Five years from now…

From a TechCrunch a couple weeks ago, “Bill Gates: In Five Years The Best Education Will Come From The Web” with this excerpt,

“Five years from now on the web for free you’ll be able to find the best lectures in the world,” Gates said at the Techonomy conference in Lake Tahoe, CA today. “It will be better than any single university,” he continued.

Gates is a smart fellow and TechCrunch an informative site…
…but, while we love the title “The Best Education Will Come From The Web” and agree there’s a very good chance that can happen, tying that title to “finding the best lectures in the world” doesn’t show a good understanding of online education. At all.

The web is already a huge resource for great content, including lectures; from TED to MIT’s OpenCourseware initiative; “content” is out there already.

Ok, maybe the full compilation of the “best lectures in the world” is not yet compiled into one place, or searchable, or even all available yet…and we will leave that to the search engines (arguing, once again, for their role in online education themselves) to choreograph…

But the flaw in the title and the flaw in Bill’s statement – and keep in mind, the focus here in on that one, out of context, statement – is a seeming assumption that ‘lecture’ = ‘learning’.

With that assumption, yes, the formal and established rigor of the traditional university is surely under greater assault and pressure. But human interactivity is a significant contribution of the traditional model, perhaps limited somewhat in the large lecture halls but beautiful in the intimate, smaller classroom setting.

Certainly social media and other web advancements will allow for increased simulation and mimicry of the interactive classroom environment. If we’re just looking at the evolution of the traditional university, yes, the web is a logical and perhaps unavoidable future (though an evolving hybrid model still seems the more likely).

However, all that aside, the University Experience isn’t JUST about academics. The processes of leaving home, self-reliance, meeting new people and cultures, and such university experiences are just as critical. Duplicating that on the web…well, five years may just not be enough time to make the entire University Experience as tactile online.

Then, of course, beyond the limits of the title and quote is education outside academia. Is web-based training suitable for ALL environments? Is lecture-based WBT suitable? Or is targeted, interactive training – with solid and testable objectives all the more critical in these times of unparalleled, and un-vetted, information access?

“The Web” holds great promise in communication, resources, and learning – absolutely – we built a company on that promise. But the entire University Experience is a sum of many parts beyond what can be experienced on the web, and going steps further into the vast expanse of eLearning certainly includes far more than ‘online lectures’ (even if straight conversions of PPT into SCORM-compliant modules remains a significant part of that expanse).