Required, Technology, University & College - Written by on Friday, September 30, 2011 15:05 - 0 Comments

Op/Ed: Are Harvard and other Elite Schools the Leaders in Online Education?


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Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Harvard toots its horn. Image by Getty Images via @daylife


Is Harvard the “Harvard of online education”?

Colleges are going online. And over at the Atlantic, Harvard’s Clayton Christensen and BYU’s Henry Eyring write about why you and a squad of cheerleaders should be hollering on the sidelines, if not storming the field: Better learning and Elite schools win.

Their main points—

  • Personalized, and thus more effective, lesson planning
  • Social learning and collaboration
  • Balance of face-to-face and virtual classroom time
  • Harvard will be the Harvard of online education
We’re in agreement with most of the points, but the last point we find questionable. The landscape is hardly defined yet, and the declaration is a little premature. For-profit schools along with “non-elite” schools still have an opportunity to become the gold standard in online education.
Surely, the for-profit space is getting a deserved lashing from the government and public for obscene behavior. But this should be an opportunity for them to redefine sustainability in their business models.

Christiansen and Eyring start with a helpful description about why Apollo Group’s acquisition of Carnegie Learning was a smart move.

These scientists have created adaptive computer tutorials that meet students at their individual level of understanding and help them advance via the kinds of exercises they personally find most engaging and effective. The personalization and sophistication is hard for even an expert human tutor to match. It is a powerful, affordable adjunct to classroom instruction, as manifest by Carnegie Learner’s user base of more than 600,000 secondary students in over 3,000 schools nationwide.

But note, it was Apollo Group that bought Carnegie learning, not Harvard. And although Carnegie Learning came out of elite Carnegie Mellon, there’s a multitude of innovative ideas coming from other sources. To be fair, some of these entrepreneurs graduated from elite schools. Still, there’s so much innovation being generated OUTSIDE of these schools. Christensen and Eyring argue that elite schools are figuring it out themselves (emphasis mine):

The leading universities and colleges have seen the potential in this kind of this mix of online and face-to-face learning, and they are investing in it via internal development rather than external acquisition. As the technology matures and the proper balance and integration with the classroom experience emerges, Harvard and its peers will be leaders in online education, just as they are in traditional instruction and scholarship. For them, online learning will be a sustaining innovation, rather than a disruptive one.

We think the “we’re doing it ourselves” mentality is exactly what needs to be disrupted for Education 2.0. We respect the open course initiatives at Stanford and MIT, but that’s hardly innovative. In some ways, it feels like charity, which is another kind of innovation we call philanthropy. Memo to “non-elite” schools from Christensen and Eyring:

The much greater challenge for traditional universities and colleges is changing their teaching traditions. Full-time faculty members must not only assent to the inclusion of online learning in the curriculum, they should lead it.

And don’t try to do everything yourself. Elite schools may have vastly more resources at their disposal, but if Web 2.0 had a lesson about disruption, it’d be this: Disruptors rarely behave the way entrenched players plan. A cursory glance at the journalism “elites”— or their remains— should suffice. Elite schools will make every effort to “sustain” themselves internally, but disruption is coming. The new elite will be marked by collaboration and trying new ideas, even when (perhaps especially when) it’s not their own. Ivory towers and ivy walls will have to give way to open squares and hacked education.

Do you think Harvard and the elites are or will be the leaders in online education? Speak up in the comments.


via Why You Should Root for College to Go Online – Clayton Christensen and Henry Eyring – Business – The Atlantic.


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