Network World, 04/12/99
It seems that there will soon be no need for
the hallowed halls of academe.
The New York Times reported in a special
"Education Life" supplement on April 4 that
at least one management guru (Peter Drucker) predicts that: "30 years
from now, the big university campuses will be relics."
The scenario is that modern technology, particularly the Internet, will
cause such a shift in distance learning that there will be nobody
needed to cut the grass for commencement. I could not tell from the
article how much the author accepted this, but I have quite a hard time
Distance education is far from new. There have been correspondence
schools since who knows when, and educational TV stations have
been broadcasting lectures for decades. But the idea of distance
learning is certainly now in vogue, with the Internet seen as the grand
Just about every university is trying to figure out what to do in this
area, at minimum as a protective measure - to see what effect the
distance-learning initiatives of others will have on them. The largest
distance-learning efforts under way are Western Governors
University, a consortium of 17 states plus Guam, and the Open
University, a 29-year-old project of the BBC.
But if one steps back a bit, away from the enchantment with the
technology, the future gets a bit more difficult to predict. It seems
clear that some types of education are very well suited to distance
learning. Continuing education for doctors and dentists, which is
required in many states, and special classes that vendors hold to teach
people to use their products, seem to be ideal. Students can take them
when they want to and only take the ones they need, and they can do
so without traveling.
On the other hand, I find it very hard to believe that four years of
undergraduate education obtained while sitting in front of a PC in
your home can in any way substitute for the social and intellectual
interaction of the same four years spent on a college campus dealing
with classmates and professors.
But there is another whole area of issues that will make it very hard
for most of today's universities to jump into the distance-learning
business. It will take years, for example, to figure out ways of
providing incentives for professors to put together the online lessons
and to work out the intellectual property rights for all the materials
used in the classroom.
So I'm not worried that Harvard will fade away any time soon (even
though my Harvard Extension School class is on the 'Net).
Disclaimer: Brand-namewise, Harvard might have a head start in the
area of distance learning, but the above are my own musings.