Free higher ed courses not great USED investment

Rick Hess makes a series of good arguments that the $500m ‘online skills laboratory’ isn’t a great investment. In the mixed provider post secondary space, quality content isn’t the top barrier.  It’s pricing that reflects the sunk costs of existing institutions.   A healthy market will make investment in content attractive; this seems to be doing the opposite.
Here’s a couple things the Department could do to spur innovation in the college prep and post secondary market:

  • invest in learning funds focused on adaptive content and new school formats (grants with profit recycle provisions for evergreen impact)
  • provide scholarships for online/blended providers targeting low income and minority populations
  • make grants for innovative platforms that blend open and proprietary content  with aligned student, teacher, and school supports (i3 should do this but won’t)
  • fund some R&D around the killer app: smart recommendation engines that queue a personalized learning playlist

The space badly needs public and private investment in innovation. USED should leverage private investment rather than dampening incentives.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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