The Transformation of American Education

Two recent developments are furthering the shake-up of traditional higher education: top-tier Georgetown University joined edX, the Harvard/MIT online learning initiative, and Udemy received a $12 million donation from Insight Ventures Partners, and two additional investors. Both edX and Udemy are MOOC (massive open online course) providers, enabling anyone in the world to take courses free of charge, from respected providers.

 “EdX is an innovation that will expand access to high-quality educational content for millions around the world while helping us better understand how technology can improve the academic experience for students in classrooms across our campuses,” said Harvard President Drew Faust.

The inclusion of Georgetown in the collaborative is a boon for the university, which beat out numerous other schools eager to join the ranks of highly selective colleges offering MOOCs via edX. While Georgetown sees the move as a means of “strengthening the on-campus experience for our students,” it is yet another indication of the seismic shift in higher education that is underway. Georgetown will begin offering courses on edX starting next fall.

Let’s return to the $12 million Udemy investment. In its press release, Udemy stated that the infusion brings the online provider’s total funding to $16 million. The investment clearly provides a significant boost to Udemy’s bottom line, virtually ensuring the enterprise remains a major player in the MOOC market over the next few years.

Udemy currently offers 5,000 online courses, available to anyone in the world. “This round of funding will allow us to continue to build the most amazing and unique content library in the world, expand our content and platform offerings and capitalize on the disruptive market dynamics of MOOCs and other online learning platforms,” said Udemy president Dennis Yang.

Hardly a day goes by without announcements such as these being reported on education policy sites, and increasingly, in the general news media. As parents hear more of MOOCs and the disruption of the traditional college model, and as employers find an increasing number of job applicants presenting MOOC courses and credentials, change-averse schools will find themselves losing ground in a technology-driven world.

Schools like Georgetown, Berkeley, and the University of Texas system are embracing technology and learning how to improve their product through the use of MOOCs. Because, while they might not be for everyone, low-cost, high–quality alternatives are forcing traditional colleges to reconsider their business models, costs, and the value they are providing students.

It will be incredibly interesting to see how – or whether – the proliferation of MOOCs and the shake-up of higher ed will impact K-12 education in the United States. American K-12 education is a moribund system, crippled by an effective monopoly that prevents millions of students from accessing learning options that meet their unique needs.

But some states are beginning to reconfigure education funding mechanisms to give parents the flexibility to take advantage of online options. In Arizona, parents of special needs children, low-income children in underperforming schools, children of active duty military families, and foster children, who choose to remove their child from the public system, can have 90 percent of what the state would have spent on the child deposited into an education savings account. Parents can then use that money to pay for private school tuition, special education services, books, tutoring, and online learning classes. They can “roll over” unused funds year-to-year, and can roll funds into a 529 college savings account down the road. With ESAs, parents can completely customize their child’s education.

We’re already seeing Khan Academy, the MOOC provider of the K-12 realm, being utilized by traditional public, charter, and private schools throughout the country, to supplement instruction. With enterprises like Khan, and with other low-cost online options, parents with the ability to control their share of education funds through school choice options like ESAs will be able to take full advantage of the digital world for their children.

Whether it is higher ed or K-12, policymakers are beginning to think in terms of funding students, not institutions. And parents and educators are beginning to think in terms of content mastery and competence, not seat time.

The next few years will be exciting years to see how American education is transformed for the better. To be more customized, flexible, cost-efficient, and valuable for students. MOOCs are making that happen.

Posted by: Lindsey Burke

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