Our CEO, Ginny Rometty, has taken to updating the IBM workforce via some nifty video blogs since she took the helm last year.
In her most recent update, she encouraged the IBM workforce to recommit to continuing to build our skills, and so asked each of us to pursue 40 hours of continuing education in 2013, and said that IBM would foot the bill for the additional costs (travel, books, etc.).
Back in 2001-2003, I pursued and completed my MBA in technology management from one of the world’s first for-profit continuing education institutions, the Apollo Group’s University of Phoenix Online.
This was still the way early days for online learning. Most of the learning was done through traditional books and Phoenix’s proprietary equivalent newsgroup software, where I would exchange asynchronous messages with my professors and fellow students. We also participated in a few self-directed teleconference calls and lots of instant messaging meetings, as there were loads of team projects that required coordination with other students.
One course in particular that I remember wishing had had a longer course schedule beyond the traditional six weeks (which is how long Phoenix’s courses lasted at the time) was corporate finance. Half the reason I had pursued the MBA was to expand beyond my right brain-oriented BA and MA in English and Radio/TV/Film respectively, and take on more left brain pursuits.
The finance course was exactly the kind of stuff I’d been wanting to learn, but again, in six weeks, it just moved too quickly to completely grok such a vast expanse of information.
So, flash forward to 2013, and my new learning mandate from our CEO. It just so happened that last fall I had stumbled onto massive online open course (MOOC) provider Coursera, which has been offering a wealth of classes from a variety of higher learning institutions, and it just so happened they were also going to be offering a corporate finance class through the University of Michigan.
Voila, problem solved. I could now return to revisiting my finance love and spend a little more deliberate time learning it from the ground up, this time over the course of 16 weeks and at no cost to myself or to IBM (other than by taking a little of my time).
This time around, however, I have a professor explaining many of the concepts through online video, snippets of which I can watch in my spare moments or in binge viewing on the weekends. I also have access to more sophisticated online messaging collaboration tools to learn from my fellow students.
And, I do believe, I’m starting to see some technological foundations laid that could completely disrupt the traditional bastions of higher learning, much the way Napster disrupted the recorded music industry.
Good education requires some basic Sophoclean give and take, to be sure, but who says such give and take has to be in a physical classroom with way too many students and not enough personal attention?
I remember courses from my own baccalaureate matriculation at the University of North Texas that filled entire stadium classrooms, and I probably said nary a word to many of those professors, other than answering a few questions over the course of the semester.
What if I could have an even more personalized learning experience, at my own pace, through a MOOC?
Who’s to say a MOOC, in partnership with some of the best professors in the world, couldn’t create their own virtual university, one that isn’t undermined by the increasingly failing economics of brick and mortar learning institutions?
One that, if put together with the right forethought and technology, could charge far less than most state and private universities today, and yet still hire the best-of-the-best when it comes to instructors.
If you haven’t heard about MOOCs, you’re definitely not keeping up with the learning Joneses.
Many MOOC courses these days are attracting multiple tens of thousands of students. In fact, Coursera was developed by Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller after Stanford University offered three MOOC courses in the fall of 2012 and each averaged an enrollment of around 100,000 students.
Yes, 100,000 each!
Will MOOCs scale to the needs of higher education aspirants everywhere? Possibly.
But what if it were able to address just a quarter of the higher education needs? Last fall, an estimated 21 million new college students were headed to universities, many incurring absurd amounts of debt, and often experiencing an overhang from the mortgage debt crisis.
In fact, a Wall Street Journal article from January 30 found that credit bureau TransUnion had discovered that 33 percent of the almost $900 billion in outstanding student loans was held by subprime, or the “riskiest,” borrowers as of March of last year.
I suspect that new MOOC-oriented firms like Coursera, Udacity, edX -- and probably more to come -- are just one avenue that future college students may well want to pursue for a higher level of education at a fraction of today’s traditional university price, and of course they are no silver bullet.
On the other hand, the avaricious appetite for the early MOOC courses from students around the globe would suggest the higher education market is not even close to meeting the inherent demand, and it was that great learned scholar, Aristotle, who taught us that “nature abhors a vacuum.”