13 January 2009

How Open Source Will Save Education

One of my favourite writers is John Robb; his book Brave New War is all about "open source warfare" - how the ideas behind open source software can, unfortunately, be applied with huge effectiveness to wreaking destruction.

Here's a good post about another little problem we have: the unsustainability of today's educational system. The solution? You guessed it: open source and open courseware, among other things:

The shift towards online education as the norm and in-person as the exception will arrive, however, the path is unclear. It is currently blocked by guilds/unions, inertia, credentialism, and romantic notions. Here's what could happen:

* Local governments cut costs. Nearly or officially bankrupt local governments, out of desperation, opt to reduce costs through online education (the single biggest line item in most local budgets). Drawing from online home schooling systems, the market for these systems explodes (growing at several thousand percent a year).

* Entrepreneurial innovation. As student populations at the collegiate level dwindle due to cost pressures, a major University (with a brand as good as MITs or Harvard), opts to offer full credentials to online student (at a tiny fraction of the cost of being in attendance). Ten million students enroll in the first year to attend Harvard's virtual world.

* Open source alternatives. Unable to afford in-person education, the lack of a major brand in the marketplace, and a job market in free fall stunts the growth of online education. As a result, a massive open source effort develops to develop virtual worlds and other online courseware that rivals the best Universities. The government is forced, over the objections of established institutions, to confer credentials to graduates that pass standardized tests (in fact, comparisons quickly show that these graduates are the equal and/or better than traditionally educated competitors). The business world embraces them.

Warning: only read the other posts on his blog if you are feeling strong. His analyses of the coming problems are frighteningly convincing. Let's hope he has a few more solutions too....

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