The College Conundrum - Physical vs. Virtual Face Off.

posted on 06 Apr 2015 08:29 by eagerdesert6428
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I just spent a day touring colleges with my high-school aged son. I learned a lotabout the state of education today... but in some ways more about the coming revolution around the corner.

This is my second time doing the college tour tromp, and with and 8 year age difference, enough years had gone by since the last time that I thought maybe things had changed. Certainly things have changed for 17 year olds. Their world is digital, virtual, always collected and often electronic.

So I expected that colleges and universitieswould have evolved to address this new generationof digital natives.

Here's what I found:

The tour guides still walk backwards. I've never understood this - it's the only place i've ever seen people have to walk backwards. They did then - and they do today.

The schools made sure to present a whole raft of physical things:

The Library

The inter-library loan programs

The Laundry Room

The Mailroom

The Professor's office hours

The dorm rooms (still tiny)

The shared showers and bathrooms (still icky)

The dining halls (with more choices for vegan, vegetarian, and other food preferences and allergies)

Printers. Lots of them, available with a card swipe

Food plans, a complex mix of meals and credits - all on card swipe

But in terms of digital things - not a word.

Here are the things they didn't offer:

No discussion of WiFi on campus

No discussion of electronic campus communities

No discussion of access to study materials online

No video of missed classes

No electronic access to professors via chat or email

No electronic study groups

Simply put - colleges are physical places in an increasingly digital world.

And, you can understand why. In an alternate universe education is moving rapidly into the digital world.

Shai Reshef may embody what these institutions fear most - a fast growing digital education alternative that pits the ivy covered walls of hallowed organizations with the emerging e-learning world of free education.Reshefis the President of the world'sfirst non-profit, tuition-free, accredited,online university.

At Reshef's University of the People,anyone with a high school diploma can take classes toward adegree in business administration or computer science -- for free. Founder Shai Reshef told aneducated audience at the TED Conference thatthat higher education is changing "from being aprivilege for the few to a basic right, affordable and accessible for all."

His TEDTalk promised an revolution in education - and that talk has now been viewed more than 1.5 million times in the past year.

When I spoke to Shai at TED he was surpassingly modest, given the scope of his ambition and the remarkable traction he's quickly achieved.

"We didn't need to reinvent the wheel.We just looked at what wasn't workingand used the amazing power of the Internetto get around it.We set outto build a modelthat will cut down almost entirelythe cost of higher education,and that's how we did it.First, bricks and mortar cost money.Universities have expensesthat virtual universities don't.We don't need to pass these expensesonto our students. They don't exist."


For students who can't afford the world of campus life, and the costs that come with the physical world - Shai's university provides a new model foreducation that changes the economic model. He explains it this way;"By using open educational resourcesand the generosity of professorswho areputting their materialfree and accessible,we don't need to send our students to buy textbooks.All of our materials come free."

The University of the People invited professors to join - and many did."The most expensive line in any university balance sheet, Professors,come freeto our students,over 3,000 of them,including presidents, vice chancellors,professors and academic advisorsfrom top universities such as NYU,Yale, Berkeley and Oxford,came on board to help our students.Finally, it's our belief in peer-to-peer learning.We use this sound pedagogical modelto encourage our students from all over the worldto interact and study togetherand also to reduce the timeour professors need to labor over classassignments."

The connected world of the internet is changing the economics of many sectors that were formerly tied to expensive physical costs. Education, free from the real world costs of books, building, dorms, and lecture halls, is able to deliver a new 'virtual' education experience with a new economic model. SaysReshef;"We are tuition-free.All we ask our students to coveris the cost of their exams,100 dollars per exam.A full-time bachelor degree studentthe entiredegree will cost just $4,000."

Simply put -Reshef believesthat education should be a right and not a privilege.


Is The University of the People going to replace Harvard, or Stanford, or Yale any time soon? Clearly not. But around the world, there are communities hungry for higher education, and the internet's connected world makes a new educational economy possible.

And as a new generation of digitally connected students come online, it is hard to believe they won't begin to ask the hallowed halls of higher education to bring their physical worlds into the digital age.

There's no doubt that today - there's lots to be gained by being together, on campus. Both in terms of pure learning, and the important social aspects of being with your peers. But as the costs of physical education continue to rise, and the global demand for education grows - the emerging on-line educational world is certain to play an important role in how the world learns.

Steven Rosenbaum is serial entrepreneur, author, and filmmaker. His book latest book,Curate This! is in print and ebook on He is the CEO of (