Technical degrees entirely online

If all science, engineering, technical and technological degrees migrate to completely online delivery, as I proposed in my last post, many advantages will get realized:
  1. Global research institutes can drop the pretense about making any commitment to undergrad teaching while they are really in deep pursuit of their research interests. This newly minted integrity will increase how much they are respected, trusted and valued. The loss of contempt, disrespect and flaming will, in turn, improve each faculty member's confidence and perhaps even their transparency.
  2. Undergraduates enrolled in these degree programs can complete them at their own pace. They can combine their chosen program with living on campus or at home while either working part time or pursuing the degree full-time. They would be free to enjoy a social life or make some money. They could even travel while completing the program. That freedom of choice and mobility will likely reverse the downward trend of technical degrees being earned.
  3. The online programs will include lots of remedial components to catch the routine errors of logic, false assumptions and erroneous conclusions that students make while grasping particular complexity. This means the students can get help when they need it, instead of when the faculty or TA was holding office hours.
  4. The availability of all required material online will disrupt to the over-priced textbook publishing business models. The publishers who may then get incentivized to contribute to the online offerings or even orchestrate the standardized curriculum.
  5. The cost of completing a technical degree program will plummet, improving the access and affordability metrics that legislators keep in their sight. This could improve the long term health of higher ed by restoring the social contract that universities once honored by affordably educating citizens to participate in the economy and democratic processes.
  6. The students will feel understood, respected and valued by the intense use of gaming, simulations and social networking technologies used to immerse the learners in the material. Their buy-in, motivation and endurance will likely increase and improve their chances of completing the program compared to classroom delivery models.
  7. The familiarity of keeping score with objective grading will put learners on familiar ground where they will compete against others and themselves, discipline themselves to improve their skills and motivate themselves to "keep their head in the game"

While all these advantages may inspire a few schools to innovate their technical degree program offerings, I doubt the disruption will occur until the incumbents become desperate about their survival. That will occur when the other three migrations I'm foreseeing emerge, especially the one that serves the college dropouts.


  1. Tom,

    I love online learning - I'm getting my MBA that way right now, but my BS and MS were in engineering achieved the traditional way and I'm curious how you would compensate for the loss of labwork.

    Some things, especially in these practical disciplines, are just easier to understand when you do them. Even watching a video of a preplanned test with errors put in doesn't give the student a comparable understanding to having to set it up and run it themselves. I know that I, personally, was affected by the labs for my classes and the capstone project I needed to do for my BS which involved handling actual stuff using the available equipment.

    I've been enjoying this series and need to reread it so I can put more of your pieces together in my own mind.

  2. Great question Beth! Thanks for asking it.

    Proponents of online learning expect it to feel like more lab courses, not a loss of them. What you're saying is very true. We learn more by "doing it for ourselves" than by covering an explanation about doing it.

    Chem majors can work inside simutations where there is no real danger to working with hazardous chemicals. Structural engineers can experiment with the consequences of cutting costs, removing reinforcements, compromising joints, etc. Biochem labs can grow cultures at 100 times actual speed and explore lots of different impacts of varied factors on the cellular organisms. The list goes on. Online learning also supports group activities and teamwork, just as it occurs in massively multiplayer games.

    Your question gave me an inspiration for tomorrow's post in this series. Thx!