Larry Summers on Innovation in Higher Education | Conversations with Tyler

Larry Summers on Innovation in Higher Education | Conversations with Tyler


COWEN: Who’s innovating in higher education
right now, and what are they learning from this innovation? SUMMERS: Not enough people are innovating
enough in higher education. The place to start is, General Electric looks
nothing like it looked in 1975. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or Stanford look
a lot like they looked in 1975. They’re about the same size to within a
factor of two, they’re about the same number of buildings, they operate on about the same
calendar, they have many of the same people or some number of the same people in significant
positions. The main thing to say is that, for something
that’s all about ideas and for something that’s all about young people, the pace
of innovation in higher education is stunningly slow. We’re still on a system where the break
is in the summer. The reason we’re on that system is that
when everybody went to pick the plants, that was the natural way to organize school, and
it’s still going that way. The potential action in higher education is
probably heavily through distance learning and artificial intelligence in learning technologies
of various kinds because, if you think about it, the unique capacity that online education
has is that, on the one hand, they’re huge economies of scale. Once the lecture’s filmed, 100,000 people
can watch it at the same cost as 100 people watching it. On the other hand, you can have much more
personalization. You can re-listen to the bit you didn’t
understand. You can insert diagnostic questions and have
a different lecture for people depending on how they do on the diagnostic questions. So it permits what’s usually very rare,
which is more differentiation and more economies of scale. But I would say, to date, it hasn’t yet
been pursued on a scale and with a degree of energy that is commensurate with the real
challenge. A number of universities have made what Clay
Christensen would say is the first elementary error. They said that their MOOC efforts or their
distance learning efforts are going to all be designed to be complementary of better
education on their campuses. There’s a certain logic to that in terms
of faculty politics, in terms of faculty comfort, and all of that, but the essence of Clay Christensen’s
lessons about disruptive innovation is if you want to do something all new you have
to separate it from the original mission, not judge it by the standards of the original
product, and let it be separate. What I’ve been struck by in the distance
education efforts is that they tend to be very much within paradigm and not set up in
separate ways. I think the main thing to say about innovation
in higher education is that there’s much too little of it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *