According to Bruce Guile, president and co-founder of Course Gateway, and David Teece, executive director of the Institute of Business Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley, a professor of today is really not that much more productive than his or her counterpart from the Middle Ages.
The problem even has a name: “Baumol’s cost disease,” after economist William Baumol, who helped identify the issue in the 1960s as a root of the rising costs of higher education.
Guile and Teece suggest that is changing as new innovations, such as massive open online courses (MOOCs), become more popular. MOOCs make it possible for teachers from some of the most prestigious universities in the world to deliver high-quality instruction to thousands of students at one time, increasing productivity and potentially lowering costs.
MOOCs give students the opportunity to take a statistics class from the best instructors at Caltech and learn Shakespeare from professors at Cambridge. At some point, though, this may lead to a “modularization of higher education,” in which each school packages its best instruction for worldwide delivery.
“Both during and after this restructuring in U.S. higher education, universities, governments, and companies in emerging economies will be able to tap low-cost, high-quality online education to leapfrog the slow and painstaking process of developing education capacity to meet critical national needs,” Guiles and Teece wrote in their Leadership Forum post for Forbes. “They will rebundle modules for their purposes and populations to create certificates and degrees that meet local demand.”