When the first online revolution happened in education, the focus was on driving down prices. Online universities popped up, offering degrees at a fraction of the price. In exchange, students received an education with a fraction of the quality.
But platforms like Khan Academy and Academic Earth changed everything. Suddenly, anyone with an internet connection can learn from talented educators who were once reserved for students with perfect SAT scores and a remarkable tolerance for student loans.
It’s obvious that a strong desire for high-quality, online education exists. As I learned from a recent BBC article, MITx’s first online course reached more students than the entire number of living people who have graduated from MIT.
And the platforms are coming in droves. There’s edX, Coursera, Udacity, Udemy, UniversityNow…
This is great news for people everywhere, but even as online courses become more and more commonplace, there are still two huge problems that these platforms need to solve in order to have a lasting impact: accreditation and personalization.
The degree problem
Most traditional college classes teach students about topics that aren’t directly applicable in the workplace. (Engineering courses are obviously an exception.) Getting a degree is often a symbol that says you can work hard, think critically and complete what you start – all important qualities for employers.
For online courses to succeed at a large scale, they need to help their students prove that they’re actually developing skills, both concrete and abstract. There’s value in learning with or without recognition, but in a competitive job market, people are always going to want to be able to show what they’ve done.
MIT took an important step by offering certificates to students who complete MITx courses. Now, a new influx of startups (e.g. Degreed, Learning Jar) are working to help solve this problem in a broader way. Mark my words: whoever gets this right will be huge.
The people problem
For thousands of years, learning has always been partially one-to-one. Even in a classroom setting, students raise their hands to ask questions and have the ability to chat with the teacher after class.
As courses move online, students are suddenly taking classes alongside tens (even hundreds) of thousands of other students. You can’t raise your hand in class, you can’t stop by office hours, and you don’t have a TA to email. In many cases, you can’t even chat with a classmate.
If online courses are ever going to be a legitimate alternative to traditional universities (or high schools), students will need a way to ask questions and get an extra hand where needed. No one understands every concept the first time around, and with online courses, there’s going to a much greater discrepancy in the backgrounds of the individual students. One person simply can’t teach something in a way that 100,000 different people around the world will understand.
And that’s one of the reasons our team at InstaEDU believes that a peer-to-peer component is essential in any online learning platform. One-to-one education will never replace classroom learning or online courses, but, added on, it will allow all students to succeed in those settings.
Imagine if you were watching at MIT physics lecture online, and the second you had a question, you could pause and chat with a student who got an A in the same class. With InstaEDU, it’s not that far off…
We’re incredibly excited to see so many companies and universities changing the way people think about education. I personally can’t wait to see what’s in store over the next 5 years.
By Alison Johnston, CEO of InstaEDU