The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will found projects and startups in online education, especially in the online course sector, with grants ranging from $250k to $750k each. The fund will have a total volume of $20 million USD and focus on the postsecondary sector.
There will be a second fund focusing on K-12 education next year. This could be a big chance for startups in online education that did not receive funding yet because their product was seen as too conservative for classic angels and investors.
Bill Gates is talking about online education and how it can change the way we learn for quite a while now. He is also an avid online learner from various sources ranging from the Teach12 courses over MIT OpenCourseWare to the Khan Academy. Therefore, it is save to say that he knows this space like no one else.
In an interview he gave cnet news via telephone he explains where he believes the main problems in education are today and why online education did not reach its full potential yet.
“If you watch those videos, nobody is going to give you a test and a degree. It just sits out there for the self-motivated learner who is not focused on a degree. That’s too small of a group to have a huge impact.”
That is one of the problems I was also addressing in my article for the Fifth Conference. There is a ton of great content and lectures available on the internet but it won’t help you, if you are planning to get a degree. Sure, you can watch the courses as preparation but you need to sit in the actual class to get the tests and degrees.
Gates believes that technology can have a huge impact on education but
“What’s surprising is given how the Internet has changed how we buy airline tickets and books and how we look up things, is that formal education hasn’t changed hardly at all. The technology sector deserves its blame–it could be doing more here. But now is the time.”
It won’t be enough to put classes online, though. The colleges and universities needed to adopt those as an essential part of their curriculum and they will have to be designed for a broader audience, not only for the self paced learner, like today.
On the other hand, platforms like Academic Earth, ForaTV or Udemy Academic should also be included and work on solutions such as how to track and validate the learning progress and results of their users.
Taking Udemy Academic as an example. The team did an awesome job in creating complete courses based on the free videos available on the internet. They curated them, put them into categories and the right order so everything is ready for you to start learning. In my last article about Udemy Academic I said that there is something missing, the next step the platform needs to do. And this next step is exactly what Gates describes here: there needs to be a tracking and evaluation method for self paced learning.
I would start with a tracking system in the video player that notices, if a person is actually watching the video. It could be a simple pause button that pops up randomly during the lecture. The student needs to click it in a certain time frame, otherwise it is pretty obvious that the student is not watching the video. At the end there should be a short multiple choice test on what you have learned during the lecture. The questions could also appear during the video, just like in real classes where you could be asked directly by the lecturer.
The questions and tests should be developed together with the universities that created the videos. This way there would even be a possibility that those institutions recognize the video lectures and hand out certifications. In the meanwhile Udemy Academic should provide their learners with certificates of attendance and the test results as it won’t hurt to have this in your map for job interviews. Plus the more people will use those certifications the higher is the chance that they will actually be recognized as valid attestations which could then also lead to a cooperation with the universities.
As Gates says, now is the time.