The Way of the Future: Coursera

August 5, 2012

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Watch this video from start to finish from Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller as in right now:

I’m calling it- I think that we’ve passed Clayton Christensen’s inflection point where the disruptive technology (online learning) is better than the dominant technology (traditional universities).  The required mastery element that Koller describes in the video seals the deal by itself. I’m willing to bet that it is simply a matter of performing high quality evaluations and getting the results for documentation.

Second while most of the commentary on these developments naturally focuses on higher education, which is in for a major disruption, we need to start thinking about the implications of these developments for K-12. Coursera courses are available for free to anyone. K-12 students can take these courses, and other courses suited to various educational levels will certainly be developed.

What will schools look like in the future? I’m not sure but this is suddenly looking less like science fiction:

For a variety of reasons, I think that home-schooling will ultimately level off, albeit at a higher level than where it is today but well short of a dominant educational paradigm. Maybe at a much, much higher level depending upon how fast schools respond. The ability to collect credentials (which Koller mentions some higher education institutions already accepting for credit btw) seems likely to heavily nudge high-schools into allowing students to take Coursera/Udacity type courses.

Otherwise they seem likely to lose many students completely. Taking a high-school course in American government may be good, but successfully completing an American Government course from a Princeton or Stanford professor employing the techniques described by Koller above is going to be perceived as better- much, much better. Schools that want to keep their students are going to adapt to allow students to earn these credentials.

Savvy parents will lead the charge, but disadvantaged children potentially have the most to gain from these practices. Remember the problem Steven Brill put his finger on in Class Warfare in trying to scale up charter schools with a limited pool of TFA kids? Well, here you go-blended learning schools successfully substituting technology for labor will step into the breach. Big breakthoughs happen when what is suddenly possible meets what is desperately necessary, indeed.

Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn predicted half of all high-school classes would be taken online by 2019. It seemed like an incredibly bold prediction in 2008, but now an air of inevitability hangs around the substance of the prediction: online learning is taking off in a big way. Buckle your seat belts, this is going to be amazing.

The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning

February 11, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Michael Horn has been busy: a study on blended learning from Innosight on blended learning. The study features my favorite school, Carpe Diem of Yuma:

Seize the potential


The Carpe Diem Collegiate High School (Carpe Diem) in Yuma, Ariz., is one of the schools that we profiled that exemplified these traits. It provides a glimpse into just one way blended-learning models can reinvent themselves to be both more productive and personalized for the betterment of the students, who, in the case of Carpe Diem, perform at high levels. With 60 percent of its students on free or reduced-price lunch and 48 percent minorities, in 2010 Carpe Diem ranked first in its county in student performance in math and reading and ranked among the top 10 percent of Arizona charter schools.

Driving productivity
Carpe Diem began as a traditional, state charter school serving 280 students in grades 6 to 12. But when it lost its building lease eight years ago, Carpe Diem had to slash its budget and question every assumption about what a “school” should look like. It turned to blended learning.

A large room filled with 280 cubicles with computers—similar in layout to a call center—sits in the middle of Carpe Diem’s current building. Students rotate every 55 minutes between self-paced online learning in this large learning center and face-to-face instruction in traditional classrooms. When students are learning online in

the learning center, paraprofessionals offer instant direction and help as students encounter difficulties. In the traditional classroom, a teacher re-teaches, enhances, and applies the material introduced online. Students attend class four days a week, although the days are longer (7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Only students who need extra assistance come to the school on Friday.


Carpe Diem hires only six full-time certified teachers: one each for math, language arts, science, physical education, social studies, and electives. Each teacher assumes responsibility for all of the students in the school for his or her subject expertise; for example, the math teacher alone provides all face-to-face math instruction that the 273 students receive throughout the week, no matter the course. With only six certified teachers plus the support staff of assistant coaches, guidance counselors, aides, and administrators, the savings are substantial, which allows Carpe Diem to pay its teachers at or above district salaries with a better benefit plan than that of other schools in the area.
In addition, Carpe Diem’s new building, opened in 2006, only includes five traditional classrooms, which is fewer than half as many as a traditional school requires for a similar enrollment level. The building cost $2.7 million to build, whereas a nearby school building currently in the planning stages will cost roughly $12 million and accommodate only 200 more students than Carpe Diem—over 2.5 times more expensive per student.



Anyone want to guess the academic outcomes of that $12m building are likely to compare to Carpe Diem?