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The School-Less Revolution (techcrunch.com)
36 points by tomse on Nov 14, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 38 comments

The major thing holding back higher education from massive disruption is the monopoly on credentialing due to the accreditation process. When students can sit in their living rooms and learn from the best professors in the world and receive college credit for a fraction of the cost, that changes everything.

Brick-and-mortar institutions will likely fight this and fight it hard because it threatens their existing models. After all, the most "profitable" classes at universities are general ed courses where hundreds of students are jammed into lecture halls. They're also the classes most ripe for disruption because the user experience is often poor (as Clayton Christensen once said about large lecture classes "Anything past the fifth row is already 'distance education'.").

Assuming attendance drops dramatically at some point in the next 10 years and universities are left with a lot of excess "brick & mortar" real estate. How is this real estate likely to be re-used/re-purporsed?

It's a very unique infrastructure built for a use case that was expected to stick around forever. Now if that doesn't happen, then what is next for all that infrastructure?

Totally agree with the poor experience you state. I went through college and I was appalled how much you paid for it and how inferior the teaching methods were versus the best things I had seen in High School or other places. On top of that, while most teachers were all credited researchers in their fields, they had no idea whatsoever what it takes to pass knowledge to their students (for most of them). This was really utterly disappointing and I am now a believer that online education can do better and without the "noise" of the classroom (where there are always a number of distractions).

Incredibly, some accredited universities have already taken the leap into offering college credit from truly online courses. These types of partnerships are astonishing, and hopefully just a glimpse of where we are headed in education.


When degree mills like University of Phoenix have been granted accreditation, who actually still cares about accreditation? It's utterly meaningless.

Immigration officials in China "really cared" about me presenting a degree from an accredited school when processing my work visa. Despite the fact that I was at a tech start-up (SmarTots) doing work completely unrelated B.A., the degree and school were important to them.

For me, they didn't even want the legal certified transcripts, just a copy of my actual ceremonial PhD paper that you post in your office! Quite crazy, I could have bought something to pass in for a 100 kuai if I didn't happen to have it with me.

Having accreditation is one thing, but an employer recognizing it as legitimate is another thing entirely.

Also, AFAIK, such for-profit schools probably haven't been actually granted accreditation -- they probably have purchased it through the sneaky loophole of buying a regionally accredited school: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:For-profit_education#For-p...

Have you actually gone through any program from University of Phoenix?

I am not trying to be sarcastic or anything. I am genuinely curious of the quality of education institutions like UP provides. Is it so bad that it's not even worth paying for? Although, I could say the same about some courses I took in my school ...

The biggest problem with MOOCs I find is the lack of real engagement with other students. Yes, students are encouraged to socialize together, work together and make it a social effort to complete the course - together with the study group etc. However, one of the big things I have with university education is that people make contacts and connections with people - when you attend a highly graded university you can be fairly certain that the people around you are very motivated and ambitious. They are people who want and will get things done. They aren't just some fat strangers sitting in their basement and trolling on the forums such as in MOOCs.

If only it was the skills you have that matters. It's not, it really is not. It's the fact that you're somebody who attended a highly graded University and actually got out with a degree. That's something! Not what skills you learned.

Many free online courses have associated real-world study groups that form, especially in the larger cities. In fact, "meeting people / networking" is one of the reasons people take free online courses.

Then there are ideas like The Minerva Project, where the students all live together, but the courses are online.

The ability to double-speed videos makes MOOCs make sense immediately. I would love to see a "MOOClab" come to place that run, well, the lab components of classes. Dissections, Chemistry experiments, Foreign Language Conversations, and the other things that are stumbling grounds for MOOCs working in unsupervised mode.

As someone (college student!) who's been skeptical about free online courses for quite sometime - I'm finding that as I finish up Martin Odersky's "Functional Programming Principles in Scala" course [0] on coursera, I've learned more in the span of 2 months than I have in 90% of my college classes thus far. One could argue 100%.

I'm really looking forward to seeing where this goes.

[0]: https://www.coursera.org/course/progfun

"The school system, as we know it, is on the verge of extinction"

I'm pretty tired of moocs being hailed as the greatest thing ever. Its just the same old format replicated on the internet.

*don't get me wrong, more education for more people is better, but we can do better than moocs

I really don't get why there are so many people that come out negatively against MOOCs.

A traditional college education probably is better than MOOCs, but the economics of MOOCs are so good that it just doesn't matter. It is literally like saying a $50,000+ product with 100% of "maximum benefit" is a worthwhile deal compared to a product that costs $0 and gets you, say, 70% of the benefit.

> A traditional college education probably is better than MOOCs, but the economics of MOOCs are so good that it just doesn't matter.

How can you say this, and then not understand why so many people come out negatively? Some people feel that the extra 30% matters. You clearly don't, but disagreeing is different from not understanding.

The extra 30% matters--that's a fair point.

For instance, if I was getting spinal surgery, I wouldn't want the guy that only got 70% of the maximum benefit from med school (if you could measure that). Still, there are lots of professions that do not involve life and death situations and programming is one where you can generally screw up a few times when you get started, provided you're not building life support software. Everyone has to start somewhere.

Re: not understanding--you're right, when I said "I really don't get why", I didn't mean that I really don't get why, I just meant that it disappoints me that apparently rational, educated individuals would come out against a general push towards free, massively delivered education for the world because it's not a perfect alternative to a massively expensive entrenched alternative.

For me, what pisses me off most about MOOCs is the rhetoric. They're basically devaluing future reform by claiming it's here now... but this isn't education reform, nor is it even new. The novelty is in scale.

It doesn't surprise me that most people don't recognize this. Most people haven't actually thought through the nature of what they seek to replace. They've grown up on broken education--content delivery--so they think that broken education's problem is simply one of scaling the delivery system. They've grown up in a country where education is a minimal priority financially, so they think that the solution to its problems is economic.

Those of us who have been fighting for education reform since before Salman Khan are watching this and seeing the opportunities we worked so hard to wedge open slip away. Instead of breaking the classroom-as-church-sermon paradigm, MOOCs have enforced it with an iron fist. Instead of creating legitimate ways of evaluating student progress, MOOCs have doubled down on the worst methods of doing so. Instead of helping us recognize that education is not just a funnel for the job market, MOOCs have emphasized it as its only real purpose. This is anti-reform. It's like saying you're fixing Big Brother by installing more cameras and wiretaps.

Does it have a benefit? Absolutely. A lot of the technologies and methods being developed by MOOCs are things we could use if we actually had real reform. Khan is trying, in his own way, to do that; that's why he's working on a brick-and-mortar school.

It also has an interesting risk. The liberal arts of universities have been a refuge for political dissidents in developed, educated countries. They provide a decent level of security from which loud criticisms can be made. Arguably, the blogosphere has obsoleted such agitators, but what if it hasn't? How do we account for this in an age of MOOCs?

For someone without the means, isn't 70% better than 0%? Education probably shouldn't be an all or nothing proposition.

What does "without the means" mean, specifically? We've spent the last hundred years working to create opportunities for people without the means: community colleges, scholarships, federal grants, state grants, distance learning, textbook reform. This is just another iteration on that.

I'd rather see people calling MOOCs 70% and flogging them towards figuring out how to provide the remaining 30% than sit around praising their 70% and being contented with that.

> I'd rather see people calling MOOCs 70% and flogging them towards figuring out how to provide the remaining 30% than sit around praising their 70% and being contented with that.

Praising progress and providing constructive criticism need not be mutually exclusive.

> community colleges,

Show me a community college course on computer science that's better than or equal to the least of these:


> scholarships, federal grants, state grants

Affording tuition is not the only constraint that limits people from attending a traditional university.

> Show me a community college course on computer science that's better than or equal to the least of these:

> Affording tuition is not the only constraint that limits people from attending a traditional university.

When I say that 70% is not good enough and HEY maybe we should try for 100%, you tell me that MAYBE praise progress then.

And then you come around and say HEY my examples like community colleges and scholarships are only 70% maybe try for 100%! Does this sound familiar yet?

> Praising progress and providing constructive criticism need not be mutually exclusive.

So provide some constructive criticism, rather than saying "70% is awesome because CHEAP so who cares about quality".

Here's some constructive criticism for you: turn the anger down a bit. It's a conversation, not a fight to the death. Second, learn how to write coherently. It helps if you want to be understood.

I guess I'm in the minority here, but I fail to see how online courses are anything innovative - they seem to me like the logical extension of those 1000 student intro classes from 1000 to 1,000,000. I've done an entire master's degree program online and I feel like the quality of instruction was pretty much unchanged.

It allows quality professors to bubble up to the top and allows the student to at least explore alternative lecturers.

At regular school you're pretty much stuck with whoever played their cards right to get the tenure, lecturing skills are hit-and-miss.

Open and free access to high-quality curriculum is amazing, but I don't think it's a foregone conclusion that "in the future" education will be online-only, and certainly not in the short-to-medium term.

There are so many things that go into creating an amazing learning environment beyond curriculum. What are some reasons people go to college?

* To be surrounded by similarly motivated people

* The promise of a transformative experience

* A certificate that is valued by the marketplace

* Employability, job skills, etc.

That's not a complete list, but are some dimensions that an online-only education is ill-suited to address.

Even the best online, gamified, social learning experience won't hold a candle to just sitting next to another person who is equally motivated to learn the same thing you are.

Disclaimer: I'm about to pitch the startup I work for. :)

These are some of the core ideas behind Dev Bootcamp (http://devbootcamp.com). Most of our incoming students have gone through all of this online-only curriculum and they want more. Employers demand more, too, because a lot of what goes into making an awesome employee is about the ability to learn quickly, work on a team, communicate effectively and non-politically, etc.

We're in the middle of our third class of students. In our last class, 95% of those looking for a job received an offer, including internships at Twitter and ThoughtBot, and jobs as a software engineer at places like Hipmunk and Pivotal Labs.

Here's Justin Kan on Dev Bootcamp: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4725790

His youngest brother went through our program in the summer.

Coursera is amazing. We're living in a world where everyone can visit the Library of Alexandria, which is itself mind-blowing.

But I don't think Coursera or other online-only educational experiences can have the kind of transformative power that an in-person education provides.

I agree with what you are preaching, but I think the difference is all in how you prep for the time you spend with those similarly motivated people.

I went through something similar to devbootcamp here in Chicago (Code Academy, which is now Starter League). The problem I ran into was that I didn't know what I didn't know prior to the program. So rather than spending all my time asking really interesting questions, I feel like I spent weeks going over really remedial stuff for most people.

When people ask me if they should go to a Code Academy or devbootcamp, I say yes — but only after exhausting your other resources (which are always significantly easier for people access/pay for). If they are willing to put in the time to learn the basics, these students will reach your program with their minds loaded with questions rather than simply seeking to be taught how to get started.

Dave Hoover was kind enough to push me toward 'Deschooling Society' (which is like MSNBC and Fox News having a fight inside your brain, with both sides being correct). One of the examples that rings true about the book is talking about the role of school and environment. Let's focus less on the where and more on the when. It goes on to talk about pooling those similarly minded folks together for discussions anywhere people happen to gather, rather than limiting it to a specific location. But it also pushes the idea of consuming the knowledge ahead of time as prep for intellectual discussion and growth in the group setting.

My take is that those who want to learn will put forth the effort to prep before meeting in a traditional face-to-face forum. We're just lucky enough that the access to the information is becoming easier.

I totally agree.

Dev Bootcamp gives out our own custom prep material about a month before a cohort starts. You're interacting with other students and staff online starting then. Our prep material covers everything from the basics of programming up to simple object-oriented programming.

Some students will be farther ahead, but one thing we make clear to students on day 1 is that they're as responsible for creating the learning environment as we are. In fact, they outnumber us, so in many ways they're more responsible. :)

We emphasize patience and empathy, so students who are behind get mentorship from the students who are ahead. It reinforces the learning for the more advanced students and shores up the less advanced students.

Starting Jan. 28th, we're moving to rolling cohorts, where ~15 students enter every 3 weeks for a 9-week program. This way there will be a "senior third" expected to mentor students in the "freshman third." You'd be able to seek out that struggling student and give him the help they needed right when they entered the program.

Also, Dave, who is a badass at every level, joined the DBC team last month. I love that man and his squirrel-as-a-running-back t-shirt.

Scroll down and check it: http://devbootcamp.com/learn-more/

I think Dev Bootcamp's got a lot of things right, but it was too expensive when it was like $6000 (?)(if I remember correctly), and it's way too expensive now at $12000. Maybe it's because the school's located in SF. I hope that more affordable schools start offering similar program.

The school is located in SF, but only 50% of our students come from the SF Bay Area. 45% come from other parts of the US, and another 5% from other countries.

We want to make DBC more affordable, but there are some very important things we get by charging students directly that we'll never compromise on. We're working hard to make it more affordable within those constraints, though.

Some of the benefits we get by charging students:

First, the vast majority of our revenue comes from directly from students. They're our customers. If we made money only from employer referral fees, there'd be a financial tension between "in-network" and "out-of-network" employers. Right now about 40% of our students are hired from companies who don't have a referral agreement with us.

Second, when students pay they feel it. They demand so much of us because of what they paid. Their bar is set incredibly high and we push ourselves every day to overshoot it. If we're delivering the value we promise -- you'll be job-ready in 10 weeks, if that's what you want -- then we think the price tag is worth it.

Third, we, as staff, feel it. When a student hands over a check like that, holy shit, you feel responsible. They're entrusting you with their livelihood. It helps hold us accountable to remind ourselves every day that they're not just students, but customers.

Fourth, when you're in a room with 50 other people who have made that kind of personal and financial commitment, you can feel it. It's electric.

Fifth, we have a sustainable business. We don't need outside capital. We can create an awesome space. We can have an awesome library, events, etc. We can hire awesome teachers and pay them 2-3x what they'd make teaching elsewhere.

Just some food for thought. It doesn't change your overall point about our price tag, which we're sensitive to, but those are just a few things on the other side of the scale.

...accredited schools hold a monopoly on the American education system.

Puzzling—is it not MIT OpenCourseWare? Perhaps its success is owed to its association with the visible, well-known brand.

Coursera on the other hand: Maybe a few adults have heard of it. We should wish them the best, but much more than accreditation would be needed to legitimize online education.

On thing that helps mitigate the problem quite a bit is that courses on Coursera are usually taught by professors of world famous schools such as Berkeley or Stanford, and sometimes the teachers themselves are famous. E.g. their functional programming in Scala course is taught by the creator of Scala.

I realized that the more famous the professor and the more famous the school, the less effective they were at actually teaching. Now there are definitely some gems, but in general, teaching ability is highly detached from research capability.

Now, all of these famous schools have dedicated lecturers that run the high-volume entry level courses; they are professional teachers and really focus their efforts on running classes. I can imagine future online courses being developed in a similar manner.

Their co-founder is some sort of well-read fella http://ai.stanford.edu/~ang/

I think it's just approaches to commercialization - Coursera wanted to step up as a commercial entity, and thus probably cannot use the Stanford name.

"And it’s inevitable that online courses will in one way or another replace schools."

The thing is that education is mostly about motivation, not curriculum. The real world is incredibly engaging, and I don't see the web displacing it anytime soon.

Shameless plug: I believe in this so hard, I started a brick-and-mortar school for programmers. http://catalystclass.com

The article says,

> A review of research by the U.S. Department of Education in 2009 found that “students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction.” The research should be taken with a grain of salt, since we don’t know how the introduction of world-class teachers, or the effects of scale, will change the outcomes.

Does anyone know exactly which study they're referring to? Preferably a link to the actual paper would be nice; I'd like to see details.

Probably this one:

"Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning

A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies"


That's a paper from the DOE from 2009 on online learning, probably that one, as your quote is in there as well - here's the revised edition from 2010 (no clue about the differences), same title but more trustworthy URL:



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