A Web-based education need not involve never leaving the house. Who'll be first to offer the best networking amenities?
At small liberal arts colleges everywhere, you'll often hear administrators and faculty talk about the idea of learning as much from living on a residential campus as one does in the classroom. That's just one aspect of "the college experience" that critics of online education lament losing in the imagined future where most courses are taught online and the university as we know it disappears.
That is how we imagine the future, isn't it? During an Aspen Ideas Festival panel on the huge growth in distance learning, even among elite universities, moderator Rehema Ellis started to muse on whether her 9-year-old son would come of age in an era when online college was the norm.
"My God," she suddenly said, "will he not leave home?"
But I can imagine an online education industry that looks a lot different than 18-year-olds streaming lectures in childhood bedrooms they seldom leave. In fact, I think selling "the college experience" to students taking their courses online is going to be a major growth industry over the next decade.
Think about it. Over the last few decades, selective colleges have been in an amenities arms race. On college tours you hear about class size and percentage of faculty that is tenured or possessed of a terminal degree. But you also hear about the retina displays in the computer lab, the state-of-the-art exercise equipment in the gym, and at Pomona College, my alma mater, you hear about the kegs of cheap beer that the college purchases for on campus social events.