Khan Academy and Udacity are changing the world of education. Well the changes are coming faster and stronger now. Harvard and MIT have announced their intentions of getting in on the act. They have created an not for profit entity they called edX which will create a platform for the online classes. They intend to ultimately make it open source so that others can use it as well. Both MIT and Harvard will add content to make their classes widely available. As Alan Garber says in the press conference, they expect that what they do will look very different in five years than it does now.
Whenever there are changes like this, I always start to think about the unintended consequences. What will happen as a byproduct of these changes? One that I can think of is the impact this could have on teachers. In a weird way, teaching is incredibly isolating profession. Teachers work independently in their own classrooms apart from each other. Yes, they compare notes in the teacher's lounge, but for the most part they go off an do their own thing. If more classes are online, their will be more opportunities for teachers to see how others teach their classes. Maybe this cross pollination will allow teachers to collaborate and refine their work to a new level. It is likely that this revolution will be just as transformational to teachers as it will be for students.
A second consequence of these changes is that I expect to see a change in the concept of what a student is. Right now, students are young people. Schools are mostly set up to handle certain age ranges rather than grouping people by ability. Highschool is for teens. College is the next step. With these changes, I expect you will see all maner of people with a diverse set of interests and motivations sharing a common virtual classroom. This will add a new dimension of diversity to the student body and it could have a dramatic effect on the dynamics of the classroom.
Maybe we are getting closer and closer to the vision of education that Isaac Asimov told Bill Moyers about way back in 1988. If you don't know about those predictions, you owe it to yourself to watch the video below.
See the MIT Press release here.
The whole edX press conference is available in this video.