When MIT and Harvard announced edX earlier this year, the future of education became clear: online. A symposium held on the morning of MIT President Rafael Reif’s inauguration, however, suggested that’s not the entire answer.
“The interesting conclusion we are reaching … is that everybody is right,” Reif said to the room. According to MIT News, what his real remaining question was: “How can we put all this together?”
Reif was inaugurated on Friday, but not before he spoke about the evolution of teaching and learning with edX President and MIT Professor Anant Agarwal. After watching students complete courses through MITx, what Agarwal found is that “instant feedback is an absolute game-changer,” and online interfaces that let students know if they are understanding a lesson immediately keeps them engaged and motivated.
Agarwal admitted incorporating some sort of gaming aspect into online courses has its benefits, which is why edX awards students “karma points” for helping other students — from whatever country those students are sitting down and completing classes in. Although education isn’t a “game,” others have agreed maybe it should be, in an effort to keep students more connected to what it is they’re learning.
Yet, what can’t be forgotten is the “real-world” element. As MIT News writes:
Many of the educational innovations discussed on Friday were not enabled by new technology, however, but by the recognition that students are often at their most creative and productive when applying classroom knowledge to real-world problems.
MIT has helped do their part through various initiatives, including their Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. The program ties students directly into research, much like other schools outside of Cambridge, like UMass Boston, feed students directly into internships. So, is online really the future?
In a prior interview with Agarwal, he admitted comparing edX to MIT is like comparing a Toyota to a Ferrari. When speaking of automobiles, he said, “The two are different; they’re different experiences. They take you to place A and place B, but people value a Ferrari more than they value a Toyota.” The campus experience is abundantly different from what students receive online — so when will everything start to collide?
Of course, money matters. Yet, while the price of tuition goes up, there’s no guarantee the cost of technology won’t, as well. Several online course ventures are for-profit businesses. Although considerably cheaper, the downsides of online education could outweigh everything if costs do, indeed, rise.
The problem is, the future of education looks just as unclear as we see education now. While we can all keep innovating, is it better to keep working on individual solutions, or start connecting the solutions we’ve come up with to solve some larger problem?