The effect of free educational content

682013celebratescienceFree online educational sites are playing increasingly significant roles in classrooms and lecture theaters across the world. But what effect will this abundance of high quality, cost free educational resource have on the value of formal qualifications and the relevance of educational institutions as a whole?

It is a fundamental law of market dynamics that you cannot expect consumers to pay for something when a similar resource of the same intrinsic value is available for free. So now that it is possible to take the equivalent of a first year college economics course online in the form of short hour long videos, how long can traditional education models justify their existence?

How we fund education varies massively from country to country, state to state and even between individuals. However, these can be simplified into two discrete financial models, third party funding through the state or charities and private funding by individual consumers. Which system is morally and practically superior is the source of intense ideological debate, arguments we try to steer well clear of on the rapscallion blog! However what they both have in common is the need to adapt to the coming shift in how educational content is shared and accessed.

The rise of eLearning

Teaching sites such as Khan Academy, Duolingo and even Wikipedia were developed with the noble goal of spreading knowledge and information for free throughout the world. Now, such websites and the online courses are widely used by teachers in classrooms to support education and, in some areas, form integral parts of the curriculum.

Moreover the rise of internet leaning is not limited solely to the classroom. Vocational courses and training for a range of careers are increasingly offered online, at a fraction of the cost of conventional graduate study. The web based Evo Prep CPACE Workshop, for instance, drastically reduces the time and cost of becoming an accredited school administrator, in some cases cutting out the need for formal grad school training entirely.

But what is the net impact of this to the education market? You might think public funded education models would benefit from access to free resource and in one way you would be correct. However it raises significant questions regarding how best to streamline tax payers money. Should schools invest in smartphones and laptops for each student at the expense of teaching staff? For that matter, what is the role of conventional teachers when lessons are already neatly structured and delivered as pre-packaged online tutorials?

Privately funded tertiary education systems may seem immune as they provide accredited qualifications, which remain the currency of the labor market. But today the value of a degree certificate is even more subjective to employers than ever before. Certificates and accreditations from online sites, however informal they may be, are increasingly used to securing work and in the process devalue traditional certification.

The cost of everything but the value of nothing

In a world where the quality of education is no longer validated be the financial contribution of the tax payer or the consumer but by simply having access to a computer, laptop or smartphone we have to ask ourselves, what is the real value of learning? For those with an eye for finance, the reaction to this shift in the market will be fascinating to witness.


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