I’m new to Innosight so I’ll take a moment to introduce myself and the project on which I’m working. I’m a second year student at The Harvard Business School and excited to be joining the team working with Michael Horn and Clay Christensen.

In a white paper for the Center for American Progress on innovations in higher education, we are exploring how to solve affordability and accessibility failures in the current system of higher education in the U.S.  We are looking at the role online learning might play in a possible transformation.

I plan to use this blog to float some ideas we are throwing around, and I would be interested in hearing your feedback.

Last week in this blog Michael wrote: “Public systems will push out online learning only at their own peril—and to the detriment of their students.” Building on Michael’s thought, how might online learning platforms fit into the curriculum of traditional four-year public and private universities? Could learning online be just as valuable as the traditional core classroom lecture  system in terms of content and quality?

The key lies in understanding the evolving learning behavior of the socially networked generation of students. Universities need to embrace, not resist, online learning to better serve these students.

On the Amtrak back to Cambridge this weekend, I sat next to a student who is a senior at an Ivy League University in the Northeast. She had been in New York interviewing for jobs in the education sector, she told me. I was curious to hear her thoughts on online learning both as someone interested in improving education and as a student at a top-ranked academic institution herself.

When I first mentioned I was writing a paper on online learning, her immediate response was “But does it work?” as if she assumed online courses didn’t equate to quality. Then I began to ask her about large lecture classes; did she have any? No, she said she tried to avoid them after freshman year. When I asked her why, she said because no one paid attention, the classes were too big, you couldn’t hear what the professor was saying, he or she just spoke at you and didn’t know your name, there was no engagement, and everyone just sat on Facebook the entire class anyways. Bingo! What if the class itself was offered on Facebook?

What if instead of sitting lost in a sea of anonymity in the back of a large lecture hall, students learned through a highly personalized online experience? By interacting across a Facebook type online platform, students could engage with peers, receive feedback from professors and study at his or her own time and pace logging on and off when it was convenient and comfortable. Wouldn’t this be a more effective way to learn?

Lily-Hayes Kaufman


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