You probably don't read Bill Gates' annual letter about the priorities of his $34-billion endowment. I wouldn't have clicked the link someone provided on Twitter either except that it said that it was about online learning.
I wrote earlier that Gates' blog (which seems to also have ghostwriters) contains several posts about online courses that he has taken/viewed. Now, he says he is in favor of the open courseware movement to publish course materials free online.
He gives props to systems like the Open Learning Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University that can gauge what students learn and point them in the right direction for a next step.
"So far technology has hardly changed formal education at all. But a lot of people, including me, think this is the next place where the Internet will surprise people in how it can improve things—especially in combination with face-to-face learning."
Some sound bites from the letter on things "we" need to do:
- We need to bring together the video and interactive pieces for K–12 and college courses. - We should focus on having at least one great course online for each subject rather than lots of mediocre courses. - A teacher can watch and learn how to make a subject more interesting. A teacher can assign subsets of the material to students who are behind and finding something difficult. A teacher can suggest online material to a student who is ahead and wants to learn more. A teacher can assign an interactive session to diagnose where a student is weak and make sure they get practice on the areas that are difficult for them. - Self-motivated students can take entire courses on their own. If they want to prove they learned the material to help qualify for a job, a trusted accreditation service independent from any school should be able to verify their abilities. - There is a lot of online material being developed, but it isn’t organized in a way where it is easy to find the best material that fits what you want to do. - We need a simple way of taking all of the education pieces and organizing them and then rating them in context.
Gates says "So far technology has hardly changed formal education at all."
I bet many teachers would disagree, but when I think about my 30 years in education taken as a whole, I would have to agree. Part of that is money, part of it is the the very slow-to-change world of education. Ironically, education also is rather nimble at picking up on trends but without any long term plans to sustain them. Online learning is one that has sustained and become a business. Maybe that's the predictor - not a lot of money to be made on wikis, RSS, podcasts and open source...