Many-to-One vs. One-to-Many: An Opinionated Guide to Educational Technology
There are many horses in the educational technology race. Which ones are worth betting on?
Education is in some respects one of the most stagnant of all major industries. A farmer from 150 years ago would not comprehend a modern farm. A factory worker from 150 years ago would not be able to function in a modern factory. But a professor from 150 years ago could walk into a classroom today and go to work without missing a beat.
Is this about to change? Many entrepreneurs and commentators believe so. Here, I offer my own assessment of the prospects for technologies to revolutionize education. This essay will explain why I label various technologies as winners, losers, and magic bullets in the table below. My opinions are not based on exhaustive research. They are based on my experience both as a high school teacher and as an entrepreneur.
My evaluations are based on whether I view these technologies as supporting a model of education that is one-to-many or a model that is many-to-one. The latter is the model I prefer, as will become clear in the rest of this essay.
Don’t Believe the Hype
One of the most-hyped ideas in the past year is MOOCs, or massive open online courses. The idea is that the most prestigious universities will create online versions of courses that are open to anyone. Last year, for example, Stanford offered a course in artificial intelligence that attracted tens of thousands of students. One of the professors for the course, Sebastian Thrun, then left Stanford to found a start-up called Udacity, which will use the MOOC model.
Stanford’s MOOCs appear to benefit two disparate groups of students, one nearby and one far away. The nearby group consists of students who are on campus (Stanford, in this case) and prefer taking a MOOC to attending a live lecture. The other group consists of students nowhere near the campus, often in underdeveloped countries, for whom the MOOC provides a unique opportunity to attend a course run by a major university. Even though they cannot earn a Stanford degree this way, the distant students obtain valuable knowledge.
Well over 90 percent of the students who sign up for an MOOC do not benefit. Most do not finish the course, or even get very far into it.