer on education, but rather on business. This has ALWAYS been the chief problem with education as a business, though some do it worse than others.

    What MIGHT be an interesting payment program for recruiters was to pay them based on the accomplishments of the students they enroll. Say they get commissions in varying amounts based on the grades each semester of the students they enroll.

    This would turn academic recruitment into a truly competitive situation, where each recruiter at each university is looking for the best talent they can get, rather than sheer volume numbers. Additionally, academic standards are organically elevated since high level faculty members are incentivised to NOT simply hand out high grades which cause their institution to dole out more commissions.

     

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    Matthew Cruse (profile), Sep 11th, 2009 @ 9:29am

    Re: Re: CwF+RtB

    I just want to throw in my personal experience to suppoert what Chris said. At the age of 18, unable to afford out of pocket and unwilling to burden myself or my family with the ruinous debt of a conventional college education I joined the U.S. Navy to "See the World". At about the age of 25 I realized that if I wanted to get ahead I would probably need a college degree. So, having an already established career with 80-100 hour work weeks and A Wife and child, a conventional college was impossible. After k nocking around the question for a few years, I finally decided to pursue a degree. At the age of 35 I graduated with a Bachelor's degree never once having stepped foot in a classroom. A combination of correspondence course, CLEP/Dantes tests, and online classes plus credit for military specialty training courses were used in granting me my degree. I would have never been able to get a degree through a conventional college due to ongoing work/life commitments. There are thousands of military personnel in the U.S. that do this every year. Grateful as I am for the opportunity that was afforded me that allowed me to get a degree in a non traditional way, it was just as expensive as attending classroom clkasses, with much less cost to the school. Had they had a format similar to the monthly "all-you-can-learn" I would have jumped at it, even at twice the cost. That would have saved me tons of time and expense. Just throwing in my two cents worth.

     

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    Troy A. Wilson Sr. (profile), Sep 11th, 2009 @ 9:42am

    Re: Old news

    Where?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 11th, 2009 @ 9:56am

    Re: Re: I don't see it happening in the UK

    You are a few years behind. Most Universities and community colleges now offer online classes and even degrees. So Mrs. Smith might have taken online classes but her degree could be from the same local university that Mr. Jones went to.

     

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    Ashley R., Sep 11th, 2009 @ 9:57am

    I don't know that online schooling will ever really replace traditional education. I've tried internet classes and I've failed them every time which resulted in me having to retake the courses in the traditional manner the next semester. There is a loss of structure from going online. I didn't have a set time to "go to class" and a time when I knew I would be able to see my professor. Email is a long shot (it could be several days before you get a response) and calling is awkward.

    That aside, math and science classes are almost impossible to complete online. I'm a math major and I thrive on watching my professors do examples on a whiteboard, chalkboard, or smartboard. You can write an example down and send it in an email but you can't watch the back and forth your professor does to get an answer. Getting a program that allows you to type mathematical expressions is the least of your worries.

     

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    Matthew Cruse (profile), Sep 11th, 2009 @ 10:20am

    Accreditation

    After reading through the info here http://www.ncahigherlearningcommission.org/download/Overview07.pdf I don't understand how the organization cannot accredit StraighterLine. It meets all of the wickets, assuming that the quality of the courses is as good as was stated in the Washington Monthly article. So if the NCA (accrediting body) is not accreiting Straighterline, then it can only be for reasons of pressure from the other established institutions. I am not against brick and mortar higher education, I fully understand that there is more to it than just aquisition of knowledge, but for mass feedings of information, why shouldn't it go to the lowest price point? There is no less value added and signifdicant savings to those who pay the bills?

     

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    Matthew Cruse (profile), Sep 11th, 2009 @ 10:38am

    Re:

    To reply to two of your points:

    Getting a program that allows you to type mathematical expressions is the least of your worries.

    There are several. The college I went to used MathType(an add on for Office) that I was able to obtain free through the colleges student license.

    There is a loss of structure from going online. I didn't have a set time to "go to class" and a time when I knew I would be able to see my professor. Email is a long shot (it could be several days before you get a response) and calling is awkward. That aside, math and science classes are almost impossible to complete online. I'm a math major and I thrive on watching my professors do examples on a whiteboard, chalkboard, or smartboard. You can write an example down and send it in an email but you can't watch the back and forth your professor does to get an answer.

    While this is true, the lack of interaction and lack of structure, for some people it is just another impediment to be dealt with, and is less severe than prohibitive cost and overcrowded classrooms. I took Statistics, Chemistry 1, Calc 1 and 2, and Programming classes online. I had to structure my own time for "going to class" around work and family requirements (including a newborn). As has been stated in earlier posts, some students need that structure and environment for additional maturing and growth, and others don't need it, want it, or have time for it.

     

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  30.  
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    Craylach, Sep 11th, 2009 @ 11:02am

    Higher Ed doesn't like to think of students as customers

    The majority of faculty I've interacted with in my 20 odd years working in traditional Public Higher Education in the US don't think of themselves as 'selling' anything. If they were going to associate what they do with any business analogy, I think it would be of a refinery - they see themselves as takng students (raw materials) and refining them into professionals. Failures are seen as problems with the raw materials, not with the refinement process.

    Back in my teaching days, I had a colleague complain that he had "taught this course the exact same way for 30 years and the students keep doing worse and worse" and honestly believed that this was a problem with the students rather than the fact that he had changed nothing in his appproach in 30 years.

     

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  31.  
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    Chris Ebert, Sep 11th, 2009 @ 11:36am

    You're initial premises are false, but the model is interesting!

    When you say, "But, really, all the old school online university efforts, like University of Phoenix, did was to take the traditional college model and move it online." you are either misleading or misinformed. The University of Phoenix takes a completely different approach to education, which I agree is now emulated by many in the online sector, some successfully, some not so much so, thus making the initial approach now an institution. the peer learning model, integrative learning, small class size, required dissipation by every student and many more aspects of the model are revolutionary.

    Going farther what you describe is merely an alternative billing method. While I question the efficacy of the business model as explained, the only thing I see here that is disruptive as the method of collecting fees. The go at your own pace model has been tried by a number of universities and with the possible exception of Nova in Florida, it is not had much success. Given these two facts, where is the disruption?

    This is not to say that the business model is not interesting and it will be an experiment that I hope will be publicized. If it makes education more accessible and still economically viable for all concerned, all the better. Good luck getting through the Higher Learning Commission with it. My guess is they will fight it to the death just as they did the University of Phoenix model 30 years ago.

    Cheers, Chris

     

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  32.  
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    Christopher (profile), Sep 11th, 2009 @ 11:48am

    Interesting disruption in CS

    Typically CS majors are inculcated into the idea of software engineering, without really getting any specific s/w engineering training, such as detailed code review training, project management, or even coding techniques. This is left as an exercise to the reader, and it shouldn't be. CS curricula are focused on the science/ research aspects with s/w engineering as an afterthought. This is as it should be, since the word "science" is not to be taken lightly or watered down.

    However, if what you want are s/w engineers, you need a related track and some different prereqs. What a low-cost online course offering can do is get students the prereqs, then get them into what amounts to advanced technical training with respect to software engineering.

    This properly bifurcates CS into the science and practitioner tracks, and while CS majors will become scarce, we can now focus the right attention on developing a true engineering discipline for computing.

    -C

     

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  33.  
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    Andrew D. Todd, Sep 11th, 2009 @ 1:33pm

    E-Learning and Engineering.

    Well, here's my take, posted on Washington Monthly:

    http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2009_09/019814.php#1601777

    One point I would make again is that for teenagers, the name of the game is not to get an online degree-- it is to improve the terms of your admission to a bricks-and-mortar university, like doing AP subjects, only more so.

    Here are some fairly detailed ideas about curriculum:

    Geometry dates from ancient antiquity. Algebra dates from the sixteenth century (the 1500's). Analytic geometry dates from the early seventeenth century, the big figure being Rene Descartes (1596-1650). Isaac Newton developed calculus in 1665-66 and launched classical physics at about the same time. Classical physics and second year calculus (calculus of several variables, differential equations, etc.) were substantially complete by about 1800. Modern chemistry, as distinct from Alchemy, was a late-bloomer, starting up only after about 1800. Modern biology got going about 1850, and modern physics about 1900.

    This means that mathematics and science are taught somewhat backwards in the schools. The system is presently organized around catering to people who don't take the full course of study. Mathematics should be taught a lot earlier, getting up to analytic geometry before doing any science. To teach subjects rigorously, one needs to teach them in the order that they were invented, so that the presuppositions are the same. The proper sequence should be:

    1) Geometry, taught by tutorial.

    2) Algebra I & II, taught by tutorial, minus a lot of review material in Algebra II which is presently necessary because the students have been away from the subject for fifteen months. Also reduce the quantity of word problems, as the students will already have been exposed to geometry, and learned to think formally. Word problems are a mistaken exercise in trying to link mathematics to the Language Arts. In science and engineering, equations practically always arise out of formal diagrams, such as an electric circuit diagram. Mathematicians devised Algebra, not to count how many cookies someone might have left after eating a certain number, but to deal with unresolved problems within geometry. Cutting High-School Algebra down to a clean design ought to make it a single-year course, even if taught as a class. By tutorial, it would of course go still faster.

    3) Analytic Geometry and Trigonometry, taught by tutorial. Under tutorial conditions, based on two hours of class a day, plus homework, such as I experienced, taking Geometry in the summer session of a New England prep school in 1973, I believe stages 1-3 would amount to about nine months work. The fact that it takes four years in a conventional high school is a testament to just how bad high school teaching is. This gets you to where Isaac Newton jumped off from in 1665.

    4) AP First-year Calculus and AP Physics with Calculus, both taught by tutorial, taking about nine months, at least as fast as college freshmen get through the material;

    5) College Second-year Calculus (Tutorial) and High School Biology (9th grade);

    6) AP Chemistry, with lab (10th grade).

    Of course, not all students would be able to maintain this pace, but those who could not do so, would in any event lack the mathematical aptitude for science and engineering.

    ----------------------------------

    To: MBraedley (Only works for a subset of degrees, Sep 11th, 2009 @ 7:58am)

    The short answer is that tools are much cheaper than tuition, and if you buy your tools, you get to keep them, and if they are good tools, you will need them to do other things, later on.

     

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  34.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 11th, 2009 @ 1:35pm

    I went to Brandeis University, a very high ranked school out of all in the USA. Once I finished I started job hunting, but also went to a Certification School for the IT work I'd really preferred to do (repairs, system/network-admin, etc). I just about had a minor in Computers there, because there was not a single course in the school for what I'd wanted to do once out of school. I'd even looked at MIT, BC, BU, Harvard and many others. Never in a single Computers/Information Systems course did I see anything about working with Cisco, Unix, etc. It was all programming, programming theory, circuit design, etc. Going into College was one thing that was supposed to be THE thing to do, and I, for one, actually KNEW what I wanted to do. College didn't help that along one whit. I should have skipped college and gone to a tech-school like ITT and likely would have enjoyed it more.
    Colleges/Universities overcharge for what they offer. Have for over a decade now, and they don't teach kids (yes kids, because most who go and even graduate, though they might be 21, still have no true clue about the real world going in, or even graduating from college) are not given a set of skills to truly SURVIVE in the real world.
    What once was a mark of prestige, is now a bad joke, and becoming a worse punchline.


    This is like saying "I wanted to become an electrician but discovered that MIT's electrical engineering classes weren't really very helpful to this goal"; of course it seems like a waste of time and money when it's a program in something completely different from what you want to do. You can't really claim that you've been scammed when you knew exactly what you wanted before going and just failed to check that your planned continuing education path actually offered it.

    If anyone's getting cheated by the current system, it's the humanities majors (and some premeds) whose tuition payments help finance more expensive science and engineering education and who often end up learning very little that is relevant to their future office jobs (which they more or less need a degree to apply for, even though the degree is useless).

     

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  35.  
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    Jane, Sep 11th, 2009 @ 2:02pm

    Re: Huh, what will they think of next?

    We gave up manufacturing. We're constantly looking for the cheapest way to do everything, so that we can pay executives outrageous salaries. It would certainly be sad for us to lose our edge in education. But that seems the path that our greedy, short-sighted culture is on. The value of teachers is not appreciated in the US. Look at teachers' salaries.

     

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  36.  
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    Johan, Sep 11th, 2009 @ 4:15pm

    Re: Re: Old news

    Western Governors University (wgu.edu)

     

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  37.  
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    Richard, Sep 12th, 2009 @ 12:16pm

    Re: Interesting disruption in CS

    We've been "trying" to teach s/w engineering to students for years. The problem is that they lack experience of programming so they don't understand what the problem is and get the wrong end of the stick.

    What is needed is:

    University teaches the student programming - gives them plenty of experience writing small apps. (Mostly arcade style games).

    Send the student out to work as a low level "grunt" programmer on an internship in industry.

    Come back to University and now learn s/w engineering given enough experience to know what it is for.

     

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  38.  
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    Sean Carton, Sep 14th, 2009 @ 7:41am

    Oh good grief! Four reasons why this model isn't disruptive...

    Sorry, but I think you're really stretching here. I've been involved for over 15 years with higher ed (doing marketing for colleges, teaching, and serving in the upper levels of college administration) and think that the idea that StraighterLine's model poses a serious threat to traditional colleges in a bit naive.

    1) The entertainment industry was about controlling the means of distribution. That's what got disrupted. The product (music, movies, etc.) is the same regardless of the means of distribution. That's why digitization is disruptive: it separates the product (music) from how it got distributed (shiny plastic discs). This is hardly the same thing.

    2) The content of a college course is more than what's contained within the book(s) and lecture content of the course. Learning happens during the interactions between the professor, the students, and the other students. Heck, that $99/month would buy anyone any number of used textbooks that they could learn from. The problem is that they won't.

    3) Similarly, the quality of the course is directly linked to the quality of the instructor. That's what sets one institution apart from another. They all have access to the same "content." Adjunct faculty get paid crap now (in my experience around $2,500-$3,500 per course). I can't imagine what kind of faculty a school's going to get with this pricing model.

    4) Finally (and this is a more philosophical point, I guess), college isn't about learning "skills." That's what technical schools are supposed to be for. It's about learning to think. No matter what you learn in school (skills-wise), after 4 years it's going to be obsolete, especially in technical professions. The model described by StraighterLine might be fine for teaching Photoshop or AJAX coding, but I seriously doubt that it would work for philosophy, literary criticism, or writing.



    Saying that a college class is just about its content is like saying that what a musician does is equivalent to the musical notes he or she plays. If that was the case we'd all be satisfied with free MIDI versions of songs. Obviously we're not. Or maybe you are. Find out here: http://www.mididb.com/ .

     

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