The story of the 21st century just might end up being “Technology Whiplash.” Things are changing faster than we seem to be able to keep up with them. Landlines phones are gone; it’s all mobile now. Print publications are fading in the wake of the Internet. Online shopping is causing the death of malls. We’re losing whole blocks of our business culture faster than we can re-purpose the empty buildings.
The Internet Could Replace Schools Without Even Trying
After all, the Internet was first developed just to exchange information, and that’s all a classroom does: it’s an information dump. So if we break down the process of education, online processes could replace all of it. Test is easily transmitted on the web, so no need for a paper textbook when a digital copy will do. Video is more than capable of delivering a lecture; in fact, one can find hundreds of lectures on video viewing sites right now. Tests can be administered electronically, and in fact grading a digital test is far easier than dealing with manually grading paper tests. What’s left? Print out your diploma and hang it on your wall, or just link it from your social media profile.
The logistics of online schooling present no hurdle at all. The technology is all there, and already buffed to perfection thanks to the natural media markets already in place. There are already a number of educational institutions offering online learning. Opportunities that were once limited to physical universities, such as online nursing programs, are becoming commonplace online. Several community colleges are at least putting online learning at the forefront of their catalog. Indeed, most computer-related fields especially value online certification over degrees, simply because technology changes too fast for a university’s tenured professors to keep up.
So that leaves the question: Why are we bothering with brick-and-mortar universities right now? It may be inertia, or maybe that for some fields, online learning isn’t taken as seriously as attending a physical university. There’s also another big elephant in the room to address:
Are Physical Universities Overrated?
Certainly, the millennial generation has encountered the sticker-shock of expensive education. Student Loans continue to be a taxing burden on students, while many “fluff” degrees tend to be disparaged now because their price just isn’t worth the results. Times used to be when an MBA got you a fine job, now it’s almost not enough to be a manager at a fast-food restaurant. “Degree inflation” is also another factor plaguing the job market. We’re seeing a trend where jobs that formerly only required a high school diploma now require a Bachelor’s.
Tuition at universities has shot up in the past couple decades, and the Student Loan system is just not adequate to alleviate the financial burden. Maybe a shake-up in the education infrastructure is long overdue. Online education, at least, has an opportunity to dramatically cut costs. One course can reach a worldwide audience, with costs near zero as everything can be transmitted electronically.
The only thing we have left to figure out is how to keep sports teams going when the stadiums are all out of business. Of course, separating athletics from the rest of education is a long overdue talk we need to have sometime, but that’s going to have to wait for a later day.
There’s no reason to say that online learning can’t completely replace brick-and-mortar universities. And given the various shake-ups we’ve already seen with some of our most established anchors of commerce and society, it could happen sooner than we think. But, as with many attempts to fully digitize a market, we could forever be dealing with the perception that the online form of education is somehow “inferior.” We’ll find out if everybody is ready for the change to virtual universities about the time teachers stop having a bias against citing Wikipedia.