Within 10 years, half of all high school courses will be taken online, say Clay Christensen and Michael Horn. Bill Gates has now trumped that prediction with an even stronger one: within five years the best higher education will be available on the internet.
I will make a further prediction: Within five years Bill Gates will recommend that high school courses be taken online, something he has so far failed to forecast or encourage. Instead, Microsoft’s top executive drew a distinction between K-12 and higher education, encouraging online learning only for higher education, as if young adults at the age of 15 and 16 are drastically different from those at age 18 and 19.
If any of these predictions are going to be fulfilled, a policy framework must be created that encourages transparency, accountability, and competition in exchange for government compensation given to the provider of online courses the student selects. If the government is going to continue to subsidize secondary and higher education, then the government must compensate Microsoft, Google, MIT, Middlebury College or anyone else who designs high-quality online courses. The provider must be paid for each and every student who takes a course in the same way they are paid for any iPad purchased or college course taken today. Only in that way will high-quality producers have the incentive to create the best possible courses. And for students to select those courses, the course must carry credit that counts toward the high school diploma or the appropriate college degree.