Distance education continues to expand

The need for business innovation is constant.
I was talking to a friend this week about changes in the banking industry sparked by advancements in technology. The conversation topics included the importance of physical bank branches today and the future of branches for banks in the future. During our discussion I said that all industries must continually reinvent themselves through innovative changes.

Now I realize that wasn’t a breaking-news revelation. But within the context of our conversation it was meant to summarize the changes in business over the past several years brought on by the rapid advancement of technology. Who would have thought that brands like Borders Books and Circuit City would have hit the wall? Our banking discussion was about the impact of technology on banking transactions and why people still needed a physical branch. Many banking industry analysts are talking about this in great detail including Jim Marous and Brett King.

What about education?
New models for providing higher education are appearing now and already beginning to challenge the traditional model for education that we all know. What’s not to like about completing high school and then leaving home to grow-up and find yourself all within the safety of an educational environment? But several things are happening to challenge this model. One is the cost of a college education continues to rise and not only are many families seeking alternative ways to obtain a degree, but universities are searching for new models to help manage costs.

Some of my friends have sent their kids to local community colleges to complete the early core classes. Then later they may transfer to a larger school away from home. More and more of my friends are keeping their kids at schools in-state because of the higher priced tuition for out-of-state students.

What about remote education delivered to you on-demand?
I recently read a Google+ post from my alma mater Georgia Tech about a relatively new startup named Coursera that is partnering with universities to provide courses online for free. Why not? We have wide spread availability of high bandwidth. We have tools to capture video and display it for common use both immediately and recorded. It doesn’t require additional physical infrastructure for schools, it’s scalable to more reach more students, and it provides reach beyond local geographic boundaries. The challenge for Coursera, as with many businesses offering the core service for free, is how to make a profit with the business model.

Remote course delivery is now an important piece of the overall education portfolio for colleges and universities and will continue to grow in the coming years. But as with Coursera, the bigger challenge of remote content delivery is not with the technology. The challenge is rooted in the business models and marketing used to attract and retain students while still making a profit.

My first-hand experience.
I was on the leading edge of distance education when I entered and completed an online masters degree from Auburn University. The program had two options to receive content: DVDs for taped class room lectures or online streaming. Exams were mailed by the school to my place of employment where a local human resources manager would proctor the exam (I reserved a conference room). I had the ability to converse with other students through online tools and email.

Watch this trend in the coming years. Look to see how universities reach students through remote delivery. Maybe the discussions about the future of the on-campus college experience are not wide spread right now, but as tuition costs continue to rise above inflation and communication technology continues to advance, competition in the education industry will continue to create alternative models.