The Disintermediation of Education is Here and Now

Butler Library at Columbia University*
Butler Library at Columbia University*

We’ve been hearing about the disintermediation of education for some time now.  Higher anad private education is outrageously expensive and out of reach of most families.  Still, nothing is being done.  Even if it is within reach, it is still a burden an incredible hardship.  Even for the upper middle class.

According to Obama and Romney the middle class is between $200,000 and $250,000 income per year.  I don’t buy that.  I live in a town that is considered prosperous, and the median four person household income is $107,060 per year.  Families move to my town because they believe they can have live on one income, where the mother can stay home and attend to the needs of the children.  Paying $60,000 per year for college is not in the cards for most families, especially those with more than one child.

People are angry about the immense expense of education.  It’s as if our children’s futures are being held hostage for ransom.  Even if your child can get accepted into an elite school, you can’t afford to send her/him to that school. He/she will have less opportunity by attending a lesser–read less expensive–institution.  United States thinks of itself as a meritocracy–this is not a meritocracy.  Even state schools are incredibly expensive.  The average cost of one years’s tuition, room and board at University of new Hampshire is $26,186, though parents tell me that $30,000 is a more realistic number.

I was talking with a long-time friend yesterday, who dropped a comment about taking the Massachusetts teacher exam.  John is 65, an independent thinker, and a most novel human beings.  He develops properties on Nantucket, tutors math in New York City and writes books and speaks about his experience in the Vietnam War throughout the Northeast.

So I asked John, how is he preparing for the licensing exam?  My mother was an elementary school teacher, so I know about the teacher licensing course and certification requirements.  He responded that he was taking courses on Coursera and will be using Udacity as part of his preparation.

To become a teacher in Massachusetts you must have a passing score on the MTEL (Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure).  John needs a Masters Degree, which he holds, and nine credits in the academic discipline appropriate to the instructional field of the license.  I don’t know whether Massachusetts qualifies Coursera courses for the licensing program, but it would save the teachers and the education system a lot of money in recertification expense if they do accept the program.

And that is the gist of these courses.  We can easily see where one takes online courses and then takes certification exams.  That is the model that Udacity, Khan Academy and others are implementing

What does this means for lesser schools, where a student’s goal is skills and knowledge rather than prestige?   If the student is able to learn on their own, without on-site assistance, this is the logical program for them.  These programs also organize online communities, where students help one another through the course.  The group experience  adds perspective and additional learning.

On a whim, I’ve took a blogging course:  Blog Topics:  The Master Class by Chris Brogan.  The critiques I received from my classmates was mostly helpful, an important attribute of the course, and supplemented direction and attention from the Chris.  That course has been an eye opener for me on how online and social work together to achieve a similar experience to that in a traditional education environment.

The over-riding advantage of a program like Coursera or Udacity is quality, coupled with brand names.  Coursera’s list of colleges, form which courses are sourced, is a Who’s Who list.  At Udacity, for courses that need to be proctored, there is an exam at Pearson VUE testing center as well as online proctored exams on the website.  Even better, there are ‘testing kits’ for any institution for a low fee—so the courses can be OEM’d.

Employers should be more interested in the quality of writing and analyses.  Corporations could require actual written papers and analyses along with certification tests rather than specific courses or degrees.  And isn’t that the aim of education and learning:  to learn so that you can improve your life, be it for personal satisfaction or so that you can advance your career or change occupations?

It’s as if we have come full circle.  We’re will become more interested in being learned than being degreed.  The multi-billion dollar education industry will have to adapt.  It won’t come easy, and there will be a lot of pain.

Just as Detroit has had to deal with reform, so will the education industry.  Education has been ‘the next big thing’ for the past thirty years.   It may be, that enough change has occurred in technology and our society that we will see meaningful change in the way education is addressed, and how we use it.

For me, I would be long on testing centers and short many of the for-profit education companies.  This can’t be good news for them.  Of course, timing is everything.

*Flickr Commons, Library of Congress