Online Classes might Revolutionize Colleges

    12 June, 2013


    From VOA Learning English, this is the Education Report.

    American colleges face what some people are calling a "perfect storm" of problems, college costs are rising, there are not enough jobs for all those completing study programs. Yet employers say they can not find enough workers with technical skills.

    One solution may be found in the growing number and quality of online classes, such classes might revolutionize colleges the way the Internet has already changed music, publishing, sales, and other businesses.

    "This is pretty amazing." That is David Evans of the University of Virginia, he is teaching a Computer Science class on the Internet.

    Many top universities now offer online classes, they teach everything from computer programming to the science of cooking. Many classes are at little or no cost, they are restructured more often than traditional college programs.

    That's important to the millions of students who learn technical and other skills from Lynda Weinman helped to launch the website, she spoke to VOA on Skype.

    "We can come to market very quickly and we can teach transient skills, so a lot of software is changing constantly and new software is being invented, and those sorts of things cannot easily make their way into college curriculum."

    At most colleges, a professor or teaching assistant gives a lecture to students, who then do research, study, and homework alone. Student and blogger John Haber says online classes change everything around.

    "They are watching the lectures at home as homework, recorded lectures, and then when they get to class, they are having more active discussions, or interactions with the teachers or working on projects."

    John Harber said on Skype that he is taking enough online classes to earn a four-year college degree in just one year.  Experts say the new technology will have a major effect on colleges. Some predict future classes may be a mix of online lectures and professors helping students work through difficult problems in person. 

    Georgetown University labor economist Tony Carnevale says he would welcome these changes, he says a college education has to be less costly, and lead to skills needed by employers.

    "It's really quite clear that more and more people need post-secondary education and training and a lot of them are not getting it.  And in cases where they do get it, it doesn't lead to gainful employment.  Or it leads to jobs where they don't fully use their talent, and we don't have enough money to buy our way out of this."

    Chris Cullen is a college marketing expert, he says competition from online schools, and concern about costs, will change universities.

    "The consumer demands that you tell me why, give me a reason, to believe that my money, my tuition money is best spent at your institution. What is the return on my investment?  What is your value proposition?" 

    Chris Cullen says top universities with strong public images may expand in an online world, but he says less discriminating, less famous schools may struggle to get the interest of students.

    And that's the Education Report from VOA Learning English, I'm Avi Arditti.