Online education is set to change the world

I don’t know about the rest of the web, but the idea of having cheap, easy access to world-class instruction is the most exciting thing since Netflix.  There’s still a lot of bugs to work out:

So far, tearing down the paywalls around higher education has been the simple part. What’s more challenging is making online classes like “A History of the World Since 1300” and “Algorithms I” match the quality of their in-person equivalents. That means racing to set up live forums for class discussions, keeping the site from crashing amidst the crush of students, and urgently seeking ways to make classes more interactive and to automate grading as much as possible.

But, I’m pretty optimistic about what this experiment will teach us about technology and education:

Some of Koller’s own academic research, published this February, illustrates how this might work. She and several collaborators applied machine-learning techniques to study an introductory programming class. The researchers created mathematical descriptions of the students themselves, looking for models that would explain their advances and setbacks. One discovery: success in the course was predicted by a student’s approach to solving the first assignments, not by right or wrong answers.

Photo courtesy of thetamar on Flickr.

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