Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Can blended learning improve higher education efficiency?

Louis E. Lataif  lays out some details of  the higher education bubble in Forbes:
Higher education in America, historically the envy of the world, is rapidly growing out of reach. For the past quarter-century, the cost of higher education has grown 440%, according to the National Center for Public Policy and Education, nearly four times the rate of inflation and double the rate of health care cost increases. The cost increases have occurred at both public and private colleges.
Like many situations too good to be true--like the dot-com boom, the Enron bubble, the housing boom or the health care cost explosion--the ever-increasing cost of university education is not sustainable.
Just 10 years ago the cost of a four-year public college education amounted to 18% of the annual income of middle-income families. Ten years later, it amounted to 25% of that family's average annual income. The cost of attending a private university is about double the cost of public universities. Think of higher education as the proverbial frog in boiling water. It feels very warm and comfy but soon will be cooked.
Can blended/hybrid learning increase productivity?
Yet colleges and universities can improve their life expectancy--and their relevance--if they focus on becoming more productive. There are many innovative ways that can be accomplished. It will involve taking advantage of disruptive technologies. Technology-assisted pedagogy can be enormously effective.
It's difficult in today's universities to talk about "productivity" or "efficiency" the way business does. Faculty members associate that idea with larger classes, a higher teaching load or lower quality. And given the lifetime tenure system and the co-governance structure of most universities, orderly change will not happen without the cooperation of the faculty.
But everyone, particularly faculty scholars, favors high-quality learning. Universities need to embrace the concept of "deeper learning"--increasing the value of a college education by delivering more education, and doing so in ways that increase retention. In other words, learn more per dollar spent, and retain what is learned longer.
Deeper learning means getting 150% or 200% of the knowledge formerly delivered in a given course. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported: "Several studies have shown that students learn a full semester's worth of material in half the time when online coursework is added."
There is so much classroom time that can be off-loaded to technology tools for self-paced learning in asynchronous time. And then the time spent in the classroom on the same subjects can be much richer with robust discussion and debate about the strengths and limitations of those tools and techniques.
Hybrid learning in elementary school:  The combination of a strong teacher with Khan Academy - too good to be true?


  1. I wish I was fluent enough in economics to say what I mean here....

    I don't think the issue with college spending is 'efficiency' per se. Of course college spending is inefficient, but that's a feature, not a bug.

    If blended learning saved money, that money would be plowed into more construction programs, expansions to China, etc., etc., etc.

    This is the same issue as e-textbooks. I don't think widespread adoption of e-textbooks would reduce costs to students and parents at all. The paper and ink aren't the reason textbooks cost hundreds of dollars.

    Textbooks cost hundreds of dollars because textbooks have a captive market that is relatively 'insensitive to price' (I think that's the term.

  2. Lately I've been seeing more about Walter Russell Mead's proposal, to let people become credentialed while bypassing the higher education establishment. Here a post from Instapundit:

    Here’s the problem: Currently, you can acquire very expensive credentials without much of an education, or you can acquire a relatively inexpensive education without credentials.

    At some point in the not-too-distant future, that dichotomy is going to be resolved. And I know which side of that bet I’m putting my money on.