Why We Need More Than MOOCs According to Bill Gates

Bill Gates on Education

Gates has a long and passionate history of supporting educational reform in the United States. In the early 2000s, he spent $2 billion on a quest to transform the American high school system. His idea? That breaking up large high schools into smaller ones would positively affect student achievement. After a near 10-year push, however, Gates announced that the anticipated gains had never occurred; not only that, but athletics programs, extracurricular activities and elective offerings were all negatively affected by the failed reforms.

Illustration of laptop computer cennected to global internet network and doing data processing

Illustration of laptop computer cennected to global internet network and doing data processing

In a talk earlier this month at Cornell University, Gates remained strong on the need for educational reform, particularly pertaining to current challenges in higher education, including rising costs and ineffective evaluation tools.

Bill Gates on MOOCs

During the same Cornell talk, Bille Gates revealed that while he believes in the potential of technological innovation in helping to keep higher education costs down, he has also seen some “idealistic thinking” around MOOCs. Specifically, he predicted that no MOOC could ever completely replace the traditional campus.

And Bill Gates is far from alone in this belief. A May 2014 Financial Times article highlighted the fact that the majority of current MOOC students are actually educated professionals aspiring for career advancement — in short, corporate execs and middle-managers who reside in developed economies and don’t suffer from a lack of access. The problem? These demographics essentially negate the “social good,” argument — one of MOOC’s most significant selling points — which touts their potential to deliver higher education directly to students in developing countries who couldn’t otherwise pay for a high-quality college education.

MOOCs VS. The Traditional Campus

According to the Financial Times “MOOC Tracker,” there are now more than 100 MOOCs offering coursework in business alone. This number expands exponentially when you factor in all the other possible fields and disciplines.

And while MOOCs do have undeniable benefits, there are also downsides. Specifically, the fact that the conventional on-campus experience can’t be replicated through online coursework along. From the maturing process that happens through living and learning among peer to access to mentors and networking opportunities, MOOCs can’t begin to approximate the immersive experience of a traditional campus.

At the end of the day, one thing is certain: alternate modes of education, including online options, will play a critical role. And while Gates has expressed the belief that a few exceptional MOOCs will continue to offer value, he also anticipates major change in terms of how a streamlined roster of colleges and universities will evolve in how they deliver high-value instruction, support and other critical services to future students.