The education revolution at our doorstep

University education is at the brink of radical transformation. The revolution is already happening and the Khan Academy, Udacity, Coursera and the Marginal Revolution University are just the harbingers of a change that will soon sweep over universities throughout the world.

Alex Tabarrok has a must-read piece on the coming revolution in education here. The entire piece is highly recommended, so I am not gonna even try to summarize it here, but this part stands out:

Teaching today is like a stage play. A play can be seen by at most a few hundred people at a single sitting and it takes as much labor to produce the 100th viewing as it does to produce the first. As a result, plays are expensive. Online education makes teaching more like a movie. Movies can be seen by millions and the cost per viewer declines with more viewers. Now consider quality. The average movie actor is a better actor than the average stage actor.

As a result, Tabarrok predicts that the market for teachers will became a winner-take-all market with very big payments at the top: the best teachers would be followed by millions and paid accordingly.

My prediction is that the revolution in education will also lead to greater specialization – maybe you can’t be the best  Development Economics teacher, but you can be the best teacher on XIXth Century Agricultural Development in South-East Denmark: economies of scale brought by online education can make such uber-specialization of teaching portfolios profitable (or, indeed necessary).

Surprisingly or not, it is American entrepreneurs and institutions who lead this revolution. In Europe, online education is still relegated to pre-master programs and the like and is too often a thoughtless extrapolation of traditional education practices online. Sooner rather than later, the revolution will be at our doorstep. We better start preparing.

[P.S. the Guardian aslo run a recent piece on the topic as well]

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