How credit acceptance can jumpstart education innovation
by Jose Ferreira, Knewton Founder and CEO
Education has always been resistant to change. It is such a high-stakes industry — right up there with food, shelter, and medicine in importance — that practitioners are reluctant to try unproven innovations that could possibly lower outcomes.
Regardless of industry, innovation is by its nature nearly always incremental. Tectonic innovation is extremely rare. It is only by adding myriad small innovations that most industries see steady product improvement over time. But, until recently, education has been one of the world’s most difficult industries to measure and, of course, it is especially difficult to measure small changes. Education is also one of the most expensive industries per capita. Especially in so huge and crucial an industry, there has never been and never will be any appetite for widespread adoption of small improvements with little or no data to recommend them.
Historically, this has stifled innovation — both from within the industry and from outside entrepreneurs. Last week, I was fortunate enough to sit down with a small working group of education entrepreneurs and policy makers in DC to discuss ways to promote positive change. It was organized by AOL Co-Founder and Revolution CEO Steve Case. In addition to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Under Secretary Martha Kanter, and Asst. Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton, the group included 2U’s Jeremy Johnson, StraighterLine’s Burck Smith, Chegg’s Ann Dwane, Echo360’s Fred Singer, Blackboard founder Michael Chasen, Knewton COO David Liu, Ujjwal Gupta from BenchPrep, and Donna Harris from Startup America.
During the conversation, I advocated strongly for the government to play a prominent role in encouraging institutions at all levels to expand their credit acceptance policies to accept — without friction — online courses from any other legitimate school. I am convinced that no other one policy would do more to accelerate education innovation.
Right now, nearly all higher education and K-12 schools will readily accept credits from in-person courses that their students have taken at other schools. As the number of online courses from accredited schools continues to grow, it only makes sense that schools accept credits from these courses as well.
I believe that widespread credit acceptance for reputable online courses is in fact inevitable within a decade. But who will get there first? The schools and colleges (and even nations) that do will have a long-term advantage over those who wait. If we encourage schools to start accepting these credits right now, without onerous terms and conditions, we will encourage more schools to produce high-quality online courses — which will encourage more students to take them and more innovators to power them, with ever better features.
So let’s first play out what effects this credit acceptance would have, and then look at how best to implement it.
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