Universities Irrelevant By 2020

Universities will be irrelevant, says BYU professor of psychology and instructional technology David Wiley. He says that institutions that fail to adapt will risk losing students to those that do.

He points out that today's students have many more options, and learn differently than students of past generations. Google, Facebook, free access to lectures from many different universities as well as podcasts from many courses at ones own university make for a significantly different environment.

Wiley himself has been at work with innovations. He helped launch an "open content" movement while still working on his PhD. at BYU, which makes it easier for professors to share their works.

Wiley helped start Flat World Knowledge, which creates peer-reviewed textbooks that can be downloaded for free, or bought as paperbacks for $30. He also is the founder of the Utah Open High School, which debuts next fall. It, too, will use open content materials, and will provide an online education for 125 students.

The idea that education will be available from a machine you can have in your house has been around for a while. In a delightful 1951 story The Fun They Had, Isaac Asimov writes about a "mechanical teacher:"

Margie went into the classroom. It was right next to her bedroom, and the mechanical teacher was on and waiting for her. It was always on at the same time every day except Saturday and Sunday, because her mother said little girls learned better if they learned at regular hours.

The screen was lit up, and it said: "Today's arithmetic lesson is on the addition of proper fractions. Please insert yesterday's homework in the proper slot." (Read more about Asimov's Mechanical Teacher)

Professor Wiley's prediction is good, but not good enough. The youngest of my children will still be a university undergraduate in 2018. Given the cost of college, I'd like this prediction moved up to at least 2014.

From Deseret News; thanks to Winchell Chung for the tip and the sf reference for this story.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 4/22/2009)

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