Speaker Explains Benefits of Online Classes

Louis Krauss, News Editor

Michael Horn, the education director for the Clayton Christensen Institute, visited Oberlin yesterday to discuss his ideas for how small liberal arts schools can become more financially accessible by replacing lectures with online classes. Horn’s lecture was part of the Steering Committee’s Speaker Series, which brings in various education experts to talk about how Oberlin can improve.

In his work, Horn has focused on implementing what he calls disruptive education: the use of technology that is cheaper and simpler in order to help lower-income students get a good education. Horn believes that lecturebased classes that don’t engage students on a personal level can be eliminated and replaced by online classes. Horn also thinks online classes can help create more interesting curricula that incorporate different styles of learning.

“The notion that all learning has to come through lectures or something you read in a textbook is going away,” Horn said. “Now with new technology, you can make it come alive with simulation and gameplay and even tailor classes to each student’s style of learning.”

Recently, several schools, such as Arizona State University and Southern New Hampshire University, have made the switch to having separate programs that use online classes, which have helped reduce costs for students and universities by eliminating the need for lecture halls and accelerating students’ paths to their degrees. One example Horn gave was Southern New Hampshire’s new competency-based program, which doesn’t let students move on from material until they’ve done well.

“As opposed to moving on based on the day of the week, now you move on when you master the material, meaning you actually learn it,” Horn said. “And if you already know it, you can pass out, so it makes for a much more affordable program for low-income students, and it makes sure students get the help they need to pass and understand it.”

In the case of Oberlin, Horn said that while online classes can help to add a greater variety of science classes, Oberlin shouldn’t stray from what makes it unique.

“A lot of universities want to be all things to all people, and it’s just a death spiral going down that road,” Horn said. “I think it’s important to be really clear in who you are and what your focus is; I think the Conservatory is one of the big assets that makes [Oberlin] special and should take priority to encompassing all science classes under the sun.”

With the addition of online classes, Horn believes that schools like Oberlin can become more accessible while also being more efficient.

“I saw in the Review about how the Steering Committee wants to raise revenue — well, how about controlling costs and lowering them so more people can afford the experience?” Horn said. “I think it’s great there’s more students on the Steering Committee now, and I hope by offering my ideas students can help make Oberlin more available to lower-income families and save money as well.”