Universities Shift To Online Learning

MS. DIANE REHM

11:06:53
Thanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Online learning has undergone a rapid transformation. In the last year, many of the country's elite universities have started offering their courses online to anyone in the world for free.

MS. DIANE REHM

11:07:11
Joining me in the studio to talk about the growing shift to online learning, Kevin Carey of the New America Foundation, Peter Struck, professor at the University of Pennsylvania, from a studio at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Ca. Daphne Koller, she's founder of the online education company Coursera and from a studio in Atlantic City, N.J. Jeff Selingo, he's editorial director of The Chronicle of Higher Education.

MS. DIANE REHM

11:07:48
Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.

MR. JEFFREY SELINGO

11:08:04
Good morning.

MR. KEVIN CAREY

11:08:05
Good morning.

PROFESSOR DAPHNE KOLLER

11:08:05
Good morning.

PROFESSOR PETER STRUCK

11:08:05
Good morning.

REHM

11:08:06
Good to be with you all. Kevin Carey, if I could start with you. More and more colleges are now turning to online education, but let's start by defining massive, open, online courses, MOOCs. What is this?

CAREY

11:08:26
Well, these are courses that are distinguished by a couple of things. First of all, they're designed so that very large numbers of people can take them at once and by very large, I mean, potentially hundreds of thousands of students around the world. Second, these are not courses that you pay for, they are, as you said, free of charge. But they're also not courses that you get official college credit for as you would if you were enrolled in a college and you were paying tuition.

CAREY

11:08:58
So we're at this interesting place where some of the best known universities in America and the world like the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, Stanford, MIT and so on and so forth are putting their brand names behind these courses, promoting them, generating a huge response and it's really opening up all kinds of interesting questions about what higher education will look like in the future.

REHM

11:09:28
And Jeff Selingo, the experiment in free online courses actually got started at Stanford. Talk about how and why.

SELINGO

11:09:41
Well, it didn't necessarily get started there. It got started at the University of Manitoba a couple of years ago. But it really got a lot of publicity last year when Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig offered their artificial intelligence class online last summer and they ended up attracting 160,000 students from 190 countries.

SELINGO

11:10:07
And because of that and because of the publicity that they received from that, suddenly then everybody got interested in this idea of offering courses to 100 plus thousands of people.

REHM

11:10:17
Okay, so if you're offering courses, what does that mean? Are young people, older people, everybody who is doing this, are they writing reports? Are they answering questions? Are they offering questions? What's the interaction like in a MOOC?

SELINGO

11:10:44
It's actually pretty good. I actually took one of these MOOCs this spring from Coursera, from Scott Page, who is a social science professor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and it was a terrific experience. I must admit that I didn't necessarily finish the course or I didn't finish the course.

SELINGO

11:11:01
But the interaction was great. You got a chance to meet other students in the class through the chat rooms. You got a chance to watch some very good lectures and readings from Scott Page and had a chance to take some tests and get them graded. So it's not the same as being in a physical classroom, but in terms of online education, I think it's much better than the experience you would have even had two or three years ago.

REHM

11:11:27
But if you're actually having papers graded and you've got 130,000 people taking this course, who is grading? How many papers are being graded?

SELINGO

11:11:45
Yeah, they're not necessarily papers and Daphne probably could talk a little bit more about that. Most of these are multiple choice or other short answer tests.

REHM

11:11:52
Okay.

KOLLER

11:11:53
Well, not necessarily so if I can jump in here.

REHM

11:11:58
Sure Daphne...

KOLLER

11:11:59
A lot of the work that we've put in in developing the technology for these MOOCs was specifically intended for trying to do grading at scale. So how exactly do you provide students with meaningful, formative feedback about a whole range of different types of work so multiple choice and short answers are probably the easiest thing to grade at scale. But it turns out, you can do a lot more than that.

KOLLER

11:12:23
So you can grade using computer-aided technology. You can grade programming assignments. You can grade modeling assignments whether it's a model of a physical system, like an electronic circuit or a financial or social system, like a marketing model or financial model.

KOLLER

11:12:40
And then most recently, in order to expand significantly beyond that, we have gone to the idea of peer grading where students can grade each other's work in a way that provides reproducible and robust results as well as meaningful feedback to the students who did the work and that allows us to grade things like open-ended essay-style questions, business plans as well, a whole range of other types of meaningful work.

REHM

11:13:04
Daphne Koller, she's founder of the online learning company Coursera. She's also a professor at Stanford University. Jeff Selingo is editorial director of The Chronicle of Higher Education and Kevin Carey is director of the Education Policy Program at the New America Foundation. Turning to you, Peter Struck, the University of Pennsylvania has incorporated some of these courses. Tell me what the experience has been.

STRUCK

11:13:44
Yes, we have and it's an experiment and I think it's just about the right time in the universe of higher education to give this a try. The numbers that the early pioneers, including Daphne, hello Daphne...

KOLLER

11:13:57
Hi Peter.

STRUCK

11:13:57
...were able to procure from just offering up their courses is enough to turn everyone's heads and say, you know, there's something here, something is happening. And I think that the questions that we're asking about meaningful feedback, what happens with grading papers and that kind of thing are all cutting right to the core of the kinds of stretching that this exercise is forcing us to do.

STRUCK

11:14:20
Reaching a larger audience means sacrificing certain things. What Daphne and her team are able to do to try to figure out what those, calibrate what those sacrifices are going to be, have been extremely educational to all of us. There might be extremely clever ways for us to put the sacrifices that we have to make to reach a huge audience, to put those into a kind of smaller, more contained spot so that what we're able to do is to share a lot of what we care about with a huge group of students.

STRUCK

11:14:47
Now the question that goes, I think, to the core here of the personal feedback when it comes to say grading online essays, well, that's something I think that's the right kind of question to ask and it makes us rethink what it is we're up to with this course.

STRUCK

11:15:01
I try in my -- I teach Greek and Roman mythology from a deeply humanities literary kind of perspective and the thing that I probably care about most in a small classroom, I'm not going to be able to reproduce in this giant...

REHM

11:15:12
Right, right.

STRUCK

11:15:12
...environment, but I'm still doing something, reaching out. My course now has 30,000 students signed up for it. It starts in two months and I'm going to have a chance to reach out to that group.

REHM

11:15:23
Where are they?

STRUCK

11:15:23
All over the place.

REHM

11:15:25
All over the world?

STRUCK

11:15:25
All over the place, all over the world, Europe, the United States, South Asia, East Asia, everywhere.

REHM

11:15:32
And what has the feedback been?

STRUCK

11:15:35
Well, so far, I haven't started so I can give you a better...

REHM

11:15:37
Okay, okay.

STRUCK

11:15:39
...impression in two months, but I'm intrigued to hear what that feedback is going to be. I think it's going to be unvarnished, which is good. My students at Penn have a kind of -- we have a personal connection. We have a relationship with Penn. We're all in it together so I think I kind of get somewhat of a free ride from them sometimes.

STRUCK

11:15:55
Students out there in this wider world, they're going to be impatient, which is good. They're going to force us to be on our toes, which is good, and they're going to give us, I think, really useful feedback.

REHM

11:16:04
Kevin Carey, what happens to the learning institution itself? How does it continue to make money? How does it support professors like Peter Struck? How does it pay for this free education it's offering to the world?

CAREY

11:16:25
It's going to depend a lot on the institution. I'm pretty confident that the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford will continue to exist, more or less, as they exist now for the foreseeable future.

REHM

11:16:35
With those able to pay, paying?

CAREY

11:16:39
Yeah, absolutely, even though they're very expensive. These are institutions that provide a lot of value. The degree that you get from an elite university, one of things it says is, I was smart enough to be admitted to an elite university. I went through kind of an intensive process where I learned in person with my peers. That, I think, is not going to change, but we need to keep in mind that that is not the typical experience of a college student either in the United States or in the world.

CAREY

11:17:08
Many, many students don't get that kind of education. Oftentimes, particularly at larger, less-resourced institutions you're not being taught in a class of 15 by someone like Peter, you're being taught in a lecture hall of 400 students.

REHM

11:17:22
Right.

CAREY

11:17:23
You're basically a passive recipient of information. It is a low-quality learning environment. And one of the things that is interesting about these MOOCs is that even though you're losing some things that you would get in a very highly-intensive environment, there's a real interactivity to the pedagogy of the good online classes where students are being engaged and there are opportunities to interact online with other students, which is also a really important part of the learning process.

REHM

11:17:54
You know the part I don't understand is how come, Jeff, you've got some universities offering online courses to their own students within those universities.

SELINGO

11:18:14
And others are giving it away for free?

REHM

11:18:16
Yeah.

SELINGO

11:18:17
Well, I mean, I think the important part, as Kevin explained about these MOOCs, is that you can complete them. You'll get some sort of -- in some cases you'll get a certificate or a note or a letter saying you completed it, but you're not getting credit and that is very important because that's the currency in American higher education.

REHM

11:18:38
Jeff Selingo, he's editorial director of The Chronicle of Higher Education. The lines are open. I look forward to hearing your questions and comments.

REHM

11:20:05
And in this hour, we're talking about new experiments in online education. Here in the studio, Peter Struck. He's professor of classical studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and Kevin Carey, director of the Education Policy Program at the New American Foundation. Joining us on Skype from a studio at Stanford University in Palo Alto is Daphne Koller. She's founder of the online learning company Coursera. She's also a professor at Stanford University. And Jeff Selingo, he's editorial director of the Chronicle of Higher Education.

REHM

11:20:57
Peter Struck, just before the break, I was asking Jeff about why it is that some students who have paid for their education on campus are also receiving some of their courses online.

STRUCK

11:21:18
I think there's best a two-part answer to that question. One is kind of the economies of scale model that gets people that are interested in the bottom line very excited. That's one that I don't necessarily endorse or think is the right thing to do. Pedagogically, you run into the kind of shortcomings of reaching massive audiences without being as thoughtful as someone like Coursera is about what the experience is like.

CAREY

11:21:40
The second part of the answer, though, is that those who are interested in trying to make a vibrant in-room classroom environment have been experimenting with offloading, some of what they do in the classroom, which is the kind of data delivery part of a course. Here's my lecture. Sit back and listen. I know. You don't. You should be quiet. I should talk now. Offload that onto an online environment, which is actually pretty good at delivering lots of stuff downstream to large groups of people, then reconfigure the classroom space into a more active conversational environment.

CAREY

11:22:11
So what you do, as a student, is listen to your lectures on your own time and then come to classroom and expect to be wowed by intense conversation with your professors and teachers and other students. This requires, though, this small group hands-on high-touch environment that really is what is valued and can be enhanced by moving some of the lectures into this online format.

REHM

11:22:35
Can you download these and tape them so that you can then replay and learn, for example, at your own speed?

CAREY

11:22:46
Yes. And the -- well, some of the wisdom of what Coursera does is make it now with a kind of fully wired cloud-based world, anywhere, anytime you can review anything anytime you're hooked up to the internet, which is now.

REHM

11:23:01
Daphne Koller, tell us a little more about Coursera, how you got started and what your dream is. How do you hope to make this -- or do you hope to make this a worldwide educational process?

KOLLER

11:23:23
So in fact, we got started exactly where this last conversation was leaving off, which is that we originally started this project at Stanford as a way of improving the quality of education for our own on-campus Stanford students by doing exactly this offloading of lecture conveyed to an online format, which in many ways is more interactive and more engaging than sitting in a 400-person dark auditorium listening to the sage-on-the stage talking at you for an hour and 15 minutes.

KOLLER

11:23:54
Because you can learn at your own pace, because the lecture is interspersed with lots of activities, quizzes, exercises that make it much more engaging for the student. And then use the classroom time, that really precious resource where the instructor and the students are in the same room at the same time, for these kinds of active learning activities that have been demonstrated to be a much better learning experience for the students with much better learning outcomes.

KOLLER

11:24:17
So we started this at Stanford about four years ago and developed a lot of the pedagogy and the technology in order to do this online learning effectively. And realized at some point that if you were providing this really meaningful course experience to your own on-campus students you could at the same time provide that content to students everywhere around the world and really open up the kind of very high quality education that's been available only to a sliver of the world's population to all those many people who could make use of it.

KOLLER

11:24:48
So that's kind of how we got started and that led to the three fall quarter classes that Stanford offered, each of which had enrollment of 100,000 students or more. The AI class was one of them, the machine learning class was another and the database class was a third. And when we saw the impact and the uptake that these classes were having on so many students, both in terms of numbers and in the personal stories that we heard about how it had really changed people's lives, we realized that what we needed to do was to make this much broader and allow multiple top universities, each of which had something unique to offer the world to open up their education to everyone.

KOLLER

11:25:27
And so to the second part of your question, yes, we do see this as a worldwide phenomenon. Currently only about 30 to 35 percent of our students are in fact in the United States. The rest are all over the world. And we get these remarkable stories about how people who would never have had access to this kind of education are actually learning skills and ideas that could make their lives better. And so...

REHM

11:25:49
All right.

KOLLER

11:25:50
Yeah.

REHM

11:25:51
Jeff Selingo, what's the downside here?

SELINGO

11:25:56
Well, there's a couple of potential downsides. I think one is, depending on where you sit, these courses could one day replace what I call the commodity courses at many colleges and universities. You know, Kevin and a couple of others talked a little bit about the 400-person lecture courses where there is limited learning going on in many colleges. You know, you taking English 101 or Econ 101. It's taught essentially the same at many colleges and universities and using sometimes down to the same textbook. And there's really no reason why every college in the U.S. needs to do this, especially if the learning outcomes are not very good.

SELINGO

11:26:37
And so I can see a number of colleges potentially doing away with those courses thus employing fewer adjuncts or fewer professors. So that's one potential (unintelligible) .

REHM

11:26:47
So you're saying perhaps the loss of positions for those professors would be one downsized.

SELINGO

11:26:57
I think that's one thing. And I think there is a lot of advantages, too, to face-to-face education. And I think particularly with 18- to 24-year-olds, the role that colleges and universities play in that kind of maturing experience is incredibly important. And, you know, there's been a lot of research done about online education and hybrid education, which is some of the education happening face to face and some happening online, which seems to be the strongest of all three modes of education, whether it's face to face or online.

SELINGO

11:27:29
And my concern, I guess, is that in this race to save money, we might push some students online who really learn better in other modes, whether that's again half and half or in person. And especially those students who need, I think, the maturing experience, especially the traditional 18- to 24-year-old who goes to college today.

REHM

11:27:51
Peter Struck.

STRUCK

11:27:53
I wanted to jump in on one potential downside I see. If people embrace this as a replacement for the kind of learning that happens in a small environment, we definitely would lose something. I consider my highest goals in the classroom to be to change lives. And I think most of my colleagues would share something like that. Transferring information, that's good. I'm glad I can do that. I think I have some information to share that's worthwhile.

STRUCK

11:28:16
But what I really want to do is sit down with the 18- to 22-year-old or people in a more expansive group, but sit down with a small group and ask them,, what do you really care about and why. And ask them to -- put them through challenges that are kind of experiential learning.

REHM

11:28:33
And can you do that without broader audiences?

STRUCK

11:28:38
That's a question marked for me. That's where I think I'm most skeptical of this environment while participating in it very happily and with great excitement. I don't think -- I'm not sure that I would be able to carry forward that core mission of what I do in a small group high-touch environment.

REHM

11:28:54
Kevin Carey, what's your view?

CAREY

11:28:56
Well, I'm sure, just based on my limited interaction with Peter, that it's a great class. Very few people have the opportunity to learn in that environment because it's very expensive to pay, to build someplace like Penn and pay someone like Peter to sit with this small group of people. It's a fantastic opportunity if you can get it but economically speaking it's not the kind of thing that we can offer to huge numbers of people at once.

CAREY

11:29:23
These online courses are not cheap to make if you do them well. So it's actually pretty expensive to serve the first student. It is very, very inexpensive to serve student number 100,000 and 200,00 and 300,000. So what I think we're moving toward is a different economic model in higher education where people are going to, as Jeff said, increasingly take these broad classes for very little money. And then if they have the opportunity to learn either because they can afford it or because it makes more sense given the content in a face-to-face environment, they'll do that as well.

REHM

11:30:04
Daphne Koller, what is your money model? How will you make your dollars?

KOLLER

11:30:16
Well, so there's two levels of answer to that question. The first is that if you're building a website, a place that's changing the lives of millions of people, history shows that there will be a way to make it sustainable. And I think that is true. It's not a very detailed answer. We have some more concrete ideas. One of them is that in the same way that universities charge for giving you credit, we can potentially charge a modest amount for certification. It would be optional for students to get a certificate that they could potentially present an employer to get a better job.

KOLLER

11:30:49
But even with a modest payment and a small fraction of students choosing to avail themselves of that, I think because of the low incremental cost per student, this could be made sustainable. The second potential model is to interact with employers to try and...

REHM

11:31:07
Oh dear. I'm afraid we have lost Daphne, I hope temporarily. And we'll try to get her back as quickly as possible. We've got lots of callers...

SELINGO

11:31:22
The last point she was about to make on employers...

REHM

11:31:25
Go right ahead, sure.

SELINGO

11:31:25
...and I think that's a model for Coursera and others, and we saw that work with the Thrun course at Stanford last fall on the artificial intelligence where he got the resumes of the top 1,000 students in that course and passed them on to Silicon Valley companies. And in fact I talked to one of the students whose resume was passed on who was working in Orlando for Lockheed Martin as a computer -- or software engineer, was trying to get a job with Google. And he took this course, he scored near perfect in the course and ended up getting a job with Google in Pittsburg the following year.

REHM

11:32:03
Okay.

SELINGO

11:32:03
So I think that this idea of them matching up with employers is a potential model.

REHM

11:32:08
Okay. But the question is how much will the 100,000 students pay to move into or onto your lecture, Peter Struck?

STRUCK

11:32:25
I don't know the answer to that question. Daphne, when we get her back, can fill us in on some more detail. But as I understand it's in the 25, 35, $40 range kind of thing. And the certification is an interesting concept and I think that -- I mean, the value of the certificate, that's a currency whose value has not yet been set. So we don't know what it means. It may be that employers value these. Maybe they don't care at all.

REHM

11:32:49
Interesting.

STRUCK

11:32:50
So we'll have to just see what that is.

REHM

11:32:52
And I think that's exactly where we'll go with our first question from Overland, Ohio, after I remind you you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." All right. And Daphne, you're now back with us.

KOLLER

11:33:12
Good. Sorry about that.

REHM

11:33:13
All right. Let's take a call from Barbara in Overland, Ohio. Go right ahead.

BARBARA

11:33:21
I was going to ask about how do we know that the whole idea of students going to college and getting their ticket stamped, so to speak, getting their degree, paying for that and going on to a job won't change or already has changed, as it's important in the mind of an employer what a person can do and not just what their degree states. So it seems to me that it'll fast approach that degrees won't be worth what they are now if they are even -- I'm a nurse. And I have a lot of folks around me with masters' degrees that they get online in expensive -- very expensive classes.

BARBARA

11:34:15
Masters degrees in nursing online can be between 20 and 30,000. And it's just to show that they have their ticket stamped really. They don't really -- I mean, we all talk about this -- learn so many more skills. So how, you know, how is this going to maintain? I don't think it will.

REHM

11:34:36
Jeff Selingo.

SELINGO

11:34:39
I think this is an issue. I mean, employers are somewhat unhappy with some college graduates. I think Peter mentioned we don't yet know the currency of whatever comes out of these MOOCs. But if these MOOCs are able to show to employers that the students can do the work, potentially the certificates from these MOOCs or whatever they give out will be worth something in the marketplace.

SELINGO

11:35:03
But at the end of the day, you know, degrees from Stanford and Penn are going to be worth a lot over the next ten, twenty, thirty years. I'm not really worried about those places. I would worry about a number of other institutions whose value in the marketplace might be a lot less in terms of employers.

REHM

11:35:20
Kevin Carey.

CAREY

11:35:22
Yeah, I think Jeff's exactly right. We have an odd situation right now where an Ivy League professor can teach a fantastically well designed online class. But if it comes from a company called Coursera, you don't get credit for it. You can't use federal financial aid to pay for it, although the cost will be very low. Meanwhile, you could have the worst accredited online college that no one's ever heard of charging people -- and our caller was exactly right, 20, $30,000.

CAREY

11:35:52
I thought it was interesting. You know, you said how much does it cost and he said 25, 30, 40. Usually in higher education, there's a thousand that comes after that.

REHM

11:36:00
I see.

CAREY

11:36:01
He's just saying 25, 30, $40. So what I think is going to happen is eventually the really good classes that have the best professors and they can demonstrate that the people with these certificates really have learned something, will find a way either through the credit system or employers will simply start to send a signal into the marketplace that says, you know what, this is good enough.

REHM

11:36:22
Peter Struck.

STRUCK

11:36:24
Our credentialing function in society, I think, is one that we sit in some unease with. It brings great -- it causes our application pool to be enormous at a place like Penn and we're grateful for that. But I also think that it's a potential area of resentment where people say, well I'm good and it just so happened that this university decided not to admit me, but I can perform at that level. And just because I couldn't get that credential for whatever reason why can't I go ahead and perform? And I think that that's understandable.

STRUCK

11:36:54
One thing that I think that these large open online courses do is create an environment that is creative. It's new, it's different. There's challenges that are coming. And the challenges to our position as a credential -- as the only credential as a gatekeeper in society, those are good and healthy because it means that we have a chance to sharpen our messaging as to what we're all about. I'm sure, I'm deeply confident in my core that a place like Penn is going to be able to say, what we do is extremely valuable. We just need a better message as to what that is and this kind of environment is going to bring us to doing that.

REHM

11:37:30
Peter Struck. He is professor of classical studies at the University of Pennsylvania. When we come back, I'm going to go right back to the phones, but also find out precisely how these courses work.

REHM

11:40:02
Okay. Before we go any further, I want to understand, Peter Struck, from you, how this program will work? How will your lectures be transmitted to hundreds of thousands of students?

STRUCK

11:40:21
Well, courses are arranged in six, seven, ten-week kind of format, depending on what the professor does. Each week about an hour's worth of video is made available on the website in small chunks, 7 minutes, 10 minutes, maybe up to 15 where the professor will deliver a lecture. That lecture will be interrupted at certain points with quizzes where you check in to say have you understood the main points I've said, click here if you realize which…

REHM

11:40:51
But you couldn't possibly respond to 100,000 clicks.

STRUCK

11:40:55
No. That's where the computer helps us. The multiple choice is easily gradable by a system like this.

REHM

11:41:04
Okay. Okay. And, Daphne, what will your role be at Coursera?

KOLLER

11:41:11
Well, we're the ones developing the platform that makes this possible for Peter, as well as many other instructors. One-hundred and sixteen and counting courses are going to go up. And some have already gone up. And what we do is develop the technology that allows students to get meaningful feedback about whether they're getting things or not, the delivery of video lectures at scale, as well as the very extensive social interaction that students have with each other around the course material.

KOLLER

11:41:40
What we've seen around each and every one of our courses is an incredible community being built up where students engage with each other intellectually, talking about the course material, asking questions, answering each other's questions. Which is in some ways a substitute for the role that the instructor plays in face-to-face teaching, by having a meaningful interaction where students effectively teach each other.

REHM

11:42:01
All right. Now, let me…

SELINGO

11:42:02
I think that -- if I could just sneak in for a second…

REHM

11:42:03
…give you some feedback, Jeff Selingo.

SELINGO

11:42:04
…here. I think the format of these courses are the strength of them. It used to be that online courses literally put a video camera in a classroom and just shot the professor giving the lecture to the physical students on campus. The idea that these are produced specifically for the online environment and, as Peter described, that they're kind of short, little snippets…

REHM

11:42:27
Right.

SELINGO

11:42:28
…it really takes a page, I think, from the Khan Academy which a lot of students are using also.

REHM

11:42:34
All right. Let me give you some firsthand feedback from Eric in Texarkana. He says, "My wife and I are in graduate school. Most of the courses now are online rather than in person. We feel these courses are much lower in terms of quality than our undergraduate classroom courses. The emphasis is placed on data retention and regurgitation rather than insightful and in-depth understanding. It feels more like we're just jumping through meaningless hoops for an empty degree, rather than earning it through true academic work. Is this the best future for American education?" Kevin Carey?

CAREY

11:43:31
Well, I think a lot of traditional institutions have been taking advantage of their position in the market. They're the only people who can offer these degrees that you need to get a job. And the original online classes were pretty rudimentary and perhaps not very good. And so a lot of institutions are charging a lot of money right now to offer online classes that, frankly, aren't as good as what Coursera and some of the new institutions are offering, but because people need those degrees to become a nurse -- as our previous caller said -- or other things, they're getting away with it.

CAREY

11:44:04
And it's all fueled by federal financial aid. We saw a big report here in Washington this week from Senator Harkin about for-profit colleges and a lot of that activity is happening online. I think we're moving into a new era where the bar is going to be a lot higher for online classes. And because these MOOCs are operating basically just out there, the only thing they have is their quality. If they want to convince people to sign up in the long term it's going to have to be a really good learning experience.

CAREY

11:44:35
And if these certificates they give out are going to be worth something, they're going to have to be worth something empirically. They can't just stand on the fact that they're a "college."

REHM

11:44:45
All right. To Kalamazoo, Mich. Good morning, Justin.

JUSTIN

11:44:49
Hi, how are you doing, Diane?

REHM

11:44:50
Good, thanks.

JUSTIN

11:44:52
All right. So I think I’m interested in seeing kind of if your panel would agree with me in saying that really the best form of education anymore, coming from someone like myself who's taken online courses through traditional schools, as well as sat in the classroom. I think it's more about diversifying now and really going out and getting in the classroom, getting online, getting in the workplace and now potentially taking some of the MOOCs because I for one know I have a few Associates degrees -- I went to a community college to make it a little cheaper on myself, but I'm sure most Americans do.

JUSTIN

11:45:26
And then I went to a traditional school to ask, hey, here's the skill set that I need. I have a specific amount of things that I need to be able to do to finish this job. Then they said, okay, not a problem, here you go. One-hundred and ninety credits later is what they wanted me to pay for and that was just ridiculous. I said, okay. I already had 90 credits at the time and you want me to take an additional 190 credits.

JUSTIN

11:45:50
And at that point in time I had to look at different forms of education because really the place that I want to be wants you to have a degree in A, but wants you to have experience in B, C, D, E, F, etcetera, etcetera. Now, what my real question would be then is one, where can you find these resources? Is Coursera going to be the hub for anyone who wants to partake in a MOOC? Or is there more out there -- no offense, Daphne, but, you know, if there's more out there, where are resources? And two…

REHM

11:46:22
Sure.

JUSTIN

11:46:24
…is this really the way that we're going to look at diversifying education in the future, you know, next to say things like apprenticeships? And I can take my answer off the air.

REHM

11:46:33
Okay. Thanks. Daphne, why don't you take the first part?

KOLLER

11:46:39
The first part being whether this is going to be a hub? Well, I think we're already starting to see that this is a hub. There's 16 universities on board and I think several more coming up very soon. And that doesn't mean it's the only offering. There's multiple other organizations that are offering MOOCs. Google even offered a MOOC on how to do web search recently. So I think that -- and of course there is MIT, Harvard edX Effort.

KOLLER

11:47:06
So I think that there's going to be several organizations interested in entering into this space because I think it is an exciting new transition in higher education.

REHM

11:47:17
Jeff Selingo?

SELINGO

11:47:20
Well, the other issue that he brought up is that he had all these extra credits. And he moved from institution to institution. And that's very common these days. You know, a third of students now transfer institutions at least once. So there is this swirl of students. And I think MOOCs will provide a piece of that. I mean, and answering the previous caller you had, I mean, there are many different flavors of online education. And some are good and some are bad.

SELINGO

11:47:46
And I think Kevin's right. I think that over the course of the next couple of years the marketplace will figure out which are the quality ones and will go towards those.

REHM

11:47:53
A number of people have asked us to redefine MOOCs and how to spell it. MOOCs stands for Massive Open Online Courses. It's spelled M, like Mary, O-O-C-S. And we have an email from Tom who says, "My experience in graduate-school-level courses is that nearly half of my learning comes from spontaneous real-time interactions with other students. It would seem that this interaction is in part what prestigious schools with their top-flight students are selling. What is being done by online schools or independent companies to fill this gap for the potential online student?" Jeff Selingo?

SELINGO

11:48:58
Well, I think one of the things -- and maybe Daphne could talk a little bit about this -- I know Coursera, with their courses this fall are going to be offering meet-ups and study groups. And in fact, a number of the students that I talked with who took these courses over the last year had set up their own study group. So they convinced their friends and others to take these courses. But I think that is a potential real future for these courses that allow people in specific areas to get together to study together and have that spontaneous discussion with real people.

REHM

11:49:29
Daphne, how will you accomplish that?

KOLLER

11:49:33
So we have extensive interaction among students happening in the online format. So as Jeff said, there's probably in many of our courses dozens, maybe hundreds of study groups where sometimes students sometimes meet up physically in a coffee shop somewhere or sometimes virtually in a chat room in an online setting. And they have very extensive, meaningful, real time, as well as, asynchronous interactions. At the same time, we also have this amazing question and answer or a discussion forum, where students from all over the world congregate to bring up questions that are bothering them.

KOLLER

11:50:07
And because there's so many students involved, even if you post a question at 3:00 in the morning, somewhere around the world someone is awake and probably thinking about similar things. And so you get a response, often in a matter of minutes. I think our median response time is 22 minutes. And then finally, we're not attempting to substitute for the kind of serendipitous interaction that happens at these top universities. The idea for those students fortunate enough to be at a place like Penn or Stanford is that they can actually interact with their peers. And in fact, more so, because the lecturing is now taken out and there's more time for that.

REHM

11:50:43
Of course college has become so expensive, Kevin, and one wonders does this model begin to replace the $20,000, $30,000 per semester that in-college student has to pay?

CAREY

11:51:06
I think the growing cost of higher education is absolutely going to be a spur to make this all happen much faster. The price of higher education has been growing well above the inflation rate for going on 30 years now. It is simply becoming unaffordable for a growing number of students. We have a huge problem with student debt in this country. People are indenturing themselves to go into higher education. So when you introduce a well-branded, high-quality free option into that equation, there's nothing like zero to compete with $50,000 when you're talking about prices.

REHM

11:51:44
But then what happens to the physical plant itself, Jeff Selingo?

SELINGO

11:51:51
That's a good question. I mean I think that, again, places like Penn and Stanford, they're not going to go away. And I think that for the majority of institutions I don't believe they're going to go away either. But they're going to be using them in different ways. And Daphne made a great point. You know, MOOCs are not going to replace, you know, traditional undergraduate courses on most campuses. But they could be used as a supplement or as a compliment to whatever is going on.

SELINGO

11:52:17
I think we all have to remember, you know, the people calling in probably went to undergraduate college maybe 5, 10, 20 years ago, who knows. But the students today, you know, students in elementary and middle school -- I have two young daughters who are not even in elementary school yet. And I see how they're learning. They're learning in completely different ways than somebody like me or somebody like any of your guests today learned.

SELINGO

11:52:41
And I think that they're going to want a place to go where they could have both physical interaction or they have that serendipity, but also have these online interactions where they're able to do work on their time at their pace.

REHM

11:52:54
Jeff Selingo, he's editorial director of The Chronicle of Higher Education. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Springville, Utah. Good morning, Mark.

MARK

11:53:12
Good morning. How are you?

REHM

11:53:13
Fine, thanks.

MARK

11:53:14
Great. Listen, I'm familiar with Western Governor's University, which is based here in Utah. And I don't know if your panelists are familiar with it, but…

REHM

11:53:26
I think Kevin Carey is and sounds as though…

KOLLER

11:53:28
So am I.

REHM

11:53:30
…Daphne is, too.

MARK

11:53:32
Yeah, it was founded by 19 governors. And it's supported by several corporations and foundations and fully accredited. And I think they been around now -- I have several friends who work there 'cause I live in Utah where it's headquartered. But they've been at this for 10 or 12 years now. And I think, even though this is a new delivery system for instruction and for education, I think they've refined it and continue to refine it. And they've had a really high placement rate. And so far I think it's been quite a successful venture.

MARK

11:54:07
It's not-for-profit so the whole goal is to make it affordable. And it gives access to education to, like, working professionals and single parents and even those with health problems. So…

REHM

11:54:18
Very interesting. Kevin Carey?

CAREY

11:54:21
Yeah, Western Governor's University is interesting. It sort of sits at the midpoint in between a traditional higher education institution and these new MOOCs that we've been discussing, in the sense that it is accredited. You can use your financial aid money to go there. You can get a degree, but it is conducted almost entirely online. And it's this model where you learn for as short or as long as you need to to achieve certain defined competencies. And so some students can go through and get a Bachelor's degree in two and a half years. They can get credit for things that they've learned in their lives or experiences before.

CAREY

11:54:57
And so all of which shows that we're just kind of at the birth of this new era of using online higher education to create new models of serving students. The MOOCs didn't invent online higher education, actually.

KOLLER

11:55:10
No.

CAREY

11:55:11
Millions of students have been engaged in this. They're just a new flavor, a new economy, a new association with elite higher education that's brought a lot of attention. But if we have this discussion in five years I'm sure there'll be all kinds of cool new things that are yet to be dreamt up.

REHM

11:55:26
All right. And finally to Shawn in Richland, Wash. Good morning. You're on the air.

SHAWN

11:55:33
Good morning, Diane.

REHM

11:55:33
Hi, there.

SHAWN

11:55:34
I just wanted to talk about -- I am in a university that is 100 percent online. I actually have a bias toward professors that are graduates from brick-and-mortar schools, just because I think they bear a little more credentials with them. And I just wanted to know what your guests thought of that.

REHM

11:55:51
What do you think, Peter Struck?

STRUCK

11:55:52
Well, I don't know. Having got my Ph.D. from a brick-and-mortar institution I'm happy to be thought of as having more credentials than someone else. I don't know that I necessarily deserve it. I'd want to be tested. And if that proves to be true then fine. I think there's probably a sense in the question that says that what happens in a traditional learning environment where people are not necessarily guided by a tactical approach to picking up this skill or that skill so that they can do X and Y in the world, but instead are there in order to purposefully to try to reshape the world.

STRUCK

11:56:20
Not to take things as givens, but instead to try to reshape what's in front of them. That's, I think, what we do in this environment.

REHM

11:56:27
And finally to you, Jeff Selingo, 10 years from now do you see this as a primary model?

SELINGO

11:56:38
Online education? I see it as a piece and a big piece, but physical campuses will still exist.

REHM

11:56:45
Jeff Selingo, he's editorial director of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Daphne Koller, founder of the online learning company Coursera. She's also a professor at Stanford University. Here in the studio, Peter Struck, professor of classical studies at the University of Pennsylvania. And Kevin Carey, director of the Education Policy Program at the new America Foundation. I do want to talk to you all again in about two years and see how it's going.

STRUCK

11:57:26
That's a deal.

REHM

11:57:27
Thanks for being here.

KOLLER

11:57:27
Absolutely. Thank you.

STRUCK

11:57:28
Thank you.

REHM

11:57:28
Thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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