Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime

Sommes-nous prêts à sécher les cours pour… assister à d’autres cours ? Cela deviendra chose courante car certaines des plus prestigieuses universités du monde ont décidé de mettre leurs cours en ligne, y compris des universités britanniques comme, par exemple, l’Université de Londres. Une révolution dans le monde de l’éducation ? Serait-ce une solution pour contrer des politiques d’éducation décriées en Grande-Bretagne ces derniers temps ? Pour autant, cela ne bouleverserait-il pas le système éducatif traditionnel anglais ?


Let’s try this little experiment: imagine a school which would be open 24 hours a day and where different students of different nationalities, with different potentials would arrive at different times… Are you ready for that?

Not only is education ready for the Internet but adoption is occurring at a faster rate than expected. It has become a $34-billion industry and in 2011, over 6.1 million students were taking at least one online course, which represents an increase of 560, 000 students over the previous year. Experts say online education could reach 14 million students in 2014 thanks to the continued development of new technologies like e-books. Khan Academy, a non- profit educational organization, has recorded over 2,100 lectures on videos which have been viewed over 41 million times which is the number of views they would have if every student in America viewed one video once!

The first online courses were launched by the Open University in 1971. Today, with 250,000 students, it is the United Kingdom’s largest university: it is more than twice the size of the University of London! New projects of free courses on the web like Coursera or edX have been launched by the most prestigious American Universities (Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Berkeley…). British universities no longer have to decide whether or not they should offer courses online but how to put it into practice. Indeed, 75% of higher education institutions say that online education is a critical part of their long-term strategy. But projects such as edX are very costly. Indeed, $60 million were invested in it. Students enrolled in the project will have to pay “modest sums” to get a degree and classes won’t count as credit towards degrees but online students will receive certificates for completing their studies.

As Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn argue in their book Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, this phenomenon is disrupting traditional educational models. Indeed, it is likely to transform the schooling system into a student-centric one. As the Internet has changed how we interact with time, it is also revolutionizing education even in Britain where education and privilege remain intertwined : you can learn all the time now, whenever you want, and wherever you want. With online education, learning never has to end.

Moreover, e-learning could reduce the costs of delivering education for the university and the cost of tuition for the student. While English schools are criticized for being elitist, online education is moving education from a privilege to a right. While encouraging poor students to go to university is crucial to the coalition government’s credibility, undergraduates starting in the autumn will have to pay up to £9,000 ($14,000) a year for tuition –almost triple the previous maximum. According to David Willetts, the Secretary of State for Universities and Science and member of the Tory party, the tuition fee rise is “a good deal for students”. But this decision violates the promise made by the Liberal Democrats prior to the general election and 50,000 fewer students will apply for university this year. Therefore, online education could be a better solution. For example, an English student at Edinburgh looks at £36,000 of debt just for tuition and maybe another £30,000 for living expenses. There is no doubt that he / she would prefer to take courses from Coursera, as Edinburgh is the first UK institution to join this influential US-based online university project.

Are employers convinced by this new generation of programmes? There is no evidence that recruiters discriminate based on where someone has done their MBA. As distance learning requires high levels of self motivation and commitment, students have to be very determined, which is a trait employers will value. A more controversial issue concerns  teaching employment. Indeed, with the growing popularity of online education, teachers fear for their job and fear that increased flexibility may lead to higher dropout rates. As the growth of e-learning could render terrible educators redundant, while bolstering the careers of talented teachers, online education IS disrupting the teaching profession. In the early 19th century, British textile artisans protested the Industrial Revolution with the anti-technology “Luddite movement”. They believed mechanized looms would replace them and make their jobs obsolete. They were right.

Regardless of whether or not you believe that today’s brick-and-mortar universities should be the main vehicle for higher education in the future, new projects like Coursera or edX should give you something to celebrate because they are trying to nudge education into the 21st century. As Abraham Lincoln said, “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise — with the occasion.”


Watch the great TED video of Sir Ken Robison discussing creativity in education:


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