Image by h.koppdelaney on Flickr. Creative Commons license.
There has been a lot of discussion over the weekend and throughout the week about the re-emergence of a potential “tech bubble.” The original story showed up in the New York Times, but the discussion has also flared due to an article in The New Yorker by Ken Auletta. Sarah Lacy had a very good response article to Auletta’s, and it brought up a good point: why was Peter Thiel never mentioned?
Instead of a tech bubble, Thiel believes we are in a higher education bubble. He defines a bubble as “when something is overvalued and intensely believed,” according to a TechCrunch article written by Sarah Lacy in April, 2011. With this definition, it is likely we are in an education bubble. People accumulate massive amounts of debt thinking they will come out of it with a job. However, many college grads are returning home.
I have seen this happen to a countless number of my friends firsthand. They are working, sure, but not in the field they graduated in. They are stuck making the same amount of money as when they were still in school, and it begs the question: what exactly is the payoff?
Higher education is no longer a cushion for finding a job, yet tuition continues to rise. This is a problem whether you believe we are in a bubble or not. With the announcement of MIT and Harvard partnering up for an online learning program, called edX, it prompts the question even further. If MIT and Harvard think we need an online, not-for-profit learning program, then our education system is flawed.
These institutions are not the first to promote online education from top-tier schools. AcademicEarth, KhanAcademy and Coursera have already begun to do it, amassing a credible amount of users along the way. You can get entire lectures from the semester through video streams, and most of the time they cost you nothing.
The edX program even allows for an interactive experience rather than just watching a video lecture. The main downfall to these programs so far is the lack of credit you receive. The edX program will credit students who show a “mastery of subjects,” but it will not be a certificate from MIT or Harvard.
It is easy to see the advantages these programs provide, but what does it say about the education vs. tech bubble debate? On the surface, technology is helping combat the education bubble. With technology we can now spread lessons farther and for cheaper, but there are pitfalls: online learning does not provide the same education as being in a physical environment, receiving credit is severely limited, and interaction with instructors is poor.
However, this is only the beginning of online learning. With more innovation, we could one day go to classes for free, get the same amount of education, receive the same credit, and not have to worry about debt while scavenging for jobs. These programs have the potential to eliminate any theories concerning tech or education bubbles, all we need to do is support them.