Bill and Melinda Gates are on a mission. At a recent Technomy conference Bill Gates declared that the future of education should be evolving and all colleges and universities should offer a quality education online. In Bill Gates style, he is also putting his money where his mouth is, he’s got millions in grants for those with the best ideas. The Gates’ have structured a multiyear grant program giving millions of dollars to individuals with cool ideas on ways to use technology, and in particular, ways to improve online courses and ultimately, online education.
Recently, the for-profit sector of online education has been in the firing line. Stocks have plunged for the for-profit schools and they have received harsh criticism for poorly handled admissions. The argument has been that these for-profit schools have a poor method for admitting students, who do poorly, drop out, and leave the tax payers holding the loan bag. Government is stepping in and demanding that these for-profit schools re-vamp their business model to reduce the number of students who default on their debt.
Some for-profit executives have called for a new focus for admitting students, one that would focus on the quality of the student admitted, not the quantity of students who enroll and eventually drop-out. The company is focusing on the student who has the best chance for success and the highest chance to graduate. This comes as no surprise. Pushing through shear numbers of students will result in sacrificing quality. This new shift has caused a drastic drop in the number of students enrolling in the for-profit school. The schools are going to shift their efforts and are targeting the mid-career worker that want to upgrade their skill set to help them advance professionally. The companies employing folks who want to improve their skill-set and productivity will also benefit. Those same companies may even have a tuition re-imbursement program. Employees might not have to take out any loans and everyone wins.
We have outgrown the old business model that doesn’t’ focus on quality education. Online education needs to attract the highest quality of student and provide the highest quality of online education. The entire business of finding and enrolling the online student needs to have integrity. These companies should no longer pay bonuses to recruiters based on the number of students they enroll. It’s just plain wrong to mislead potential student’s job prospects while understating their debt load.
Gates really seems to believe that technology can jump start American post secondary education. He says that it’s not enough just to get the classes online, colleges and universities need to get those classes as part of their degree program of offerings at non-for profit schools as well.
Gates has been thinking for a long time about ways in which schools can offer a combination of recorded lectures from the best professors all combined with locally held discussions and labs. Bill and Melinda Gates are putting up 20 million for postsecondary grants. The Gates’ clearly state that they want to record the professors that give the best lectures from the best universities. When those lectures are recorded, and you can answer the question, "where have I made this concept interesting?" The Gates’ want all of the interactive solutions like videos online and then get a bunch of colleges to work together and measure the quality.
Gates believes if you have these universities perusing this great interactive material that’s part of the official curriculum, you can go in and measure which ones are doing well. He also takes into consideration the bigger picture and hopes to spur new a learning techniques category. He’s excited by RFPs (Requests for Proposals) because you get to meet a lot of new people and listen to ideas you might never have been in contact with.
The Gates’ can’t stress enough, they wants to be shown something different, something neat and they'll fund it. Grants have been in place at a few large institutions and are being measured and getting some worthwhile feedback. Gates wants everyone on board together; the folks that put the videos together and the folks that test it (the schools themselves). If the technology piece is of very high quality and is a direct reason to why folks pass the course that leads to the job that they want, you might even be able to shift the cost structure.
Of course technology with measurement is his background. He doesn’t shy away from asserting his beliefs which include stating that the most effective part of this equation is the most effective teachers. We need to leverage their time so that the kids are watching and trying new things out online.
These hybrid models are just beginning to surface and be measured. The tool is important but useless without the widely available content. If it’s more available, it’s going to have a much bigger impact.
Gates recently visited the Chinese school systems. At the moment they aren’t ahead of us in technology for online education distribution like they are in math, science and non-fiction literature. However, if we don’t adopt this technology, it might be one more educational area they could take the lead in.