The success of e-education depends on whether universities can design online environments that are conducive to learning.
In one of my first posts here at the Atlantic, I wrote about universities and the problem of credentialing. If a school like Stanford offers online classes to non-Stanford students, and those students learn a great deal, then what is that learning worth? Or, to be more precise, what might a potential employer think that that learning is worth, in the absence of a formal credential like a grade or a degree?
Well, as Megan McArdle has reported here recently, at least one university, MIT, is moving towards making a kind of credential available for people who take and pass its online courses. The plot, then, is definitely thickening. And some questions are beginning to loom in my mind.
McArdle quotes Stephen Gordon, who posits a scenario:
Now, imagine a personnel manager at a mid-sized corporation who's looking for an employee with some particular knowledge. There are two candidates: one with an appropriate college degree from the local state school, a second with relevant MITx certificates. Let's say all other things between the candidates are equal. Which should the manager choose?
Given the caliber of professor at MIT, the online student may have learned just as much.
Now here's where I start asking questions. What do we mean here by "the caliber of professor at MIT"? Almost every prof at MIT will be deeply knowledgeable in his or her field, and will be a first-class researcher. But online as well as in the traditional classroom, we still have to ask whether and how those kinds of expertise translate into learning for the student. If the most knowledgable scholars in the world can be lousy teachers in a room full of people, they can be lousy teachers online too.