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Forget University — Use the Web For Education, Says Gates 393

An anonymous reader writes "Bill Gates attended the Techonomy conference earlier this week, and had quite a bold statement to make about the future of education. He believes the Web is where people will be learning within a few years, not colleges and university. During his chat, he said, 'Five years from now on the web for free you'll be able to find the best lectures in the world. It will be better than any single university.'" Of course, the efficacy of online learning is still in question; some studies have shown a measurable benefit to being physically present in a classroom. Still, online education can clearly reach a much wider range of students. Reader nbauman sent in a related story about MIT's OpenCourseWare, which is finding success in unexpected ways: "50% of visitors self-identified as independent learners unaffiliated with a university." The article also mentions a situation in which a pair of Haitian natives used OCW to get the electrical engineering knowledge they needed to build solar-powered lights that have been deployed in many remote towns and villages.
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Forget University — Use the Web For Education, Says Gates

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  • by FreeUser ( 11483 ) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @01:34PM (#33181358)

    While I used to often boast about having learned at least as much on the net as I did in class, the net is no substitution for a formal education. There is value to the structure of coursework, to the demands of learning material and being tested on it, and to requirement to learn to think and apply logic. There is also value in the advise and teaching of professors, as well as the social and academic interaction you have with other students.

    The Internet is a wonderful tool, and may become something much greater, but it is certainly no replacement for a university education just yet.

    • by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @01:45PM (#33181484) Homepage

      Only a small fraction of what people learn at a college is from the lectures. Most of the rest comes from being in actual contact with other people.

      • by Mordok-DestroyerOfWo ( 1000167 ) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @02:03PM (#33181658)
        While I was finishing my Master's I was offered a chance to get a certification in International Affairs through the same university. The caveat was that all of the courses were online. I can honestly say that the classes were basically worthless, the lectures were online, the readings were good, but without physical interaction an entire dimension was missing.
        • What do you learn from physical interaction with regard to international affairs that you cannot learn from intellectual interaction?

        • by History's Coming To ( 1059484 ) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @04:34PM (#33182886) Journal
          Agreed all round, with a caveat. I'm paid minimum wage in the UK (around $9/hr) and I frequently use the internet to learn about programming and computational science. Admittedly, it's never likely to turn me into a well rounded commercial coder, but that's not what I want. I want a FREE education at approximately university level. I can't afford £20k to do a degree that I won't use, that probably won't get me a job in the industry and will leave me burdened with repayments for a decade or more.

          I want the information that's useful for my little projects and I can't afford to pay much, if anything. It's freely available. That's really cool. I might end up doing something computer based for a living eventually, but I'm certainly not going to spend two years income and five years with no income, that's SEVEN YEARS WAGES in effect, to be interested in something.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Beetle B. ( 516615 )

          the lectures were online, the readings were good, but without physical interaction an entire dimension was missing.

          That's trivially true. Lectures and notes are in 2-D. Physical interaction is in 3-D.

      • by Registered Coward v2 ( 447531 ) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @02:17PM (#33181814)

        Only a small fraction of what people learn at a college is from the lectures. Most of the rest comes from being in actual contact with other people.

        Exactly. Gates is confusing information with education. If classroom education could be replaced by non-traditional means; books and VCRs would have done that years ago.

        The real value, as you point out, is in the interaction with professors and fellow students. When I was in grad school, the ability to speak to a professor, who was an acknowledged expert in his field, ask questions and bounce ideas off of him were what I really paid for. No amount of web based lectures can replace that as a learning experience.

        • When I was in grad school, the ability to speak to a professor, who was an acknowledged expert in his field, ask questions and bounce ideas off of him were what I really paid for.

          Then your professor can idle on your school's IRC server and do what you paid for over instant /msg.

          • by Registered Coward v2 ( 447531 ) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @06:04PM (#33183492)

            When I was in grad school, the ability to speak to a professor, who was an acknowledged expert in his field, ask questions and bounce ideas off of him were what I really paid for.

            Then your professor can idle on your school's IRC server and do what you paid for over instant /msg.

            Right. Let me guess - you don't know many professors, do you?

            Seriously, IRC or other electronic communications mediums are no substitute for the interaction you get face - to face. You simply cannot get the same level of social interaction and feedback that you get face to face. Not to mention the ability to walk to the lab and try something, real time, under the guidance of an expert.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Nemyst ( 1383049 )
            Good luck writing some indented code or a long mathematical formula involving integrals or fractions over IRC, let alone digging through some books and sharing excerpts or doing something physical like a lab experiment.
      • Social skills can be learned anywhere not just in a University setting. Yes it is valuable to learn how to work the system and politic, but it's not like the classroom is the only place to learn it.

        • by Dragonslicer ( 991472 ) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @02:40PM (#33182028)
          You don't just learn social skills by interacting with others. Talking through a problem with someone else is often far more effective than trying to solve it on your own. Something you say may trigger an idea in the other person, which then triggers another idea in you, and so on.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by apoc.famine ( 621563 )
            I just ground my way through a ridiculously hard first year of graduate school. This is soooo true.... We did homework together (4-8 people) in a room with a chalkboard. Watching someone work through a problem was the most informative thing I've ever witnessed. The second most informative was doing it myself, under the watchful eye of a half dozen people. And the first and second places were only determined because I was a complete novice in the subject, and I was watching some experts. (They had a BA in th
      • by MpVpRb ( 1423381 )

        I was a typical antisocial nerd

        I never talked to anybody in college, except the professors

        I learned a lot

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by morari ( 1080535 )

      There is no value in social conditioning and student loan debt.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Vahokif ( 1292866 )
      I guess you learnt to spell online, huh?
    • What if you had coursework, tests and requirements online? As far as interaction with other students, what about forums?
    • Academia = filter (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TheMeuge ( 645043 ) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @01:53PM (#33181562)

      There is also another important benefit, that is really easy to understand if you just read a few science, and especially healthcare stories on Slashdot. Just reading the associated comments should generally be sufficient to realize how exquisitely important it is to have some sort of a moderating filter of an "academic community" of professionals. Yes it stifles dissent a bit, and yes there are other downsides that aim to preserve status quo. But the penalties we pay for having such a system pale in comparison to the fact that the upcoming professionals are in general guided to the more reliable sources, and are at least partially shielded from the self-important Charybdis of the "internet knowledge".

      Yes, he is right - all the information is out there on the Internet... somewhere. But where you need peer review, and a structured learning environment, is for the Sisyphean task of filtering out the noise... and the amount of noise has gone up exponentially with the advent of the internet and the complete absence of barriers to publication. It's easy enough to spend weeks, months, years on the Internet, perusing websites that are dedicated to supporting strictly one's own point of view, and have it become an essential part of one's worldview. That's how we would up with Vaccines/Autism and HIV-doesn't-cause-AIDS crowd.

      Furthermore, for all its failures, the academic environment does TEACH the students the skills they will need to acquire to be able to interpret primary data on their own, which is a far more important role, compared to teaching the students facts.

      If we let the Internet loose on the population to an even greater extent, I shudder to think of the kind of idiocracy we'll be living in, just one generation from now.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by rochberg ( 1444791 )

        I shudder to think of the kind of idiocracy we'll be living in, just one generation from now.

        Heh heh heh. Yuh tawk lahk uh fag.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DurendalMac ( 736637 )
      Very, very true. Some degrees may fall out of favor for self-education, but I'd rather have structural engineers and neurosurgeons with degrees than ones who learned online. There are just too many damned distractions online, and you still don't get the same benefits of a physical classroom, like you said.
    • by jd ( 1658 )

      I agree, but formal education and the Internet (or television) are not mutually exclusive. In the UK, Open University is an extremely old (for mass communication, at least) and highly respected approach, albeit not as respected as the higher-end bricks-and-mortar facilities. Regardless of the fact that the lectures have been distributed for free for, what, 40? 50? years, there has been no evidence in the UK of the kind of shift Bill Gates has suggested. It would seem to follow that merely being free and wid

    • by PhrostyMcByte ( 589271 ) <phrosty@gmail.com> on Sunday August 08, 2010 @02:04PM (#33181666) Homepage

      As a self-taught programmer, the only disadvantage I have noted is that while I just know "a way that will work great", schooled people will be able to put some name to how they want to do things. The X Model, or Y Pattern. Being able to think outside the box is a skill that any good programmer should learn, but not knowing where the box is to begin with puts me at a communication disadvantage when working with a team.

      Then again, that's just my experience. People can learn those definitions online just fine -- I tend to learn them on-demand when people mention them. For other fields, being self-taught might not work so great. Some would require materials and equipment too expensive to be self-taught, while others might be too hard to understand without easy access to the insight of a teacher.

      And then there are a lot of people who go into school not knowing what they want to do with their lives, and just coast through their first year to find out. The uni experience, exposing them to so many ideas, might end up being better for these people.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        As a self-taught programmer, the only disadvantage I have noted is that while I just know "a way that will work great", schooled people will be able to put some name to how they want to do things. The X Model, or Y Pattern.

        I'm a self-taught techie as well with an associate's in IT.

        Best thing I ever did when I got into the software engineering field was take the equivalent of a minor in real computer science at night later in life, including a survey of discrete math, stats, and linear. You may not end up wi

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        I had similar problems, being self-taught myself. A book about design patterns and/or algorithms will bring you up to speed very quickly. There is a book called "Design Patterns" by several authors (four I believe). I defiantly recommend it for object-oriented design. I'm not sure if you have this problem as well, but I also recommend the book "Clean Code" by Robert C. Martin, it really opened my eyes to how code should be organized, and is a must read for any programmer, but especially self-taught ones.

        I h

    • Even as a CS major the University offered a major advantage over self-study in terms of the equipment I had access to. I worked during both my BS and MS in CS and the equipment at a state university was far ahead of what most in industry had access to. Open source has greatly narrowed the gap in terms of software, programming languages in particular, but the hardware deficit still exists for the home schooled. Now add having a good project/lab partner sitting next to you staring at the same screen, the s
    • Exactly. I learned quite a bit in classes in undergrad. I learned even more doing a robotics internship with one of my professors. That couldn't have happened online.
    • If you are one of those people who says theres a value to this or that, show us what that value is. Reveal the limitations of the internet education to us. Show us why it's no replacement for a university education.

      I think for the liberal arts subjects the internet is a worthy replacement. I think some subjects like science which require work in labs have to be done at a university for sake of experiments and for the equipment. History, social sciences, psychology, most of philosophy and a lot of math subje

    • While I used to often boast about having learned at least as much on the net as I did in class, the net is no substitution for a formal education. There is value to the structure of coursework, to the demands of learning material and being tested on it, and to requirement to learn to think and apply logic. There is also value in the advise and teaching of professors, as well as the social and academic interaction you have with other students.

      Question, baring engineering and science labs, what can a universi

      • Make you sit there and learn things you don't really want to because they're important. (this is the biggie)

        Reliably connect you with experts who can answer your questions or at least tell you what avenues have been tried before.

        Put you in regular physical contact with other people who are learning what you are and are asking the same questions you are. The bandwidth between people who are actually in the same room is almost inifinitely greater than it is on IRC or VoIP.
    • While I can't imagine that a (relatively ) passive kind of medium like the Internet will substitute for more traditional education, it can be, and frequently already is, a valuable supplement. It might not be enough to get someone to the point of graduating, but it might get them as far as maybe a second-year level. Even that would be a major step forward in the use of time, money and other resources.

  • The only reason I go to college is to get the paper. =/
  • by Joe The Dragon ( 967727 ) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @01:42PM (#33181454)

    how about getting rid of need BS or MS for level 1 jobs and most IT jobs. The need BS or MS just to get on the help desktop is pushing way to many people to go to a Univerity rack up the bills and hope to get a $10 /h IT job and at the same it be overqualified for mcdonalds.

  • I don't think traditional eduction is going anywhere soon. There are two types of people in this world, the self learners and those that require a structured if not forced educational environment.

    • by vlm ( 69642 ) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @01:53PM (#33181568)

      There are two types of people in this world, the self learners and those that require a structured if not forced educational environment.

      HR uses type #2 as a gateway, real world management demands type #1. The bigger the company the worse the disconnect. Look at how many companies provide no training or at best, on the job training for the new technologies they roll out, yet demand the new hires have a 4 year degree and 10 years of experience with a 2 year old technology. Only folks with inside connections or BS artists can pass the filter, causing failure. Solution to the failure can't be pinned on "important" people, must come up with a nonjudgmental soution... How about tighter, higher requirements of course, leading to the spiral down the drain.

    • True. I enjoyed my time at a university and know I benefited greatly from a structured, set environment. Just sitting at home online? Way too many goddamned distractions.
  • by dfenstrate ( 202098 ) <dfenstrateNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Sunday August 08, 2010 @01:43PM (#33181462)

    I saw this [washingtonexaminer.com] an hour ago, and it came to mind immediately upon seeing the headline and brief.

    Brick-and-Mortar schools have been engaged in an 'arms race' for students this past decade, fueled by easy credit and enabled by low academic standards. It's enabled them to offer all kinds of nice perks that are expensive and not central to education, and it has also allowed many universities to grow top-heavy with administrators.

    My degree as a mechanical engineer allowed me to get a job with a substantial starting salary, which was necessary to cover my substantial student loans. I came out okay after a few years of aggressively paying down my debt, but there are thousands of folks who are in just as deep as I used to be, with a degree that doesn't open up well-paying fields to them. Though I don't regret the path I took (my life is good), I wouldn't use debt if I had to do it again. There are other ways (in-state, scholarships, military, etc.)

    Anyway, from the article:

    My reasoning was simple enough: Something that can't go on forever, won't. And the past decades' history of tuition growing much faster than the rate of inflation, with students and parents making up the difference via easy credit, is something that can't go on forever. Thus my prediction that it won't.

    But then what? Assume that I'm right, and that higher education - both undergraduate and graduate, and including professional education like the law schools in which I teach - is heading for a major correction. What will that mean? What should people do?

    Well, advice number one - good for pretty much all bubbles, in fact - is this: Don't go into debt. In bubbles, people borrow heavily because they expect the value of what they're borrowing against to increase.

    • Let the bubble burst (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DesScorp ( 410532 )

      I'm 100% with on the issue of the higher education bubble. The costs involved are in no way justified by reality... there's just no way to stretch supply and demand to explain both the ridiculous costs and the way the system is rigged to artificially raise those costs.

      One of the newspaper pundits with an economics background... maybe Thomas Sowell, I'm not sure... was arguing against a proposed grant to all parents for college. Someone in Congress was tossing around the idea of sending every set a parents $

  • Worked for Gates (Score:5, Insightful)

    by russlar ( 1122455 ) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @01:43PM (#33181466)
    Gates dropped out of Harvard to found Microsoft, so seeing him say that university isn't necessary is a little unsurprising.
    • Gates dropped out of Harvard to found Microsoft, so seeing him say that university isn't necessary is a little unsurprising.

      And yet four months ago, he advised students not to do that [indiatimes.com]. There can only be one or two Bill Gates' so advising millions of people to do that is not a great idea. And, to poke a hole in your logic he technically did graduate [slashdot.org].

      • And, to poke a hole in your logic he technically did graduate.

        Honorary Degree. Just because he was the comencement speaker. That doesn't count as graduated.

      • by Belial6 ( 794905 ) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @03:24PM (#33182376)
        Actually, your link doesn't poke a hole in his argument, it supports it. Gates dropped out and went on to become incredibly wealthy. Gates did NOT complete their coursework. He did NOT get the professor interaction. He did not show competency in all of the areas the University claims are important.

        Bringing Gates in to speak at Harvard is a little like some chick inviting an old boyfriend to her wedding to give a speech explaining to her husband how to perform sexual techniques that will please her in bed because the old boyfriend was hung so much larger than the groom that the groom will never be able to compete no matter how hard he tries. The people at Harvard that asked Gates to speak were just being jerks.

        Even though it was surely unintentional, they were basically rubbing the graduates noses in the fact that they spent all that money and time for nothing if they want to be like this incredibly successful guy.

        On top of that, it was incredibly unethical for Harvard to give him a degree, as it is clearly an attempt take credit for work they did not do. So, that should be the take away from their actions. Harvard shows their students how to cheat. OK, that may be a little harsh, but only just a little since they did cheat.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by hedwards ( 940851 )
          Gates was able to get a substantial loan from his parents as well as introduced to the right people at IBM. Most of us will never have that kind of easy access to connections and money. Gates was a good businessman, but he would never have made it big like he did without access to the things that an upper class upbringing can provide.
    • by morari ( 1080535 )

      Because he's right. The best thing a university education is going to get you is a mundane, predictable life. The worst you'll end up with is no job and a ton of debt. Most people are fine with those options and seem to seek them out, but to say that universities are need for real education is little more than brainwashed sentiments echoing about. You don't go to college to learn, you go there for a little piece of paper that substantiates your claims of knowledge in a field. No one learns, they just go thr

    • Gates dropped out of Harvard to found Microsoft, so seeing him say that university isn't necessary is a little unsurprising.

      Yes, extraordinary people can succeed without college. Steve Jobs did it too. But the fact is that most people aren't extraordinary, and most people with a college degree end up better off than those without one.

    • I'll tell you though, Bill Gates is one of the most highly motivated people on the planet. If everyone had the same motivation as him, we would all be doing amazing things (in our own fields, some of us would be building flying cars in our garage, others solving AI, others developing new techniques to style hair, if that's what their passion is). For the rest of us, by which I mean me, it is extremely helpful to have the University there giving you an extra push. I took an abstract algebra class, and I'm
    • by fermion ( 181285 )
      On the other hand, could Gates have done what he has done without the access to people and equipment he had as a harvard student. I know many people who dropped out of college and are now successful, and know that much of their success stems from the exposure that college facilitates. Many people waste that opportunity, but Gates was not one of them.

      Me and many of my friends grew up in and around university and the experience changed our lives. Access to real libraires, hanging out in labs, listening t

  • by DesScorp ( 410532 ) <DesScorp.Gmail@com> on Sunday August 08, 2010 @01:43PM (#33181470) Homepage Journal

    Keep in mind who we're talking about when it comes to predictions here.

    There's absolutely no doubt that the web is already changing education and revolutionizing it. But there's no substitute for actually going to a class in person... with other learners and a teacher in front of you... for much of your formal education.

    Anyone can read the Iliad on their own, or teach themselves HTML, or read the words of critics or teachers on a screen. But if you're missing the give and take of the classroom, then you're missing out on vital elements of an education.

    "He that teaches himself has a fool for his master" - Ben Franklin

    • But if you're missing the give and take of the classroom, then you're missing out on vital elements of an education.

      Most classrooms have no give and take.

      • But if you're missing the give and take of the classroom, then you're missing out on vital elements of an education.

        Most classrooms have no give and take.

        True, some of them are boring as chalk, and it's simply an exercise in the class listening to an instructor read from a book for two hours. I've had those classes. And no matter where you go... Harvard or Easy-to-get-into-StateU.... your freshman classes are mostly going to be taught by grad assistants anyway. But as you move along and take higher level classes, you WILL start getting ones with an instructor or professor that gives a damn about what he's doing, and not only wants to impart knowledge to his

    • I think the issue is more about whether most people need to go. If university was "free" then yes, I don't see why someone shouldn't go and in fact it would be harmful not to go.

      But university isn't free. It can cost a lot of time and money and if the value if of that degree drops then you do need to question if it's worth the effort and more importantly the debt.

      Too many people think a degree is some sort of magic bullet that will guarantee them success and that is not the case especially now. I beli
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Mspangler ( 770054 )

      "But there's no substitute for actually going to a class in person"

      Not to mention the chemistry lab, the distillation column in the Chem. E building, the fire assay furnaces in the mining building, the lasers in physics, and the entire barn full of animals in agriculture.

      It's not all book-learning and the domain of pure thought the Liberal Arts majors think that college should be.

    • But there's no substitute for actually going to a class in person... with other learners and a teacher in front of you... for much of your formal education.

      Could you not acheive the same with a conference call and a powerpoint presentation or video conference?

      Sure there is face time and easier reading of the class, but when I went to school I was in classes with 300 kids in it so I really doubt they saw my face back on the 20th row.

      In the corporate world, flying to meetings was the first thing cut during th

    • by Hatta ( 162192 )

      I think I'd be just fine with $512,000.

  • rewind ftw (Score:4, Informative)

    by nten ( 709128 ) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @01:46PM (#33181494)

    I always zoned out in lectures while in school. I probably have ADD or something. I never fell asleep, but every so often I'd either keep thinking about the last thing the proff said, and get behind, or just realize I had gone into standby for about 30-45s and had no hope of catching up. I also find it impossible to take notes and listen at the same time. Listening to Gibert Strange's linear algebra lectures on OCW was infinitely more educational than my original course in college. Partly because he is simply a far superior teacher to the one I had in college, but mostly because I could rewind and listen to what he said again. If I have a question I cannot ask the proff, but I can search it and find a hundred people answering my exact question.

    In short, I totally agree that the internet is a better teacher for self motivated students, but this will create an accreditation problem. The right way to fix it is for interviews to get more complex and difficult, but that should really be looked at anyway. Employers are terrible at ascertaining the actual skill level of candidates. So in many first world countries they get stuck with useless mouths to feed because they cannot get rid of them for simply being vastly subpar. Or perhaps I am the only person who works in an office where "programmers" have been made software process facilitators, data entry personnel, or even facilities coordinators (fancy name for the guy who orders pencils), just to get them away from the code. Some of them have management skills and get promoted away from the code, but they tend to harbor a resentment for not being able to contribute earlier in their career, and displace it on the engineers they now manage.

    • by martas ( 1439879 )
      this is slightly OT, but since I am growing increasingly tired of people self-diagnosing with horrible mental disorders based on their mild and perfectly normal (for a human) imperfections, I encourage you to read this, and then decide whether or not you are likely to actually have ADD: http://edschool.csuhayward.edu/departments/ted/instruction/howe/5500/ADD-DSM-IV.html [csuhayward.edu]
    • I always zoned out in lectures while in school. I probably have ADD or something.

      It's a skill that has to be learned. I used to have a similar problem, then one day I had to teach something to a guy who couldn't read. To compensate he had developed his skill of focused listening to such a degree it was amazing to watch him: he remembered everything, names, new concepts, whatever. I realized that how you listen makes a huge difference, and started developing the skill in myself as well.

      It isn't surprising in the modern world where everything on TV is designed with a dozen tricks to

  • It will be better than any single university.

    Ya, I think I read that on Wikipedia somewhere.

    Seriously, as with any learning experience, you get out what you put in. You can get a bad education from a good school or a good education from a bad (well, less-good) school. Much depends on *your* level of effort and desire to learn.

  • by Gopal.V ( 532678 ) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @01:50PM (#33181540) Homepage Journal

    There's so little taught in a university course that I couldn't read off a public library.

    But here's the deal, I don't think the epistemological quest for knowledge motivates me. I learn purely as a way of solving the problems I have. Sometimes real life doesn't even let me near interesting problems, because the cost of failure (and the risk) is too high.

    College and teachers have worked as a nice cycle breaker of that situation. They've thrown problems at me, which have taken weeks to solve (or groups of us, weeks to solve). Some of those have seemed pointless, but most of the stuff I remember still have been the ones that I've had to dig up again for some reason or the other (calculus, for instance).

    Essentially, without teachers, I'd have never really sat down and banged on a problem for a week - mostly to avoid having the shame of going back without an answer.

    On the other hand, I've had at least a few teachers who've cared enough about teaching me than making sure of their paycheck. I don't think the world needs less of those. And I don't think you (or anybody) should stop learning because they're out of uni.

    (goes back to reading wikipedia on RCU data structures)

    • by painandgreed ( 692585 ) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @02:53PM (#33182148)

      There's so little taught in a university course that I couldn't read off a public library.

      Actually, I doubt that. Most public libraries simply aren't interested the technical books and journals needed to provide a university level education and research. They're more interested in what the public wants and reads and have limited budgets to provide it. After leaving the university system for the real world, I kept up with some of my research and tried using the local public library. The references were there to tell me what I needed, but they had none of the required reading. From there I had to go to the local university library and search for things, and even then I had to leave the main library and use the departmental libraries that were scatted across campus to find books and magazines I needed. Sure, you can get about anything you want via interlibrary loan, but guess where those technical books and journals are coming from, most likely a university library which is being paid for by the university.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      "There's so little taught in a university course that I couldn't read off a public library."

      Except which contents you should read, of course.

  • by blind biker ( 1066130 ) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @01:55PM (#33181592) Journal

    I noticed that in most modern cultures, having a lot of money seems to imply automatically that they are right. "Sure, he killed those children, but he's a billionaire." or "Well, this statement seems like bollocks, but it comes from one of the wealthiest persons in the world, so we should pay attention." Problem is, Gates really has no authority regarding higher education or any kind of career that leads to creativity. He's a very successful businessman, that's all. You can make a lot of money just by manipulating powerful people and making the necessary contacts.

    Now, if some of the established and creative scientists, engineers or physicians had made this assertion about education, I might listen. But Gates? What does his authority stand on, apart from his money?

  • in software does not mean that he has any insight into education.
  • by bacon volcano ( 1260566 ) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @01:59PM (#33181634)
    I admit, I attended a brick and mortar school, but there are simply some things that you learn online that aren't covered in college:

    - Cats have horrible spelling and grammar skills
    - There are hot and lonely singles in my area that I wasn't even aware of
    - My great grandfather was a wealthy Nigerian businessman
    - Acai berries cure everything
    - Baby Pandas sneeze, and yes, it's amazing
    - People that I thought had few friends, actually have many, many hundreds (per Facebook)
    - Clock spiders are the scariest ones
  • by noidentity ( 188756 ) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @02:02PM (#33181654)
    I learn much better and faster from books than lectures. The material in books can be refined greatly and precisely, and digested at whatever rate I can manage. Watching someone lecture always leaves me feeling that I could be getting many times the knowledge using a more efficient delivery mechanism.
  • University was great for me. The sex, the music, meeting academics, the culture, the learning. All of it great. But since I left university my learning needs have changed significantly and content on the internet has grown to address them. I now need to almost rent knowledge. That is, learn something with limited application for a short time for some specific project and then I can go ahead and forget it. There are plenty of good reasons for universities to exist, but I think they need to concentrate on com
  • by bADlOGIN ( 133391 ) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @02:06PM (#33181692) Homepage
    Besides, higher education is only about coursework the same way international travel is only about airports...
    Would he like to tell the world how it should approach physical therapy based on the one time he sprained his ankle?
  • by liquiddark ( 719647 ) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @02:09PM (#33181732)

    Lectures may be a necessary evil, but they're far from the core of a university education. A university education challenges students to begin to independently develop their own knowledge and opinions on subjects, to conduct research to back up those opinions, and generally to think on their own, all using a specific toolset that has been refined over centuries or even millennia (engineering and philosophy can both make the claim) of mental effort. Even in highly technical practice-based fields students have to do a ton of independent learning and development (admittedly at a level that is not of professional calibre but still forms an excellent basis for truly novel work later in their careers). Lectures are just a means for profs to communicate to students the core precepts they want to focus on, and for some students a basic way to approach material so that they can at least pass classes in which they have no real interest. A good professor will personally engage with both kinds of students and get them to engage with the material on an appropriate basis, expanding their mental toolkit.

    It's important to recognize that there is a steady pressure to remove this kind of developmental philosophy from secondary education, pushing it out into the postsecondary programs of the world, where it is of practical use. But that push is a sin against the intent of a higher education, and taking away the trappings of university entirely just removes the guidance that students need in order to learn the tools that their forebears have spent so much time refining. It's possible there are gains to be made in getting away from that guidance, but it's hardly likely that the benefit to a few outstanding thinkers would outweigh the danger to those of us of more limited means.

  • ... and the dumb to be dumber. I can't even begin to guess what can happen if this "online" type of education becomes intermingled with, or is only supported by advertising.

  • I'm off to rewrite my resume and submit to Microsoft. Gone: all the bits about my schooling. Coming in: all the websites I visit.

    This is probably venturing into "Ask Slashdot" territory, but, um, Slashdot, in or out?

  • For anything that is safety critical, no way. Ever. There is a reason for the length and rigor of the education and training process for engineers and doctors. I do not want to cross a bridge built by a guy who read how to do it on some web site.
  • MIT OpenCourseWare has, almost undoubtedly, the best and strongest educational platform available. The course material, syllabi and problem sets are not only usually provided by leaders in their respective fields (e.g. the Linear Algebra course is 'taught' by the person that wrote the Linear Algebra text I was using at the time...and I was taking it for credit at Courant), but are often much more challenging than comparable material from universities (unless, of course, you go to MIT). Gates uses this as a driver for his argument, so we already knew that.

    Let's see a job-seeking 'senior' of OCW get through the HR filters when it comes time to make that cash.

    Most [HR departments of] companies and corporations still place strict emphasis on diploma and GPA average. Whether or not that's a quantifiable resource to evaluate candidates with is another argument entirely, but a diploma is much more tangible than candidates who "learned" from OCW and the like. Additionally, college isn't just about the paper and the commencement rites; there's a lot to learn from being a proper college student, like networking, time management (REALLY important) and social skills. You don't necessarily even have to live on campus to enjoy those benefits, though it usually helps to do so (if off-campus housing is actually priced at human rates, of course; room and board rates are insane these days).I can't emphasize the time management component enough; unless one has the will of an ox, it's just way too easy to shrug off a class that won't affect your GPA. Not so for the capstone project that's due two months before graduation that determines whether one will even graduate or not.

    What I do hope to see is a proliferation of digital text books that cost less and can be updated more often. We already have iPads and will soon have Android tablets that can hold a bookbag's worth of textbooks at a fraction of the weight and cost. Most popular textbooks can already be retrieved through simple means (Google especially) for nothing. I hope the combination of those two leads to a mass shift similar to that which occurred in the music industry where textbooks don't need to be factored in the cost of one's education.
  • The quality of online education could improve even more when virtual reality labs can be used at low cost. Even then, actually working with lab equipment (bio/medical or engineering) adds greatly to the curriculum. Some of these things are just way to expensive for the average person to purchase.

  • University Rule #1 - the University is a BUSINESS - treat it as such. The main problem is that the university system is built on requiring 75% of your classload to be non-major courses. If you went back, and only had to take your pre-reqs, and your major classes, you'd probably take only 48h and be done in two years. That only benefits the student. Schools aren't interested in churning out grads quickly. Schools, in general, want students to pay money, period. This keeps universities open for business
  • by KPexEA ( 1030982 ) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @02:21PM (#33181866)
    The most popular educator on YouTube does not have a Ph.D. He has never taught at a college or university. And he delivers all of his lectures from a bedroom closet.

    This upstart is Salman Khan, a 33-year-old who quit his job as a financial analyst to spend more time making homemade lecture videos in his home studio. His unusual teaching materials started as a way to tutor his faraway cousins, but his lectures have grown into an online phenomenon—and a kind of protest against what he sees as a flawed educational system.

    http://chronicle.com/article/A-Self-Appointed-Teacher-Runs/65793/ [chronicle.com]

    http://www.khanacademy.org/ [khanacademy.org]
  • I would tend to agree with gates that university is not really the ultimate way to got, if tons of lectures and school material will be available for everyone soon I have no idea.

    Having taken around 3 years of courses at Waterloo I have only found one course with anything worth learning in it so far.
    and even if you are in a interesting course that does not mean that the professors know much about the content of the course, can speak english, know enough about teaching to do a good job, or care.

    I would far r

  • The Web is good for "how-to" information. If you need to know how to configure a router or unfreeze a rusty bolt, the Web is there for you. How to approach a problem, not so much.

  • Mr. Gates has a long history of making warped predictions about the future. Remember this is a guy who has computer monitors hanging on the walls of his house that change the artwork to suit each visitor, because clearly a digitized picture of a masterpiece is just as good as the real thing, right? In the same way, a digitized copy of an education is just as good as a real education, right? But where will chemists perform labwork online? Where will biology students do dissections? Other than being a pale
  • by carp3_noct3m ( 1185697 ) <slashdot.warriors-shade@net> on Sunday August 08, 2010 @02:32PM (#33181964)

    As a person who has been engaged in both tradition university and online courses, I can tell you that neither is perfect, but I would have to lean towards Mr. Gates statement. The coursework is similarly structured, there is still interaction between Profs and students, and also student-student interaction. You do lack the physical connection, and therefore the social network you might build, but for a non traditional student like myself, this really has fairly little value in the first place. One of the beauties of online work is that with non-semester based work, you can work at your own pace. So my international studies class I can whiz through, while I can take the extra time and effort on math that my feeble brain requires. To me it is an exercise in efficiency, but at the same time discipline. I find it hard to believe many of the 17-21 year olds who populate the majority of university have the amount of discipline to dedicate themselves to this format. So I think online courses can and will evolve but mostly for non-traditional students. One thing I struggle with though is the disconnect between the thirst for knowledge vs the practical knowledge for the profession I am currently undertaking.

    PS. Things like Opencoursewar and the Khan academy have some superior classes!

  • Usually, you get no credit. And even if you get credit, it's not credit other institutions would accept. With that said we should be pushing distance learning. Modern universities are like country clubs and they unnecessarily raise the cost of education. The solution is to test people rigorously and in person so that other institutions and employers will take the experience seriously. Community colleges are in the best position to offer online courses for the basics.
  • hire people who go to community colleges and tech schools over Universitys that like to make a big deal about there sports teams.
    You know smart people don't have the cash to go to the big Universitys or don't want to take on the loans to go to one.

  • by drfireman ( 101623 ) <dan AT kimberg DOT com> on Sunday August 08, 2010 @02:47PM (#33182100) Homepage

    At universities that care about undergraduate education, lectures are only a tiny part of the puzzle. Access to better lectures would certainly help a lot of people. But a university composed of online lectures is just going to be the best crappy university, not the best university. Bill Gates knows nothing about education, it's unfortunate that his vast fortune once again gives him the power to appear authoritative on any subject he feels like mouthing off about.

  • Computer technology is increasingly powerful - of course the opportunity will become available to use the Internet or a software package to learn by yourself all that is needed for a university degree.

    BUT how much is really involved in making such a system workable for the run-of-the-mill high school graduate to learn enough for a professional degree? There is a tremendous breadth of knowledge to learn, even if taught at a fairly shallow depth.

    If the software is capable of nagging and evaluating the student

  • by Angst Badger ( 8636 ) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @03:36PM (#33182464)

    ...it requires considerable self-discipline. If you don't have that, you can't effectively self-educate, which is one reason why we have universities. A major component of the necessary self-discipline involves studying things that don't immediately interest you, recognizing that you don't necessarily know what you need to know. Universities force that sort of thing on you. It's tough -- especially for young people -- because it involves something akin to respect for authority, though not in quite the way that phrase is normally used. It's more a matter of recognizing that experts who have spent their whole lives mastering a particular subject have a broad view of the subject that the beginner does not and cannot have, and that to know the value and utility of a particular area of knowledge, you have to have a thorough knowledge of the larger context in which it fits. Relatively few people have the necessary mental attitude, so again, we have universities.

    None of this is new. So free lectures are available online? Big deal. Lectures are a relatively minor component of a university education. Their main function is to provide an overview of facts and concepts that the students then pursue more deeply and thoroughly outside of class. (A transcript of a semester worth of lectures is dwarfed by the content of the accompanying textbooks.) If you emerge from a university well-educated, it's because you self-educated. The faculty is there to guide you to areas that you might have missed on your own, and the grading system exists to apply the necessary reward/punishment structure for students who as yet lack the motivation and self-discipline to pursue the work for its own sake.

    The overwhelming majority of the information you need is in books. You can get many of them free from a decent library, and used textbooks are dirt cheap off campus when the new editions come out every year or two -- if you're self-educating, you don't have to participate in the pricey new edition scam, after all.

    Don't get me wrong, it's nice that some universities are sharing their lectures, and I am by no means opposed to self-education: I'm an autodidact, and I've done quite well for myself. But self-education is hard, and most people aren't cut out for it. And all of the resources you need have been available since well before the integrated circuit. If you think you can do it, and you're prepared to bust your ass doing it, then go out and do it. If, however, you think the availability of online lectures has been the critical missing component, you'd better just hunt for financial aid and get into a college somewhere.

  • by 91degrees ( 207121 ) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @04:20PM (#33182798) Journal
    This is the guy who completely failed to predict the effect the internet would have on society... In 1995.

    And he's a college dropout.

    He a businessman. He's damn good at that. If he wants to suggest marketing strategies I'm all ears.
  • by superdude72 ( 322167 ) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @04:53PM (#33183034)

    He has a point in that paying $50,000 yearly tuition to attend large lectures where the professor just reads his notes isn't a good deal for students. This is why one of the key measures of educational quality is the degree to which the classroom experience moves *away* from this model. If you're paying that much for tuition, you expect to have small classes and a lot of interaction among professors, TAs, and students.

    So the fact that you can provide this inferior educational experience cheaply online isn't an argument for more online learning, so much as it is an illustration of how many universities need to improve teaching and stop giving students the shaft when it comes to their needs vs. the professors' research.

  • by AlgorithMan ( 937244 ) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @07:47PM (#33184216) Homepage
    Let me get this straight - you dropped out of university to found microsoft and have lots of money today. okay, but you sold the worst pieces of software shit (objective-quality-measure-wise) until you hired graduate computer scientists to undo all your big big big mistakes and turn your products more and more into what you thought was unnecessarily complex, didn't you?

Receiving a million dollars tax free will make you feel better than being flat broke and having a stomach ache. -- Dolph Sharp, "I'm O.K., You're Not So Hot"